A lot of you probably noticed that as soon as you became pregnant, everyone had an opinion about pretty much everything related to you and your baby. Care providers, family, friends and even total strangers probably offered up their well-meaning advice. I wish I could tell you that the birth of your child will end this steam of advice. But it’s not likely to. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to take care of babies too. This is especially true when it comes to the big two topics of eating and sleeping.
If possible, take some time before the baby is born to think about how you will handle unsolicited parenting advice and criticisms. And don’t worry – if your baby is already here, it’s not too late to set the boundaries you need to keep cool.
It can be easier to shrug off the advice of a stranger than to fob off your mother-in-law for the fiftieth time. But sometimes the words of a stranger can really sting if we are feeling vulnerable. So how can you deflect unsolicited parenting advice?
Here are three strategies for dealing with unsolicited parenting advice
1. Minimise the conversation
In this instance you are graciously thanking the well-meaning person for their concern, and ending the conversation. The trick is to avoid engaging in a debate. You do not need to feel as though you owe anyone an explanation for how you are parenting. If this is a stranger at the shops, you can simply excuse yourself move along. Remind yourself that the stranger’s opinion is a reflection of their experience, not yours so there’s no need to take it personally. If this is your friend or relative you could change the subject. Try asking about something that is happening in their life instead.
2. Stand your ground
You may have tried minimising the conversation and that hasn’t worked. Or someone has said something that really goes against your own beliefs and you feel that you must engage. How do you gracefully stand your ground? You can politely acknowledge their right to their own opinion. You may even thank them for their concern. Then give them a clear, firm message about what you believe. You may even add that you have done your research and considered all sides of the issue and have made the choice that felt best for you and your baby. For instance, if your friend insists that babies must be left to cry it out and you believe in attachment parenting, you might say “Tina, thank you so much for your concern. I really value your friendship and I know that you want what is best for me and my baby. However, I have done my research and carefully considered whether to let Jake cry it out. In my heart, I know that attachment parenting is the best way to care for both Jake and myself. I am sure you can respect that.”
3. Refuse to be a doormat
“Don’t take it personally” may be easier said than done. In some situations you might just let the advice roll off your back. However, if you are feeling disempowered by ongoing unsolicited advice you may benefit from being assertive. Express how you are feeling. It may sound silly, but the person giving you this advice may not have any idea of how their behaviour is impacting you. For instance you can say “When you continually give me advice about parenting it makes me feel like you think I’m a bad parent. I am doing my very best, and I would appreciate it if you would respect my choices.” If this does not work, you may need to set a very strong boundary and take the topic off limits – or even distance yourself from this person. You could say “I am no longer willing to discuss the baby’s care with you. Until you are able to respect my feelings we will be unable to spend time with you.” Sometimes people need to know that there are serious consequences before they will put in the effort to change their behaviour. It may be difficult, but if this person is causing you high levels of stress you need to find a way to resolve the issue one way or another. Remember, this is a challenging time and you deserve to be surrounded with people who love and support you. Love yourself enough to put your own needs first. In doing so, you are better able to take care of your family.