I am very excited to be welcoming Nicole Nenninger here today on my blog. Nicole is a life coach, and always has good advice on how to handle difficult situations. When I decided to write about the time someone followed me out to the parking lot of a grocery store to give me her opinions on my parenting, I asked Nicole if she would be interested in writing a guest post on how to handle these types of situations. (I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to do at the time!) Fortunately she said yes! So I hope you will join me in welcoming Nicole as she tackles a sensitive situation which I am sure most of us have dealt with at one time or another: How to handle unsolicited parenting advice.
In 2010 Gisele Bundchen, supermodel and wife to Patriot’s quarterback, Tom Brady started a firestorm of criticism when she was quoted in Harper’s Bazaar (the UK issue) as saying there should be a law requiring all babies before the age of 6 months to be breastfed. As someone who breastfed all my kids, I certainly agree with her on the benefits of doing so, but I also respect that others think differently and there is no “right” way (20 or so years ago, bottle-feeding was in). Gisele underwent more criticism recently when she was seen driving with her daughter snuggled in an infant chest carrier while on an ATV.
It seems people will have their judgments about what is “right” and what is “wrong.” Gisele has had to endure harsh scrutiny regarding her motherhood. To one person, she could be “right” and to another, she’s “wrong” — everyone’s opinions are subjective, based on their own beliefs, thoughts, and reality. She can’t possibly appease millions of people so she can be a “good” mother,. Why would she bother? It reminds me of Bill Cosby’s quote: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” When you know in your heart you are good enough, outside opinions will not carry weight—especially from strangers. Otherwise, you’ll be all over the place trying to be someone you’re not–trying to appease the next person who criticizes you.
While Gisele is famous and must learn to deal with criticism on a much larger scale than we do, no one is ever immune from it. Criticism, especially about parenting, is about one of the worst things that can be said to a mom—young or old. I know that one of the best ways to hurt me deeply is to criticize my mothering. It’s the job that is the most important to me. If someone wants to “get under my skin,” then those close to me know how to do it. You go for the mothering. It’s my kryptonite.
If you are a mother, you undoubtedly have stories about snide comments made, unsolicited advice, or insensitive remarks which weren’t meant to hurt, but did.
There is no shortage of people out there willing to tell you how to do it differently, to put you down, or take out their day’s frustration on you—which may have nothing to do with you. Your kid crying in the store just may have been the catalyst that has their stress level soar to a new high from their highly intense day at work. They see you coming and guess what!? Time to put someone down so they release some steam or feel better about themselves.
What do you do when a stranger, family member, or friend gives you unwelcome advice or criticizes you to your face or within earshot?
My first inclination, when I was asked to write this post is to advise you to say, “Thank you.” That’s it. No explanations, no reaction, just “Thank you.” Cue the smile if you are so inclined and walk away. Put the burden down, the unspoken rant, the feeling of unfairness and victimhood—put it down, don’t start the ruminative thoughts; just walk away and leave the negativity there. I think this is a gracious way of handling an impending conflict, but I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes you don’t need to respond and it’s better if you don’t. There are also times when unsolicited advice comes from someone you care about or you are related to—then what? In many cases, that requires more than a “thank you.”
Like a lot of women, I grew up not knowing the skill of asserting myself and not creating clear guidelines of how I would like to be treated—with kindness, respect, honesty, and even compassion. Now, a stranger isn’t going to care about these unspoken rules you might have, but those close to you, if they don’t know it now, should be made aware of how you’d like to be treated. You don’t have to bring it up in the moment, but having a talk with them about you feel—if you have that kind of relationship—will help tremendously. Use “I” statements like “I feel disrespected when I am given suggestions on how to parent. I love you and you mean a lot to me. What I need in my relationships are to be treated with respect, kindness, etc. I appreciate your well-meaning intentions but I would like to parent my child in my own way. ” Or, if you are uncomfortable with asserting yourself in that way, a thank you and I’ll have to bring that up with my doctor is a way to steer the conversation to a third party that is considered by most to be a respected authority figure.
Unsolicited advice can also come up in conversations with family members or friends when your kids aren’t around—especially when you are venting off steam about your kids. Women especially tend to relate their frustrations to others, not looking for solutions but in order to bond. When the listener becomes the advice-giver, it creates tension and hurt feelings. No longer are they the empathic ear, but they become the judge and jury. In this case, you owe it to your family member/friend to tell them how you feel. “I really need someone to just listen to me vent for a few minutes. Are you available to hear me without criticism or advice?” Or, adjust your expectations for that person and find someone else to vent to. They are telling you in their own way they aren’t able to be a good sounding board. Good support is respectful both ways. If the listener is not able to listen objectively and compassionately in a way that supports you, they owe it to you to tell you so. Once they do, then honor their wishes and find someone else.
Unwanted advice feels differently coming from someone you know, trust, or love. A stranger doesn’t know you, doesn’t know that maybe you are sleep-deprived or have been dealing with a cranky kid for hours (days, weeks). In the past when I encountered unwanted advice I got defensive. What does that person know about my background? Who are they to give me their opinions when they don’t even know what’s going on for me? If you are able to be grounded in the moment, you’ll learn to recognize that what others say to you is really all about what’s going on for them. Like a tug-of-war game, you can pick up the rope and start pulling back; investing your effort and energy in the conflict; or you can gently let the rope down as well as the burden of defending and explaining yourself.
