If you’re like most parents, you’ve had to deal with unsolicited parenting advice.
And it can be tough to know how to react when strangers give unasked-for counsel on your child’s upbringing.
This blog post will teach you some tips for dealing with the onslaught of unwanted and often unwelcome advice from others.
The best thing you can ever do for your child is to raise them in an environment where they feel safe and loved, but it’s hard not to feel like a fish out of water when someone else always has something critical or judgmental about the way we’re bringing up our kids.
It can be so easy to feel like you’re on trial regarding your parenting style. There will always be people ready with their opinions and unsolicited advice for how to raise them best with a child in tow.
The good news is that plenty more people share our point of view; if anything, parenting advice seems vastly less unanimous as time goes on.
One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is handling unsolicited advice from relatives. They might have good intentions, but who’s to say they’re right?
Luckily for us, parents set on doing things differently than our own experiences growing up. There are ways to deflect their seemingly well-meaning words without appearing insubordinate and still managing to keep peace all around.
Friends and family love us and (mostly) have our best interests in mind when they offer advice.
But when you are up to *here* with ideas and suggestions, read on for ideas of what to do instead of channelling your inner-baby and slinging mashed potatoes.
Here are some tips now that you know how:
Ways to Handle Unwanted Parenting Advice
As your baby is an integral part of your life, they are also crucial to others.
People who care about you and the child will be bonded in a way that gives them a license for input on how their loved ones should do things.
Considering this may give you a reason to gently handle any interference so as not to offend anyone’s feelings or provoke conflict between people with different opinions.
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You are probably not being judged when someone tells you something that feels like criticism, but instead, the person is sharing their opinion. Sometimes these opinions can be constructive and enlightening if you’re willing to listen first before defending yourself.
If you know that there is no convincing the other person to change their mind, smile and nod politely while making a non-committal response.
Begin going about your own business on your way out of the conversation because it’s not worth trying any longer or letting them get into another argument with you.
We all have our own opinions. You might find one part of the advice that you agree with, if not many others.
If you can provide wholehearted agreement on a topic, then, by all means, go for it.
Pick Your Battles
Your mother-in-law might be a little overbearing, but at least it’s only about trivial things like wearing hats.
Many parents worry that if they don’t do what their in-laws say to keep them happy, they’ll become estranged from the family and never see them again.
Your mother may have been around more than anyone else while raising you as a child, so sometimes giving in to her demands feels necessary just out of respect for her years spent caring for us, which can make parenting feel lonely and difficult without help (from grandparents).
Does the woman in the grocery store—the one you’ve never seen before and will probably never see again—need to hear your answer to “What kind of parent would let her kids run up and down the aisles?” Umm, no—keep walking.
But when it comes to the people closest to you, especially if those people will be involved in your child’s care, it can be helpful to discuss some child-rearing decisions:
“Our pediatrician told us it’s okay to let Jack leave the table when he decides he’s finished. The research shows that letting them decide when they are full helps kids avoid overeating later in life.”
Steer Clear of the Topic
Your family members may not have the same parenting styles, but that’s okay.
When they bring up a subject related to something different, try distracting them as soon as possible, so no one gets uncomfortable or offended by any disagreements between two sets of families’ mindsets on child-rearing practices!
Knowledge is powerful; it can help us make intelligent decisions or feel like we’re making progress on a project.
Protecting our mental health from all these new challenges as parents require knowledge too!
That’s why moms everywhere rely on research into their parenting choices because they know how important information about themselves and their children is when they want to take care of them well over time.
Educate the Other Person
If somebody starts telling you incorrect information about something you’re familiar with, inform them where and how they’re misinformed by citing some study, book or report which validates your stance on the subject matter at hand.
Many people today have this misconception that if “you” don’t have an answer, then nobody does, so having new data can help break through barriers.
Quote a Doctor
If your pediatrician agrees with you, remind them that “My doctor said to wait until she’s at least six months before starting solids.”
If they disagree, refer back to a more qualified professional such as the author of their favourite baby care book.
Being vague can be a tactic to avoid confrontation. If your sister asks if you’ve started potty training yet (but is months away from even beginning the process), answer with, “We’re moving in that direction.”
