Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"He looks hungry..." and other useless parenting advice.

As a relatively new parent, I've received lots of advice in the past 2-and-a-bit years pertaining to nearly everything, from sleeping and eating habits, to what kind of socks to buy.  I have gone looking for some of this useful information in books, online or from friends and family who are happy to share their experiences.  But what I'd like to address now is unsolicited advice...

Sometimes this kind of advice is helpful. No parent is perfect and we all need a little help somtimes.  But when you become a parent, it seems that the experts come out of the woodwork. Who knew that everyone you know (and sometimes those you don't) would feel they have the answers to raising your children? Not only that, but that they feel somehow entitled to impose this information on you in one of these forms:

The direct: This kind of advice is typically given either by someone who sees a problem and genuinely wants to help, or by someone who thinks they know best. It's hard to tell which sometimes.
When I was potty-training my first, I didn't really seek any advice, because I had a plan. When it was brought to the attention of friends and family members, I was inundated with strategies and encouraging comments like "Don't worry if he doesn't get it the first day." (Helpful) and "Well, it's just harder to potty-train boys." (Not helpful, since I only have boys to potty train so far.)   After about a week, my son had going to the potty down pretty well. Now he's even going without announcing that he has to go, which makes me glow with pride, since my husband and I developed our own mish-mash of methods and succeeded without massive interruption to our busy life.

The indirect: When someone tells you what they did or are doing and adds "It worked/works for us." 
Sometimes this is fine.  Friends of mine have given me great ideas, and though I wasn't looking for feedback, I am thankful they gave it in an unassuming way. 
Other times, the idea is stupid, unhealthy, unsafe or just not what you want to do. 
In my life, some of the ideas I've deemed stupid have been repeatedly brought up in this way.  I will never put honey on a pacifier so my child will take it; I will never shave a nearly bald baby's head so that their hair will grow in thicker; and I don't think looking in the mirror will damage a baby psychologically (all true stories btw).

The passive aggressive: This advice is typical of somebody who has a definite opinion but wants you to think they respect yours.
"Well I'm not telling you what you should do but..."  Oh but you ARE.  Clearly, you think I should be doing this if you're even mentioning it! 

The helicopter: These are the worry warts. They really do mean well when they follow your child around and help them with each little task, but there are times when you just want to slap them silly.
I encountered a mother in the waiting room at a vaccination clinic who noticed a small scratch on her 18-month-old's neck.  She then proceeded to call his father and his nanny to interrogate each of them regarding where and when he obtained this small scratch.  The child continued to play happily beside her, not bothered in the least by the scratch.  I thought of reminding her that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but I held my tongue.

The grave look of disapproval: This isn't really advice per se, but it is basically inevitable that you as a parent will be wordlessly criticized at some point in your adventure. 
Picture this. You're in the grocery store and your child starts to yell that he wants whatever tasty treat is right beside him at the checkout.
Option A: You say no and your child begins to flail their arms and throw their sippy cup and tantrum with a scream so shrill you think maybe half the people in the store are now on their way to being deaf.  To top this off, the cashier is now looking at you with a "grave look of disapproval". 
Option B: You decide, hey, the kid has been alright through this whole shopping ordeal, maybe they deserve a little reward. You say "You can have it if you ask nicely." Said child says "Please can I have..." and you put it on the conveyor to buy.  You then turn around to see the older lady behind you giving you the "grave look of disapproval."
This is a no-win situation.  You might feel bad for making the cashier's day just a little more hellish. You might feel bad that you've given your child candy and an old lady disapproves. But the cashier and the old lady don't have to live with your kids. You do. You're the parent. So ignore these imbeciles and parent away.

The glib observation: I'm convinced that these are things people say to fill the air. They should almost always be ignored because they're offered by people who don't know what they're talking about, but think that they do.
Examples:  I was at a thrift store browsing the racks of barely-worn baby clothes when my second baby was 2 weeks old.  He began to fuss and out of nowhere an elderly lady appeared and said, "He looks like he might be hungry."
I just looked at her and said "Yes. He might be." But what was I to do about it right then? What would she have said if I just, in the words of a friend "popped the boob out right there"? 
Another time I was at the public health clinic with a nurse, who looked at my first son and said "Hmmm, he might not be getting enough tummy time. His head is kind of flat at the back."
First of all, my son's head is shaped exactly like his dad's where his skull does not bow out at the top of the neck.  This is not a deformity caused by leaving him on his back too much, as the nurse implied.  I know this, so I tersely explained this and we moved on.  

Like I said at the beginning, unsolicited advice is not blanketly bad, but come on people! Give a mother a break! Sometimes I'd just like the benefit of the doubt.  I'd like to think that the way that my husband and I choose to parent our kids works for us and for them on a functional level, and that maybe, just maybe, they'll turn out to be well-adjusted, functioning adults as a direct result. 

When it comes to advice, it's best to wait till you're called upon to give it. That way, you can be assured of its value.


  1. 'I cannot stand blogs that serves as a mechanism for someone's anger' and 'A well-founded argument is not a rant', hopefully not meant to be ironic. Towards the end, it is clear that you are ranting about how people pass comment on the way you and your partner raise your children...

    Words such as imbeciles, stupid, ignorance, just want to slap them silly etc make this a little bit of a rant...

    Love your wit though and did enjoy reading it!

    1. You know what? You're right. This IS a rant. I am genuinely frustrated about this matter. I thought perhaps blogging about it would be better than actually slapping people or saying rude things to them out of anger.

      Also, you've made me realize that perhaps in the nearly-three years since I wrote the description of my blog, life has happened to me and I've become a little rougher around the edges.

      Thanks for that.


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