The question: It seems like everyone from my parents to strangers on the bus want to give me parenting advice. How do I deal with the unwanted suggestions?
The answer: I remember being amazed by how many people offered unsolicited advice to my wife and me after the birth of our first child. Who knew that virtually every part of newborn care from formula versus breastfeeding to cloth versus disposable diapers was up for public debate?
I naively assumed – since I was a pediatrician and my wife a family physician – that people might be reluctant to ply us with free medical advice. I was wrong! In fairness to our family and friends who were extremely supportive, the people who offered suggestions were almost always genuinely trying to be helpful, share their own personal experience, or simply make conversation.
Although we never felt compelled to take the advice, we appreciated people caring and offering their support. On the other hand, being approached by a busybody stranger who offers commentary or criticizes your parenting approach is both inappropriate and offensive.
Not all advice is benign, some of it can be downright dangerous, and even the most well-meaning person can drive you crazy if they continually critique your every parenting move. First time parents are particularly susceptible to being flooded with advice. For those struggling with this issue, consider the following:
- 1. Is the person offering the advice a credible source of information? Not all unsolicited advice is necessarily bad and the trick is to sort the wheat from the chaff. Conversations with experienced parents who have gone through similar parenting stages can be a gold mine of helpful information. Grandparents and older relatives may offer insightful views based on their life experience, but beware that the information isn’t dated. Views on breastfeeding and infant nutrition, for example, have changed dramatically over the past quarter century. Some people may offer advice because it makes them feel important and needed. Keeping them involved with your baby in other ways may help alleviate this concern.
- 2. Does the advice seem reasonable? Ask yourself if the advice seems sensible and safe. If you are not sure, double check with a credible source of information such as an experienced parent or health care professional. Don’t rely entirely on “Dr. Google” as you will probably find as much bad information as good.
- 3. Develop a strategy for dealing with the advice. Simply acknowledging the advice with a polite “Thank you, I will keep that in mind” is often all that is needed. This does not commit you to any course of action and avoids offending the person who is trying to be helpful. More challenging are the situations with close friends, relatives, and in-laws. While their advice may be well-meaning, it can be overwhelming. Whenever possible, solicit the support of your spouse (safety in numbers) and be clear in your responses. Statements such as “we recognize that there are different ways to approach this issue, but we have decided to do it this way” or “we have discussed this with our doctor and have decided on this course of action” can be useful. As a last resort, consider reducing the frequency of visits with the advice-giver to protect your sanity.
Remember that although many people may be interested, involved, or concerned, at the end of the day you are the parent and have the final say in any decision regarding your child.
Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He’s a staunch advocate for children’s health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.
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