Ask for Advice!
First, identify the topics that you agree on and then invite their advice. Your friendly counsellor has years of experience in these fields which means they can offer a wealth of knowledge to help with your situation.
You Don’t Have to Engage.
One of the best things about being an adult is that you don’t have to make everybody happy.
Your big job as a parent is to keep your child safe, secure and loved—in the best ways, your know-how.
There are many ways to be a good parent, and only you can decide what works for your child and your family.
Some moms breastfeed exclusively, some families bottle-feed solely, and some do a combo. What’s the most important thing?
Babies are fed. The great thing is that you don’t have to debate, justify or explain your choices to anyone. You can use the all-purpose response:
“That’s an interesting perspective/idea/suggestion. I’ll think about it.”
When the Going Gets Rough, Take a Break.
Being a parent is a work in progress—you make mistakes, get up the following day and try again.
It’s a big enough job without worrying about creating a perfect Insta-worthy performance for everyone from well-meaning family members to random strangers.
It’s okay to say, “We’re going to hang out in our room/take a family walk/make a homemade raft and float away.”
Remember, even young babies can sense and respond to tension and anger in their caregivers, so taking a break sometimes helps everyone feel better, baby included!
You Can Be Clear (and Kind) About Your Boundaries.
Grandparents may feel connected to the child-rearing approaches they used with you when you were a child—after all, you turned out great!
Sometimes these ideas are good ones, like when the grandparents pull out your old wooden blocks, so toddlers are occupied while the adults baste and stuff.
And sometimes, these ideas (like spanking as a discipline technique) have been found through research to be harmful to children.
What to try in these moments?
It can help to acknowledge the good parts: “You and Dad gave us a great childhood,” while admitting that you may choose a different parenting path: “…but we need to find our way as parents.
Sometimes that means we may make different choices than you did, and I hope we can count on your support while we discover what works for our family.”
You can also check out and share ZERO TO THREE’s grandparenting resources, highlighting the caregiving approaches that have stayed the same across time and the ones that have changed most, like feeding, discipline and sleep.
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Reflect on Whether You Asked for Help—and Then Share What Will Help.
Some advice on parenthood comes from a place of genuine caring. Maybe you sighed and said, “I don’t think he’s ever going to sleep through the night,” and your sister-in-law jumped in with ideas about what worked with her two kids.
You can decide what you need and set the tone for the conversation: “Thanks so much for your advice. It’s helpful, but right now, I need someone to listen and tell me I’ll get through this.”
Show Yourself Some Love.
Some “advice” feels like criticism: “Are you sure that holding him so much isn’t going to make him spoiled?”
In those moments, take a deep breath and send yourself some self-compassion.
Pause for a few seconds to notice and name your feelings (stress, frustration and yes—sometimes vulnerability).
Exhale and repeat to yourself: “He’s a baby. Everything is new and overwhelming. We’re all doing the best we can.”
Then roll on, knowing that your best is always good enough for your baby.
Use Your Humor Light-Saber.
Humour can defuse and distract during tense situations.
Nichole, mom to 15-month-old Callie, remembers that her daughter at nine months cried and screamed when her grandfather tried to hold her. Callie hadn’t seen her grandfather for months and was feeling fearful, but her grandmother asked, “Oh, doesn’t the baby know her grandfather loves her?”
Nichole says that when she joked, “Callie’s allergic to beards,” it broke the tension and allowed her to explain that Callie needs time to warm up to people she doesn’t see every day. Nichole made sure to include her dad in playtime later that day, and soon granddad and grandbaby were cuddled up with a board book.
Praise–shift the subject to something about that person that you genuinely admire about the topic discussed.
It could be that they’ve done so well with their kids. People love praise, and this often will shift the topic.
Ways You Can Handle Unwanted Parenting Advice
There are two aspects to handling these types of comments: the first is to address the person offering the advice kindly, and the second is to talk yourself through your triggers.
Think of a response you can use anytime to help you through moments when your kids are melting down, and others are either giving you the hairy eyeball or unwanted suggestions.
