How to Handle Annoying Advice
Graceful ways to handle unsolicited parenting advice, even if it comes from your family
From the moment you're visibly pregnant till (I can only imagine) the time your child becomes a teenager, people you've never laid eyes on before will feel compelled to question your parenting skills. Their input should be the easiest to dismiss -- you don't know these people, right? On the other hand, they don't know you! So how can they presume to say these things?
This is precisely why Brynn Dessent can never forget the woman who stood behind her at the bank one day. "I was holding my five-month-old and talking about how I had to go back to work and how hard it was," remembers Dessent, a Los AngelesÐbased postproduction film supervisor. "This lady said I was making a big mistake -- that her own son had never forgiven her for working." The worst part? "She didn't know my financial reasons for working, or my emotional struggle with it all," says Dessent.
Jennifer Salerno, a mom of four, has learned to give strangers who are a little too free with their advice a low-key lesson in the fact that she's someone who knows what she's doing, thank you. "I just say, 'Oh, yes, that worked with my other three at home' or 'Yes, but this is nothing compared to what his older siblings did,' " she says. "That just shuts people down."
Even if you have just one child, humor can work wonders, says Leah Hennen, of Oakland. Initially, whenever her daughter, Laurel, had a tantrum in public, strangers' reactions made her want to scream, too. "People asked, 'Aww...is she having a bad day?' " Eventually, says Hennen, "my husband and I would say, 'Not really -- you should've seen her on Sunday.' " This gave people the gentle message to let her handle it.
Getting unwelcome input from people you don't know is annoying. Yet it's somehow even worse to hear it from people who know you well, since their remarks can pack an extra punch.
Lisa Fry* of Birmingham, Alabama, learned this the hard way after she asked her in-laws not to let their dogs lick her infant daughter's face. They acted as if the request was "ridiculous," Fry says, adding, "Now, when I visit, they say things to the dogs like 'Don't give kisses to the baby now, Lisa's here.' " And they continue to insist that dogs have sanitary mouths.
Right now, she just ignores their comments. But she admits, "I'm trying to figure out a way in which I can tell them that there are certain things that I believe, and that while they can believe differently, they need to respect what I think and want."
Figuring out what you can ignore and what's nonnegotiable is key. Fortunately for Shannon Rebolledo, the Wichita, Kansas, mom of 3-year-old Raef, her in-laws offer advice only from afar, since they're in South America. "They wanted me not to breastfeed my son for the first week of his life because I'd had gestational diabetes. They said I'd give it to him, something I knew was medically incorrect," she says. Her response? "I just said, 'Okay.' " Then she went ahead and nursed her baby.
*Name has been changed.