Having a child and taking them out into the world can sometimes feel like an invitation to have others comment on your parenting decisions. With parenting, as with any endeavor, it’s important to be open to new ideas, to listen, and reflect. At the same time, we all know that a lot of the advice offered out there isn’t coming from a place of deep reflection, but rather knee-jerk reactions representing the way someone else’s parents did things, and their kids “turned out fine.” For those of us going for more than “fine” for our kids, here are eight ways to deflect unwanted advice.
1. Turn unsolicited advice into a chance to connect. (“Is that how you did it with your kids?”)
If you have an older relative who has already raised one or more children, they may be brimming with advice. After all, it’s nearly impossible to raise children to adulthood without learning a few things along the way, and many veteran parents are very eager to share their knowledge with newcomers to the parenting club. If they tell you how they raised their kids, ask them why they did it that way. Let them share their experiences and knowledge. Listen to their stories. Ask them questions about the biggest parenting challenges they faced when their kids were growing up were. Ask them about their greatest successes and whether they have any regrets. Hear them out and connect with them over the shared experience of tending to small humans. Listening to another person doesn’t obligate you to do anything their way.
2. Embrace your choices with confidence. (“Yes! She’s still in our bed. Aren’t toddler snuggles the best?!”)
If you are a breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, peaceful kind of parent, chances are you’ll be asked at some point, “are you STILL breastfeeding?” or “are you STILL using a carrier for that child?” Confidence goes a long way in these confrontations. Answer with a smile and an enthusiastic YES, as if someone had just asked you whether yoga pants are a worthwhile purchase. There is no need to offer explanations or excuses.
3. Use humor. (“Of course I won’t breastfeed once he goes to college. I’ll send pumped milk!)
Even if you take your parenting decisions very seriously, you don’t have to take yourself so seriously. If you’re raising your kids in a way that is completely different from how you grew up or how most of your relatives or friends are raising their kids, a willingness to laugh about it can go a long way toward making everyone comfortable with it, including you. Research shows that self-deprecating humor is linked to greater happiness and self-assurance. Being able to laugh at yourself demonstrates that you are completely comfortable with who you are.
4. Use diplomacy skills. (“I’ll give that the consideration it deserves.”)
Most of the unsolicited advice I’ve received strayed so far from what is best for my kids that it deserved zero consideration. And that’s exactly how much I gave it. However, if you’re looking to keep the peace, it probably isn’t wise to tell someone their ideas are useless. Instead, introduce some ambiguity. Put on a straight face and tell them you’ll give the advice all the consideration it deserves.
5. Acknowledge that there are many ways to raise kids. (“That’s one way to do it.”)
If someone starts to harangue you about their approach to baby sleep, toddler tantrums, preschooler whining, potty training, or any of the daily life situations all parents have to figure out, you can pull out this phrase. It acknowledges that yes, one way deal with the situation is as this person suggests. It doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or your way.
6. Don’t be afraid to sound like a broken record. (“This is what works for our family.”)
Hearing someone out and acknowledging that there are many ways to parent is a good starting point, but it cannot go on forever. If someone truly will not stop harassing you about your parenting, it’s time to set some limits. Tell the other party you appreciate their concern, but you’d like to move on. Pick a phrase to signal that you aren’t going to continue the discussion. “This is what works for our family” is one option. If you sound like a broken record for long enough, people will stop arguing with you. Even the most persistent individuals will disengage eventually if they are continually met with a brick wall.
7. Don’t defend; don’t explain. (“Maybe so.”)
This works well for the pestering questions that start with, “shouldn’t you…” Shouldn’t you wean already? Shouldn’t you put your child in school instead of homeschooling? Shouldn’t you go back to work? Shouldn’t you cut back on your hours at work to spend more time with your kids? There are no right answers to these questions. Each parent has to do what is right for themselves and their family. Instead of listing all the reasons why you have chosen your current path, which makes it sound as if your decisions are open for discussion, shut down the conversation with a “maybe so.”
8. Change the subject. (“Could you pass the bean dip?”)
A tried-and-true follow-up to #7. Change the subject. Ask about their kid’s soccer season, how Aunt Martha is doing, or whether they’ve seen the latest season of that new show. You can also excuse yourself to step outside. A few minutes of silence and fresh air can work wonders for your perspective.