What goes on for you when you encounter unsolicited advice and you hold onto it? That they might be right? That you are a horrible person? That you aren’t enough and you are inadequate in some way? That they are wrong and you want to prove it? Why does your mind lock onto the “advice,” and not onto all the wonderful things you do for your child/ren? Why do you go to the place of being bothered by it instead of recognizing you are enough? Do you go around and give this much energy to the compliments you receive? This isn’t a “right” or “wrong” thing—you aren’t “wrong” for holding onto the experience. It is better to look at life like this: Does this empower me? Does this enhance my life? You could even consider the “advice” and ask yourself those questions, as well. Even this article—will this enhance your life?
You are your child’s parent. You make the rules. If you are reading this article, I know that you are self-reflective—you want to be a great parent and have perhaps even considered the unwanted advice. Know that you are enough. Know that you don’t have to take on someone else’s stuff—put down the tug-of-war rope and do your own thing. Show your child you are enough, you are gracious and kind, and that you are a positive role model for them and for those around you.
Part of my journey and many others is to learn to feel good about themselves, to know they are enough. When a comment “gets to you” it is a chance to check in with yourself and see what is coming up for you. Do you have some guilt about your parenting? If you feel like you’re not enough, doing enough, saying enough….I’m going to help you: ENOUGH! I wish parenting came with a handbook, but if you are reading this article, chances are you are doing the very best you can in this given moment. If you knew any better, you’d do better. I know that sounds a bit Oprah-ish, but when you give other people’s opinions more power over your own, you are giving your power away.
We are all human. Most parents strive to do their very best and that is good enough. Your child is clothed, fed, healthy, and loved—isn’t this enough? Some people get caught up in the judgment mode—don’t meet them in this place. We all have a bit of the explainer in us, the defender, the fighter, the “hey, why me?” but we don’t have to make that particular part of us predominant in our thoughts. Get back to life–to enjoying your children, your family, and to yourself.
Nicole Nenninger is the mother of three children and stepmom to one. She is remarried to the love of her life and lives in New York with her family, 2 dogs, and 1 cat. When she isn’t busy with family and her blog, you can find her working toward her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (she has another Master’s degree in Psychology), life coaching, working with the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians as their newly appointed Executive Director, running (she is currently training for the USATF mile event for 2014), and writing. She is the author of Transforming Divorce, the Transforming Divorce Workbook, and the co-author of The Art and Science of Parenting and The Secrets of Loving Relationships. She is also a regular contributor to the Patch—an outlet of AOL, and to selfgrowth.com. Nicole can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest as well…she’d love to connect with you there!
Saturday 15th of March 2014
Maybe I need to read more of this. I don't think I've received unsolicited advice about parenting from strangers but if I did, I'd probably choose to stay silent (or probably raise my eyebrows). I did receive from my grandfather in-law and we live in the same house, he's about 70+ and he told me that I would always leave my son crying.. and I was so hurt that I talked back with all due respect. For 5 years, it seemed like he didn't know (he knew for sure) that I had to leave because I had to work for my son and it breaks my heart to leave him crying but it's just that I need to go to work to be able to feed him. I've always believed in proper communication to resolve something but sometimes it gets through me that I just had to respond. Thank you for sharing these insights Nicole!
Friday 14th of March 2014
Totally agree! and if you can cue the smile properly it is almost like a bleep off. I think sometimes people give you the advice to engage in debate with you. They are always flustered by the "thank you".
Friday 14th of March 2014
This is awesome advice! I still get unsolicited advice for my 2 year old, even though she is my 3rd child. And it really bothers me when it comes from people who have never had children!
Thursday 19th of September 2013
I wanted to add a few things as they've come up: 1. In some situations there are 2 things going on: the unwanted advice and the rudeness. I was speaking generally about the unwanted advice. I can't possibly address each and every situation because the article would be twice--at least--as long! 2. My husband, when watching a Jim Kramer video this morning, spoke of how he handles unwanted criticism/advice. How does Jim Kramer handle it? He says "Thank you" too. While it's validation for what I've written about, it doesn't make a difference either way about my beliefs.
Thursday 19th of September 2013
I received unsolicited advice while in a grocery store, and because I was a gal who had no issues with being assertive, I told the woman to mind her own business. She expressed her unhappiness at my refusal to listen to her, at which point I walked away with my son, discussing the pitfalls of rude behavior. I would have never given her a thank you for such an ill-mannered moment. I understand the idea of diffusing a highly-charged issue, but I was also raising a child, teaching my child, that not everyone who offers their opinion is right.
Thursday 19th of September 2013
There are all kinds of ways to handle people and what works for some may not work for others (what feels empowering to you may not feel empowering to another). I like the WWJD sentiment (What Would Jesus Do? I'm spiritual, not religious--not that it really should matter)--it reflects a way of interacting with the world that is conscious, caring, and compassionate. I also believe in MLK, Jr's message of non-violence. Like I said, there are no "right" or "wrong" ways of doing things, but more like, does this enhance my life or not? For me, giving my energy and attention to putting someone in their place, especially if I don't know them, isn't worth it. It's like picking up the tug-of-war rope, like I mentioned, and engaging them. I don't consciously need to hurt them just to get my point across, I don't have to react, to feel like I have to assert myself or feel better about myself. I can choose to let that all that go and with it, the "advice" falls flat. That has its own effect. It's like someone choosing to give you this gift (the "advice")--you can give it back to them however you want--the way they gave it to you or you can give it back graciously. Neither is "right" or "wrong," but one matches their energy while another rises above it.