“Your kids are cold! They need more layers”
“They look fine.”
“Well they’re not. They’re too cold. You need to bring them back home. NOW.”
That cold-weather exchange, with a stranger, was a bit heated.
You know that your non-fine looking kids are fine. But that stranger is even more convinced that the kids are anything but.
Parenting advice is plentiful – especially from people who don’t have kids, don’t work with kids, and who don’t know your kids.
And great insights can come from all quarters, even total strangers. But here’s the deal: Unsolicited advice, directly or passive aggressively given, causes stress.
Sometimes, unsolicited advice-giving is well-intended. You’re sharing a problem, and they want to offer a solution. Or they think you’re sharing a problem, and want to offer a solution to a non-existent obstacle.
It’s hard to know where the advice is coming from, the motive usually comes from a few categories.
You can read about the 8 types of people who offer unsolicited parenting advice. If you give advice, think about what bucket you fall in. And if you receive advice, think about where the advice is coming from.
THE 8 TYPES OF PEOPLE WHO OFFER UNSOLICITED ADVICE TO PARENTS
There are 8 different types or “levels” of advice that advice-givers give. I find that “1” is the most benign and “8” is the most odious. The higher up the rung, the worse it gets. (The more obnoxious the motives.)
1 The Altruistic
People think they can help and want to make your life easier. “Maybe just give your child a warning that bedtime is coming so they don’t freak out ever again.”
They want to reduce your stress, or the perceived inappropriate way you’re handling the situation.
Even when you just want to talk about your situation – just to alleviate stress – listeners often believe they need to offer suggestions and improvements.
2 The Just-Being-Friendly Strangers
Sometimes strangers, especially ones who are especially outgoing or lacking in social skills, will offer advice as a way to start a conversation. They want to forge a connection. “When my son did that, I fixed it overnight so easy. Here’s what you do.”
With strangers, like a friendly old man at the supermarket, it can feel less emotionally charged. It’s genuinely built from the desire to make a connection. Sometimes the advice is helpful.
3 The Recently Woke
People who are recently “woke” to how to handle situations with their spouse, children, job, or home want to spread the Gospel. Every situation (or at least yours) is a perfect fit for their wisdom. If only someone had “woke” them to this solution earlier. They genuinely are excited to share their wisdom and confidently assume that it will benefit you the same way.
4 The Needy
People offering unsolicited advice often do so out of their own neediness. They share their advice to feel their own need to feel valued, powerful, and important. The advice they offer is for their benefit, not yours.
5 The Narcissists
These people need to be in the role of “teacher” all of the time. Often, their parents are narcissists and they boast about how well they handle other narcissists and difficult people. Their advice is designed to pontificate about how together they are, and their advice is more about congratulating themselves than helping you.
6 The Know-It-Alls
Advice-givers in this bucket want to be the more knowledgeable person in your relationship dynamic. Giving advice solidifies their position of dominance.
Grandparents, grandparents-in-law, and older relatives often fall in this bucket. They have more life experience, and it stings when a younger person rejects their “superior” guidance. Not accepting their advice feels like an undermining of their authority and their wisdom.
7 The Judges
Judges know that you’re doing it wrong, and feel the need to let you know. They’ll offer unsolicited advice on how to handle two kids fighting over an iPad. The whole time letting you know that your kids shouldn’t even have an iPad.
Judges often do things “better” – with more resources, more support, and in a more socially conventional way. They want you to change your behaviors to do it “right”. Families of judges are free of freaks and fucktards, which only amplifies their right to judge you.
Judges offer unsolicited advice without knowing anything about the situation. But after all, as I often tell my husband: Judging comes best from a place of ignorance.
8 The Drama-Lovers
Some people love conflict. We all do from time to time; it’s why we can’t look away from car wrecks. Some people thrive on it. They bring up hot-button topics, like vaccines or face masks, and then offer unsolicited advice on how to manage your kids amid the rules and regulations.
BUT I STILL REALLY WANT TO GIVE UNSOLICITED PARENTING ADVICE
It may be appropriate, from time time, to give unsolicited parenting advice. And we all love to. Here’s a scorecard. Tally your points.
Scorecard: Should I Give Unsolicited Parenting Advice?
GIVE YOURSELF 1 POINT FOR EACH QUESTION YOU CAN ANSWER YES TO.
- I am a primary caregiver or teacher to the child. I spend at least 20 hours a week with that child. Grandparents would fall into this category if they are a significant partner (i.e. 20 hours a week) in child-rearing.
- I am a trusted friend of the parent who has been receptive to my past advice, and is someone from whom I receive advice. Advice is a two-way street.
- I am a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist listening to the parent discuss issues with parenting and their child. “Give me advice” might not be directly articulated.
- I have raised a child of the same age within the past 10 years.
- I am the child’s pediatrician, nutritionist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, counselor, para, or social worker.
- I am able to alleviate an immediate crisis right now. (i.e. A child is running screaming and streaking through Target and I can offer on-the-spot emergency aid.)
SUBTRACT 1 POINT FOR EACH QUESTION YOU CAN ANSWER YES TO.
- I am not a primary caregiver for the child.
- I do not have children or I have never raised children.
- I do not work in a child related field, like teaching, childcare, early childhood development, or pediatrics.
- I think airplane flights should be child-free, and children under 10 years of age should be banned from the Olive Garden.
- I know it is “wrong” that Audra’s daughter wears seventy-dollar Rylee and Cru dresses when there are starving, homeless people in our streets. And I can impress this “wrongness” upon her.
- Their child has too many stuffies and should just play with cardboard boxes and dirt.
If your total score comes to zero or more, you’re probably okay to give advice. Keep in mind that your advice could be rejected.
WHY IS MY UNSOLICITED PARENTING ADVICE BEING REJECTED?
There are a number of reasons why your unsolicited parenting advice is being rejected.
First and foremost, your advice is unsolicited. No one asked you, Darla. (I don’t know any Darlas. Let’s go with this name.)
Secondly, your advice is stressing out the parent. Or the parent is already stressed. Advice often comes in a time of conflict.
Thirdly, your advice has less than altruistic motives. You want to feel helpful and important. Ask yourself: Will I be upset or indignant if my advice is ignored or rejected? If the answer is yes, best to back off.
Fourthly, you failed the Unsolicited Parenting Advice Scorecard. You need a “0” (zero) or higher to pass.
HOW CAN I SHOW MY WISDOM IF I CAN’T GIVE UNSOLICITED ADVICE?
There are a number of ways to do this.
- Talk about areas of mutual interest, like sports, gardening, fishing, camping, or reading books.
- Talk about positive things the child is doing and things the parent is getting right. (Like dog trainers say, praise the behavior you want to see.)
HOW TO RESPOND TO UNSOLICITED PARENTING ADVICE
- “That’s thoughtful. Thank you for sharing your insight.”
- “I’ll have to try that.”
- “Oh, I must have tried it wrong. I’ll have to try it again.”
You’ll need to tactfully lie, in most instances, and move on.
Or you can use a different approach that puts the advice-giver on the defensive.
- “I do ______ wrong that way because I’m lazy and a bad mother.”
- “Well the number for Child Protective Services is on the fridge” (chuckle).
I enjoy giving some variation of the former reply. