Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column What The Actual. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I refrain from snapping at "well-meaning" family/friends/coworkers/random people on the street who give unsolicited parenting advice?
MY BABY DOESN'T NEED SOCKS, IT'S 90 DEGREES
Dear My Baby Doesn't Need Socks
A few years ago, I sat in a friend's car as he talked about a recent breakup. After I'd interrupted him NUMEROUS TIMES to suggest THINGS HE COULD DO, he still WOULDN'T STOP TALKING ABOUT HIMSELF OH BOO-HOO WHEN ARE WE GOING TO TALK ABOUT ME.
Finally, after another interruption, my friend went saucer-eyed and snapped, "You're not very good at this, are you?"
The thing is, My Baby Doesn't Need Socks, I am an inveterate unsolicited advice-giver. I've given so much unsolicited advice it's a miracle I have any friends left. I'm also not a good example of why this isn't a good idea: I now get paid to write an advice column HA HA SO THERE I MAKE IT RAIN WAIT WHERE ARE YOU GOING.
The thing is, advice isn't the problem. We're all looking to #lifehack our way to afternoon cocktails so we can Instagram that sh*t and hide our deep-seated anxiety that everyone else has the key to an easy life.
Recognize unsolicited advice for what it is: someone switching the subject from you to them.
The problem isn't even the "unsolicited" part. Recently, my son had a nasty blocked tear duct. Every morning my husband and I soaked a washcloth in warm water and held it against his eye WHICH MY SON LOVED, then wiped the crusted mucus off in a downward motion WHICH HE LOVED EVEN MORE, then soaked the washcloth again and wiped again WHICH HE LOVED SO MUCH WHICH WE KNOW BECAUSE OUR SON EXPRESSES HIS HAPPINESS BY SCREAMING AND CRYING.
I thought of the unsolicited advice of two friends: breastmilk. Fast-forward to two weeks of my husband and I holding our son's arms to his sides to dropper breast milk into his eye twice a day, and THE BLOCKED TEAR DUCT CLEARED UP. BOOM THANK YOU UNSOLICITED ADVICE.
The problem with unsolicited advice is this:
1). THE F*CKING JUDGMENT WHICH IS UNBEARABLE WHEN WE'RE DOING OUR BEST AT THE HARDEST AND MOST FRAUGHT JOB WE'VE EVER HAD. (Before I had a kid, I advised a friend to dress her baby appropriately for the weather. She said nothing, but rivers of blood flowed from her eyes. Recently, when someone advised me to dress my kid appropriately, I BARELY KEPT MY SH*T TOGETHER ARE YOU KIDDING DO YOU THINK I'M TRYING TO KILL HIM I CAN DRESS MY OWN BABY OK FINE MAYBE HE DOESN'T NEED A SWEATER BOOTS MITTENS AND A BLANKET WHEN IT'S 80 DEGREES OUTSIDE BUT I'M TRYING SO HARD.)
2). As with my friend in the car, sometimes you really, actually, seriously don't want advice. You just want someone to listen.
Advice, I've heard, is a form of nostalgia. And when it comes to people's kids, nostalgia runs deep, particularly for the baby stage. As for people who don't have kids and still give advice, I can only guess they're suffering from a devastating boredom with what you're talking about and/or a need to feel superior (I can only speak from experience).
So here's the way to muscle through: Recognize unsolicited advice for what it is: someone switching the subject from you to them.
As for how to respond, I take a page from my husband. When he's listening to me, he makes eye contact and nods his head and says, "Uh, huh. Uh, huh." It has taken me YEARS to realize THIS DOES NOT MEAN HE'S AGREEING WITH ME. Every time I talk to him, even when he doesn't say anything — actually, especially when he doesn't say anything — I walk away feeling like I've been heard. MY HUSBAND IS A GENIUS OUR MARRIAGE IS STRONG.
Make a joke ('Brandy in the bottle, Aunt Betty? Well, that would definitely knock him out!'). Then, find a way to change the subject.
When you feel an incipient rage at unsolicited advice, take a deep breath. Maybe a few breaths. If you're talking to someone you trust, you can say, "I appreciate your advice, but I feel pretty confident about how I'm doing things," or, "I appreciate your advice, but I really just need to talk this out right now. Do you have a minute to listen?"
If this doesn't work, or if saying these things would bring more conflict than you can stomach, try cutting your losses on the interaction and modeling the behavior you'd like to see: listening. Ask the advice-giver if that's what they did, or if that's what their parents did. You can indulge them, if you're up for it — say you might try their suggestion sometime. Or, if you're quick on your feet — and can manage it without sarcasm — make a joke ("Brandy in the bottle, Aunt Betty? Well, that would definitely knock him out!"). Then, find a way to change the subject.
UNSOLICITED ADVICE IS A FACT OF LIFE. YOU'RE AN AMAZING MOM/DAD AND YOU'RE DOING AN AMAZING JOB. STAY STRONG, FIND YOUR PEOPLE, AND REMEMBER TO BREATHE. YOU GOT THIS.
Are you currently asking yourself What The Actual about a parenting sitch? Send a question to Jenny by emailing email@example.com.