What is it about being pregnant and having a baby that seems to elicit advice from everyone we meet?
“You’re robbing your children of their childhood if you do not take them to Disney World.”
“You really need to leave your children with their grandparents overnight – you owe them that.”
“That baby is way too young to be out of the house yet.”
“Your kids need to believe in Santa.” “Your kids need to know the truth about Santa.”
All actual pieces of “advice” I heard!
So why do people feel that, not only do you want their advice, but that theirs is the best advice?
People Want to be Helpful – I think a big part of it is that we all know how hard it is to be a parent. Even if we are not one, we were children and therefore we know how challenging children can be. We can easily see a tiny human with lots of needs and demands alongside an adult that is just trying to figure it all out. Advice in these situations is often given out of love with a true desire to help.
People Can’t Help Themselves – I try to remember that when people give advice, especially strangers, they are often speaking in a particular style that goes along with their personality. For example, there are personalities that simply share every single thought they have, every single moment that they have one. I’m not saying this is the right thing to do, but it helps to remember that you do not have to take that piece of advice in and what they are saying may not be truth.
People Want to Control – Sometimes people give advice in order to steer someone in a particular direction. I find that this type of advice often comes from people that are more connected to us, family members and close friends perhaps. It is often tied up in a lot of “stuff” like a person’s own pregnancy or birth experience, or the way they parented or were parented. It can come from a place of wanting their story to be lived out again in someone else’s life, or because they feel insignificant and want to make a mark in this world (but are trying to do it through someone else). It may be from our own moms and dads who don’t see us as equals, still believing that we are the little ones in need of parenting.
So what do you do when the advice is unwanted or maybe even harmful?
If it’s an encounter with a stranger, it’s often fairly easy to smile and nod and then move on, knowing you aren’t likely to interact with that person again. But if it’s a close friend or a family member there may be some things you’ll have to consider if you want to continue to be in relationship with them.
Give Grace – One thing to do is start by seeing things from their side. Everyone has baggage of some kind from their childhood, and when it is not dealt with, it often spills out in their relationships with others. Realize they have needs they may be trying to meet in unhealthy ways. This doesn’t mean that you have to just “take it,” but it can help your heart soften a bit when you respond, allowing you to start from a place of understanding.
Set Boundaries – It is very important to set boundaries early on. You can start this in your pregnancy and continue through the early years of your child’s life – making adjustments as your child grows and changes. You can be kind but firm when it comes to telling others that YOU are the parent and that there may be consequences for unwanted or harmful advice. This can be challenging if you’ve never set boundaries before, especially if you are setting them with close family members like your parents. Know that it will likely not happen on its own and may get more difficult later. If you are experiencing significant challenges, speaking to a counselor can be very beneficial.
Have Support – It’s key to have people in your life whose advice you DO value. They are people that you can go to when you need to double check someone else’s advice for truthfulness. These need to be people that you trust to help guide you when you feel lost, but who will also let you chart your own path – and still be there even if you make a different choice than they would.
Find the people you want to learn from, set boundaries with those who need them, and forget the words of those who don’t know you.
You are a good mom!
You are a good dad!