Photo courtesy of Jamie Kenney

The Most Pointless Parenting Advice I've Received From Strangers In Public

Being a parent is hard. With the best preparation and resources and support, it's still a series of fumbling through until you sort of find your groove. And even that is always changing because your child is always changing. One nice thing about parenthood is that there are folks who can help you — your parents, friends, cousins, siblings. Their insight and experience will be invaluable. But then there are people who don't know you, your child, or what the hell they're even talking about. Let me tell you some of the parenting advice I've gotten from strangers. Strap in, people, because there are some real gems in here.

Look, I'm someone who is extremely outgoing and has no qualms about striking up a conversation with strangers in public. I understand the impulse to start chatting someone up. And, of course, who doesn't want to be helpful? We could all use some help sometimes! But guys: Please have a modicum of self-awareness about whether your advice is helpful or welcome. And maybe realize that if you have just met someone (or, worse, haven't even officially met them but happen to be occupying the same public space at the same time) maybe even good advice is just not called for because, I'm sorry, but who the hell are you even?

Such is the "wisdom" I have personally gleaned from a bizarre assortment of randos. Here are some of my favorite tidbits...


"You Know What We Used To Do... "

Even the wording itself is annoying, because it puts the person being talked at in a position that doesn't allow them to say "No thank you." Because it's not asking if we want to know; it's asking you if you know, which of course we don't — how can we know what absurd thing this person is going to say next? — and forcing us into a position of asking them for advice when we never would have done so in the first place.

And, like, has any parent ever gleaned wisdom in whatever sentence is uttered after this? It's almost always something weird or outdated or so highly specific as to be useless.


"You Really Don't Want To Give Them Fluoride"

Any time I go in a "natural" wellness store, I always wind up having a great conversation with the proprietor or a fellow customer... but then they always say something that winds up crossing my "crunchy" threshold. Like the time a store owner suggested a particular multi-vitamin for my kids, and I said I preferred one with fluoride to promote tooth health since our water wasn't fluoridated, to which she grimaced and said "Fluoride is not good. You might want to do some research on that."

Oh. Oh hell no. One thing you never want to suggest I haven't done is research. Because I promise you I almost certainly have. Research is my thing. And there is a robust body of research that supports my choice, as the CDC would happily tell you.

If you don't want to include fluoride with the various vitamins and minerals you put in your body, cool. It doesn't affect me in the slightest. But leave it there.


"The Electromagnetic Fields In Video Games Are Making Your Kid Addicted And He'll Never Learn To Read. Give Him A Book!"

I'm not kidding. I was told this by a person who was not-so-low-key judging the fact that my son was using a hand-held gaming system. I usually try to be gracious even in the face of unsolicited advice but this was so weird that there was no way to keep the fact that I thought it was weird from showing in my face.

"It was on the news last night!"

Oh. The news. Cool. Cool, cool, cool.

(FYI: My son can read and he does so a lot.)


"That Baby Needs A Hat"

Lady, the baby had a hat. I took it off because the baby was sweating. I have the hat here in my bag in case the baby needs it again. Please trust me, the baby's mother, who is currently wearing the child and has a real-time reading on his body temperature, to know better than you, random-passerby, whether or not he needs a hat.


"You're Going To Make Him Obsessed With Boobs"

This, of course, was in response to seeing me breastfeed in public. And it was said as a joke but a) it was a creepy-ass joke and b) it was pretty clear that this was a case someone making a joke because they sort of believed it.

First of all, it's probably best just not to talk to a nursing stranger about nursing in the first place. Second, if you're really compelled, make it something positive. Like, I would regularly be approached by women who identified as "old hippies" who would tell me how great they thought breastfeeding was and how happy they were to see "young mothers" nursing. That was fine. Cute even. But making "jokes" about how my son was somehow being warped by eating in the manner that all mammals have been eating for millions of years? Nah.


"You Shouldn't Let Her Eat That"

Interestingly/tellingly, I very rarely hear this in regard to anything my son is eating. If people remark on anything he's eating it's usually in admiration. ("What a big appetite!") But my daughter is only four and has already had her food choices policed by complete strangers on more than one occasion because, apparently, women and girls should feel constant shame and dread about any choice they make. LOL! *repeatedly bangs head against desk*


"Don't Ask Him — Tell Him!"

A big part of my parenting style is talking through things. It helps me remain calm, it helps my kids feel as though they're part of the conversation, and it has the long-term benefit of giving my kids the language to express their ideas and feelings and showing them that good communication is the way to work through issues. And while I've asserted myself as an authority figure, I do try to always show respect for my kids, not only to show them that they deserve respect from authority but to model the behavior I expect from them.

A lot of people do not care for this.

And, on the one hand, I see it. It can be weird to see a parent ask a screaming child "How do you feel right now?" because our instinct can often be "WTF. Stop. Shut it down." But please trust that I've got this.


"You're Going To Spoil Her If You Wear Her Like That All The Time"

Oh for the love of...

She is an infant. Up until a couple months ago she was living inside of me — wearing her is nothing. Seriously, people, I don't know how many different ways experts can assure you that you can't spoil an infant until you get it.

And, like, even if I was spoiling her, what. do. you. care?


"Don't Let Him Wear Pink"

Oh hell no. I do not have time for your cis-heteronormative bullsh*t.


"You Should Spank Them"

I really want to delve into the psychology of what kind of person, without being asked, offers up the idea that someone else should hit their kids. Look, there's a lot of debate about spanking — psychologically, culturally, and otherwise, and I don't want to get into it here and now. But no matter your feelings on the matter, can we at least agree that this is one of those things that you don't suggest to strangers?


"Treasure Every Minute"

*Looks up from two screaming children in the middle of a crowded grocery store as everyone stares and silently judges* Okey-dokey!

(I know y'all mean well on this one, and I'm getting to the heart of what you're saying but... time and place here. Because if you whip this one out in the middle of a particularly unenjoyable moment I'm going to groan a little on the inside.)

After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.