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How do I navigate unsolicited parenting advice?

The worst part of child-rearing? Unsolicited parenting advice. There might be no escaping but one LS mama shares how she navigates unwanted opinions.

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Dear Is This Normal,

I want to start by saying that I love my mom, and she’s a great grandmother to my daughter. She’s very supportive and helpful and we’re so grateful for her. But there’s something that’s been bothering me and I’m hoping you have some advice.This is my first baby, and while I know that I’m far from a parenting pro at this point, I feel like my partner and I are doing things the way we decided to do them, and we’re doing a pretty good job! But my mom just can’t help herself and constantly offers up “advice” and opinions on our parenting. I know she means well, but some of the criticism is actually really hurtful, and I don’t know how to address that with her without creating drama. How do I deal with unwanted parenting advice? Help! 

Signed,

Help Not Wanted

Dear Help Not Wanted,

I swear, there’s something about pregnancy and child-rearing that just makes the know-it-all jump OUT in some people. I could write an entire series of books on the unsolicited parenting advice I’ve gotten over the years, and I know I’m not alone in that. I mean, I get it? The urge to help where you think you can, even if your assistance has not been explicitly requested. My completely unscientific opinion is that grandparents (particularly grandmothers) are especially susceptible to knowitallitis, because the urge to parent really never stops. But unwanted parenting advice can come from anyone and anywhere—like the nosy old lady in line at the market. And I feel you! It’s annoying and demoralizing and can be very hurtful, moreso when it comes from someone you love. Let’s talk about how to handle it. 

When someone criticizes your parenting, it’s completely normal to go on the defensive. When that someone is a stranger, it’s much easier to ignore it or put them in their rightful place. You have the right to ignore strangers who offer their “advice”, and you even have the right to politely and pointedly tell them you and your child and your parenting skills are absolutely none of their business or concern. Please understand, you are under NO obligation to engage with a stranger who goes out of their way to criticize you or point out something they deem is “wrong” or tries to offer “advice” on how to parent your child. A simple, “Thank you for your unsolicited opinion” said through a tight smile is more than an adequate response, but please don’t feel like you have to allow someone to make your business theirs. 

Now, when that unwanted or unsolicited parenting advice is coming from a friend or family member, like your mom, things can get a little stickier. Because, like you said, these people (usually) mean well. The advice isn’t coming from some busybody who doesn’t know you—it’s coming from a place of love from someone who is very invested in your success and happiness as a parent. It doesn’t make it any less annoying and hurtful, but it can change the way you handle it. I understand not wanting to create drama, and I’m sure you don’t want to hurt your mom’s feelings. But it’s better to nip this in the bud now than to allow it to continue and potentially affect your confidence as a parent and/or your relationship with your mom. 

It sounds like you and your partner are on the same page, so now it’s time to catch mom up to speed. You need to have a heart-to-heart with your mom and let her know that her advice, while appreciated, is doing more harm than good. Tell her that it can feel less like well-meaning advice and more like a direct hit to your parenting abilities, and that it’s hurtful because it feels like she doesn’t believe you’re doing a good job. Chances are, she doesn’t even realize how this affects you! She probably sees it as her being a mom to YOU, and while that is all well and good, her parenting doesn’t extend to your daughter. Now, she may not react to this as well as you’d like, and that’s OK. Reassure her that you are incredibly grateful for her and appreciative of all she does, but she needs to understand that you and your partner are the sole parenting decision-makers when it comes to your daughter, and that you are both doing what is best for your family. When you want her advice (and you will at various stages, I promise), you’ll ask for it, and hopefully she’s willing to accept that invitation. 

It’s super important to set these boundaries now, because this kind of unsolicited advice and criticism can quickly spiral out of control if left unchecked. I have friends whose parents have cut their kid’s hair without warning or permission, given their child foods that they shouldn’t or couldn’t have because “allergies aren’t that serious”, and even tried to sabotage a breastfeeding relationship out of spite because grandma didn’t get to feed the baby as often as she felt she should. So…you see why boundaries are important, yes? Not saying your mom would do any of this, but it’s in everyone’s best interest if those boundaries are made VERY clear early on. Stay strong, mama. You know what’s best for YOUR baby, and it’s time you made that clear to your mom. 

Big Fan of Boundaries,

Is This Normal

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