Coping with Bad Parenting Advice

Whether right or wrong, rude or polite, getting advice about parenting when we don't ask for it can be frustrating.

Being a parent requires a certain level of tact and diplomacy, and I don’t just mean for negotiating Barbie-hostage situations between your own children. No, often it’s other parents with whom we must be polite, in spite of wanting to punch them in their faces.

I’m talking, of course, about know-it-all parents (and sometimes non-parents) who offer that nugget of wisdom we didn’t even ask for. We’ve all been there, myself included. When I was pregnant, a woman I worked with met my announcement with a tilt of the head and a simple: “Was this planned? Aren’t you a little young?” Throughout my pregnancy, I learned to cope with the constant chorus of “Sleep now! You won’t be able to soon!” Then after my daughter was born, the chorus changed key and became: “Just wait until she’s moving around, you’ll have your hands full!”

While I enjoy dreading the future as much as the next gal, some of this “advice” fell short of the mark, if you ask me. Well-intentioned or not, some advice new parents can do without. The first step, moms and dads, is not to perpetuate the cycle by spreading this annoying advice. The next is to learn how to cope when it’s directed at you.

When It’s Just Annoying…

It’s going to take a certain amount of patience to combat most annoying parental advice. A fantastic article from Parenting magazine offers tips for common scenarios:

  • Strangers: When your parenting style garners commentary from strangers, combat this with either a quick remark that says “I know what I’m doing, thank you very much” or try a bit of humor. Turning the tables on the stranger can end that conversation quickly.
  • Meddling friends/family: When people you know are rude, it can be harder to handle. They also tend to be a bit pushier. Don’t burn bridges with your own rude comments. Rather, thank them for their advice and go about your business as usual. You can certainly listen to advice without accepting it!
  • Caregivers: Sometimes, the people we trust our children to for the day have their own opinions on things. Yes, this advice can often be helpful, but not always. The best approach is to be direct and stay firm about your own opinions on the matter. This person needs to have a good relationship with you, so stay polite and confident.

When It’s Just Plain Bad…

Occasionally, some of that parenting advice is actually wrong. Lots of myths and “old wives tales” still persist in the world of child-rearing today, so it’s likely you’ll find yourself being offered out-of-date or ridiculous suggestions. Here are some of my favorites, taken from articles in Redbook and MSN Lifestyle:

  • “Don’t swaddle your infant; her arms will be deformed.” This one’s flat out un-true. Swaddling isn’t just not harmful to your baby, it’s actually a very helpful trick to keep her comfortable and sleeping longer.
  • “Cuddling your newborn too much will make him spoiled.” This common piece of advice is also way off base. Cuddling your newborn helps to build a strong bond between parent and child. Independence will come later, as your child grows, but lots and lots of cuddles build the foundation to that independence later in life.
  • “Sleep now, because you’ll never sleep when the baby comes.” I got this one first-hand, as I mentioned above. It’s negative and discouraging to moms-to-be, so stop saying it.
  • Speaking of… “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” I don’t know about you, but I needed those nap times to get the rest of my stuff done. If I was tired, I slept, but I often chose to catch up on my work, laundry, or even my reading-quietly-alone time when my infant daughter was napping.
  • “Don’t comfort your child. He’s acting out to manipulate you.” You’re the parent and, as such, are uniquely qualified to identify your child’s crocodile tears. Most babies and toddlers aren’t that conniving and they really are crying because they need something. You be the judge.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t any valuable (and valid) advice out there that parents can share with one another. I’m only referring to advice that’s given when we don’t ask for it or when it’s way off-base. It’s easy for us all to judge, so be careful not to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. Likewise, when you’re on the receiving end, try to stay polite and maintain composure. Remember that your child is probably watching you manage this scenario, so model the behavior you’d like him to have. How’s that for unsolicited advice?


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