How to (politely) ward off unsolicited parenting advice

How to (politely) ward off unsolicited parenting advice

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Unwanted parenting adviceOh, that baby needs an undershirt! She must be freezing.

Is she eating again? My doctor said not to give solid foods until one year.

I put my kids in a playpen when they were little. That’s how I got housework done.

Have you seen this study on the negative effects of broccoli?

Okay, I made that last one up, but as a new mom, I heard all of the others and so many more like them. And so will you. For better or worse, an adorable new baby is an even stronger magnet for unsolicited advice than a pregnant belly.

The first dozen times I received these kinds of remarks, I would immediately launch into a defensive, largely incoherent attempt to explain my parenting decision or approach, thereby blowing the comment up into a full-on awkward conversation. Worst yet, I would relive the exchange, and all of the irritation and insecurity associated with it, for days afterward. Hardly the best use of precious energy as a newly minted mum!

Thankfully, there is a much better way to handle unsolicited advice in the moment, and it’s very simple. Just five words, in fact. Make them your (silent) mantra the next time your grandmother tells you to give the little one a drop of brandy for teething pain, or a mom friend chides you for posting your baby’s first bath pic on Instagram:

It’s not you; it’s them.

Taking a moment to consider a friend’s, relative’s, or total stranger’s motivation for offering you advice will help you to take their words less personally and avoid a debate on the subject, whatever it may be. Considering their perspective will also help you to choose a response that recognizes their intentions as opposed to the advice itself, and may take the conversation in a much more positive direction.

The Older (and Wiser) Generation

Grandparents and elderly relatives are a notorious source of unsolicited advice, much of it out of keeping with current recommendations for infant health and safety. However, before you launch into a lecture of your own, complete with the latest studies, try to remember that aside from a sincere desire to help you, your elders may simply wish to pass on their hard-earned wisdom, enjoy remembering their own children as babies, or relish the new “common ground” parenting is providing the two of you, particularly if you don’t have many other ways to relate to each other (ie, you don’t watch the same tv shows or enjoy the same activities).

Instead of explaining why you don’t put cereal in your baby’s bottle or cover her with a blanket at night, try asking your great-gran about what she remembers most about her days as new mother, what sorts of advice her own mother gave her, or for funny stories about your parent (or spouse) as a baby. And then listen up, young lady: you just might learn something!

The Know-it-all Newbies

Ironically enough, you will likely also receive unsolicited advice from other new mothers, even those who have logged just a few more months than you have. Irritating as it is to receive a lecture on cloth diapering when all you asked for was a spare baby wipe, there’s a good chance that your new mom friend is talking herself up as much as she is “helping” you. Life at home with a newborn can be a lonely and vulnerable experience at times, and any sort of confirmation that you’re doing it “right,” or even at all well, is really valuable in those early days, to some parents more than others. A day will come when you’re desperate for a “gold star” yourself, and if it hasn’t yet, you’re lucky!

The next time you are buttonholed by an “expert” parent, try one of these noncommital yet encouraging replies:

“That’s a good idea, thanks!”
“Well it looks like (her preferred strategy/technique/etc) is really working. Your baby sure looks comfortable/happy/healthy.”
“Wow, you really know a lot about (the subject). Can you recommend a particular book/website/etc for me to look at later?”

The Problem Solvers

Sometimes close friends, relatives, or even your partner will offer ideas and advice with the aim of solving your latest parenting problem, especially if you have confided in them about struggles with sleep, breastfeeding, or other “fixable” challenges. If you’re not seeking a solution at the moment, this sort of well-intentioned advice can be grating…unless you take it as golden opportunity to explain and/or ask for the kind of help you really do need:

“Just talking about this is already making me feel a bit better. Thanks for listening!”
“Could you please watch her while I use the bathroom/take a nap/go to Hawaii for a few days?”

The Busybodies

At some point you may receive a “helpful” or just plain rude comment from someone you’ll never see again, say, in a doctor’s waiting room or at a bus stop. Why do some total strangers make your parenting their business? I have no idea, and it’s a mystery we don’t really need to solve. Just be prepared to graciously change the subject:

“Yes, I guess I should have brought her a sweater. It’s been an unusually cold spring, hasn’t it?”
“I’m sure you’re right, I will lose the baby weight at some point. Could you please pass me that magazine with the cake on the cover?”
“Oh, speaking of spanking, did you see the Yankees game last night?”

And if all else fails…

Make a dramatic exit:

“I’d love to talk more about this, but we’re in a bit of a hurry to get to the pharmacy. These lice are driving me crazy!”
“Sorry, I must get going: my husband’s on his lunch break and I’m ovulating, big time. Wish us luck!”

Just kidding.

But seriously, a sense of humour goes a long way in dealing with unsolicited advice. A thick skin also helps, and you should always give a baby the vegetable purees before the fruit ones or they’ll never develop healthy eating habits.

Or so I’ve been told.

About the author

Rosalynn Tyo

Rosalynn Tyo is a freelance writer who lives in Ontario with her husband, two little girls, and an outrageous amount of Play Doh, glitter, and cookie crumbs.

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