When my newly pregnant friends ask me what’s the one thing I wish I had known earlier, it’s simple - I wish I had a strategy to deal with the cascading stampede of unsolicited advice. It begins the moment people know that you are pregnant and apparently doesn’t end anytime soon either. I confess how unprepared I was until one day I had reached my limit.
The mother in me had had ENOUGH!
The therapist in me was fascinated with the motivations of people to want to dole out what was ‘clear as mud’ unwelcomed micromanaging of motherhood.
The therapist in me recognized that we can’t change other people’s behaviour but we can be in control of ourselves – how we choose to see, interpret and manage other people’s behaviour; and, so this post is to help demystify why people might be bursting with unsolicited advice and some strategies to handle it with grace.
Now, before I go further. I would like to add that not all unsolicited advice is "bad" or "unwelcome."
Sometimes we don’t know that there’s a solution to our struggle unless someone else recognizes it and steers us to a better outcome. The wisdom of ‘been there, done that’ can be helpful.
Sometimes someone may notice something potentially dangerous in the short or long term and if it could save my child’s life or keep them safe from serious harm I would absolutely want to know.
Unsolicited advice can be a blessing when it is:
- given in genuine kindness
- spoken with sensitivity
- humble enough to know that it’s 1 of many ways of doing something, and
- most importantly, honours the characteristics and relationship of the parent and child together
So why do strangers, family, and friends feel compelled to give advice?
Let’s assume with the benefit of grace that it’s coming from a place filled with the best of intentions… Maybe it’s because:
- This was hard won wisdom – things that they wished had someone told them and this is a way to pass it forward
- Just want to be helpful/ needed – in the absence of concrete action ways to help, they offer advice (which they believe to be less intrusive)
- 'Know it all’/ ‘survived it all’ types – some people believe that the way they did it was best
- Assuming they have a right to give advice – often a generational thing, where older generations feel this is their role in society and in many cultures the role of an elder is highly valued
- Nostalgia – Comes often from a place of longing to once again experience this phase of life and feeling that it went by too fast. For those past child-bearing years, there may be a sense of wanting a “do over” with the wisdom they gained from trial and error the first time around.
"Nice Words" and Boundaries
So what to do when you’ve had enough…
To the stranger:
DEEP BREATHS, SMILE and say “Thank you” – The End.
- If you found it valuable, consider it. If not, fluff it off. That was easy, right? Because you’ll likely not see this person again frequently and you have no vested interest in the relationship. But that’s easier said than done when it’s someone you care about and have a relationship with. You can thank them for noticing you and your beautiful child in a busy world without committing energy.
To the person who is TICKING you off:
“Please help me understand where you are coming from, because this is how it is coming across to me…. As (your feeling)”
- This is likely a communication problem that causes misunderstanding. By acknowledging how it makes YOU FEEL, you allow them the opportunity to re-phrase and apologize. If they will not see how they caused you hurt that’s a bigger problem.
To the know-it-all:
“I know you mean well, but please don’t assume that my approach will be the same as yours”
- It gracefully honours that there is more than 1 “right” way to do things and reminds this person of boundaries.
To the person who challenges your decisions over and over:
“Thank you but I’m already operating with an informed decision.”
- This type of person will likely want to get into a whole long drawn argument until you give in and cede to their point of view. If you have already decided what is best for you and your family, it is energy draining and counterproductive to engage this type of person in a “rational” argument. They want to WIN not necessarily understand your decisions. Disengage and move the focus to something else that is neutral.
To the micro-manager:
“Please just enjoy being a __(role)___ and leave the parenting to me/us”
- Do you have someone hovering over your shoulder and clicking their tongue “tsk tsk” as you try to change a diaper, nurse, give a bottle, shush and rock the baby and on and on. Or swoop in and “re-do” it “correctly” and it seems that nothing you do is “right” or “good enough”. This sort of behaviour needs FIRM boundaries, left unchecked it can undermine your confidence as a parent
What's my favourite line, you ask...
Finally when you need to shut it down once and for all, a gentle but clear reminder that you are ALWAYS on the mission to do what is BEST for YOUR CHILD. Here’s my favourite line:
“The thing I LOVE about being (child’s) MOM is that I know him/her better than anyone else”
Please pardon me …. This one piece of advice….
RECLAIM your CONFIDENCE, EMBRACE your LOVE
and know that
YOU’VE GOT THIS!!!