The thing that gets people to stop offering unwanted advice the most is when they feel heard.
Please find a way to acknowledge the comment and verbally or nonverbally respond in a way that isn’t shaming (to prevent that person from getting defensive and keeping at it).
Here are some suggestions for gently responding to unwanted advice.
Start by smiling, then try one of these that suits your personality:
Look at the person giving you the suggestion, smile, nod, and then continue attending to your child without saying anything.
“Thank you for your concern.”
“I’ll discuss that with our family doctor/pediatrician.”
Use humour: Say, “This is nothing compared to yesterday!” or
“Whew! Anyone want to take over? I’ll come to pick them up at 5.”
For Friends and Relatives
“Thanks for letting me know how you do things. I’ll consider that.”
“I’ll talk about that with my partner/ husband, and we’ll make a game plan.”
Ask a question: “I wonder what the downsides of doing that might be?”
“I’m glad that worked for you, but I prefer _____.”
Be honest. Share your parenting goals and discuss if the advice is in alignment with those goals.
Hear her out. When your mother or mother-in-law offers advice, ensure that she feels heard. Allow her to speak without interruption, even if you disagree with her suggestions.
Validate her. Try saying something like, “I can see why you did that” or “I can see why you think that might work.”
Assume good intentions. Before your negative self-talk can get you upset, talk yourself down—remind yourself that your mother/in-law loves you and provide the advice because she likely thinks it will help reduce your stress.
Thank her for thinking of you. You can remind her that you will be sure to ask her if you do have questions in the future.
Be honest and explain your decisions. Prevent resentment or tension by discussing why you are choosing specific parenting strategies.
Say this to explain the difference in parenting these days, “Yes. Parenting today is certainly different than it was in your day. We have so much more information about child development, safety and nutrition now than you did. I know you did your best with the information available at the time.”
Keeping her in the loop about up-to-date health and safety guidelines and parenting research is a great way to slow the flow of unsolicited advice.
She will see you are taking your parenting role seriously.
For mothers-in-law, make sure to have conversations with your partner to ensure you are on the same parenting page and that she is aware you two are a parenting team.
You are the expert on your child. Use parenting information or advice if it resonates with you and feels right.
Even if a suggestion seems good to you but crashes and burns when you try it, that experience is a good teacher.
People love to help and want to offer stories and advice. While this can be helpful, it can also be annoying and unwelcome.
You likely noticed this as soon as your pregnancy started showing. Cue the “You’re pregnant? Let me tell you about….”
This will continue throughout your baby’s life.
While you may want to scream at people when they offer unwanted advice, there are ways to handle it gracefully.
Listen calmly. You do not have to follow their advice, but they may say something you agree with, making you think differently or encourage you.
If not, consider the following responses:
- “Thank you. I/we will think about your advice.”
- “I/we considered that, but I/our family decided to go a different way.”
- “I/we appreciate your input; I/we will think about it.”
- “That is an exciting story.”
If your in-laws, friends or co-workers are firm on an area of parenting that you feel differently about, you do not need to discuss it.
Remember that it is okay to agree to disagree. It is okay to say, “I think/feel very differently than you do.” And change the subject.
Do not take unwanted advice personally. People are often well-meaning, but there is more than one way to raise a child.
You have to decide on the way that works for you. Remember, this is your baby, your family and your life. You make the decisions.
When it comes to how you raise your children, whether they’re six days or 16, everyone seems to have advice.
Some of this advice comes from people without children, people with grown children or the people who raised you.
Some advice is casually shared between parents facing similar stages and phases with their children.
Almost without fail, the advice is well intended and shared with our (or our children’s) best interest at heart; however, it sometimes conflicts with current research, pediatrician advice, best practices or our parenting philosophy.
We can’t please everyone, and we will add undue stress to our own lives and our relationship with our children when we try to follow the advice that does not work well for us.
Handling unwanted advice is like travelling with the trio across a long trip. If we take time to reflect on our situation, knowing what we know about the journey ahead, our map, advice from experts and our own goals, we can make decisions that best meet our needs, despite any criticisms we receive from others.
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