We’ve all been there. You’re at the park with your kids when another parent comes up and says, “You know, you really should supervise your kids more closely.” Or how about when your mother-in-law says, “You are spoiling your kids. Kids don’t need all this stuff. Stop buying them so many toys and make them go outside to find creative ways to play on their own. Otherwise, you are going to have real trouble when your kids are teens.” When people give unwanted parenting advice, how should you respond?
In most circumstances, the best way to respond is to smile politely and form a polite but non-committal response such as, “Oh.” Then, just let it go.
However, some circumstances require a different response from you.
If the unwanted parenting advice is a recurrent issue in your relationship with the source of the advice (i.e., your mother-in-law), then it may be appropriate for you to calmly and kindly say to the source, “I am grateful for your desire to help me by offering me wise counsel. I very much value your knowledge base. I know that I don’t know everything, and I do want to know if there’s something I can do better. However, there are times when what you think is ‘better’ and what I think is ‘better’ may not be the same thing. I hope you understand my right to parent my kids in the way that I think is best. Please feel free to offer me your wisdom, and please do not be offended if I don’t always act on your advice.” If the source is persistent in trying to get you to “improve” by doing things the ways she says you should, without respecting your right to parent as you deem appropriate, then your next step is to say, “I validate that what you say may have worked well for you, but it is not the way I want to parent. I have asked you to respect my right to determine my own parental boundaries, and you have chosen not to honor that request. As a result, I do not want to receive any further feedback from you about parenting. Such discussions are not constructive. In an effort to maintain a positive relationship with you (which I value and very much want to maintain), I need to draw this boundary now.” If there are further transgressions, you should simply stop the source as soon as advice is first uttered. Your statement may be, “Oh, let me stop you right there. That sounds like parenting advice. As a result of our prior discussions, I think we need to steer clear of that. Let’s change the subject. What fun plans do you have for the upcoming holiday?” If the source persists, you should remove yourself from conversation with this person. Just tell the person that you will speak with him/her later and simply walk away. The next time you see the person, you may begin anew, hoping the person has learned the boundary you have drawn. If you have to walk away every time you have conversation with this person, it may be appropriate to limit your contact with this person generally.
If the unwanted parenting advice is potentially injurious to your family (i.e., if someone’s advice may reflect poorly on your character or your benevolence toward your kids), then you may find it wise to defend your chosen course of action. For example, if your neighbor publicly advises you to “get control of your kids because they are out of control”, you may wish to respond by politely saying, “I know that you have a very conservative parenting style, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I have a very experiential way of raising my kids. I want them to learn their world by experiencing it, how it feels, what it smells like, etc. I want them to embrace life with enthusiasm. There’s nothing wrong with the high structure environment that you have in your home, but there’s nothing wrong with the more laid-back approach in mine. Both your style and mine have strengths and weaknesses. Neither style is without a down-side. So, let’s validate that our approaches are different, that we may not feel comfortable with the style of the other because it’s not consistent with our nature, but that we recognize that neither style is perfect. Can we agree to that?” If your neighbor will not agree to that, then you may need to limit your contact with this person generally.
Dealing with unwanted parenting advice can be a tricky task indeed. By following these tips, you can effectively deal with unwanted parenting advice, even under some of the most difficult circumstances.
Candi Wingate is an expert in the child care industry with over 20 years experience. She is the founder of Nannies4Hire.com and Care4Hire.com, and author of 100 Tips for Nannies & Families and mother of two.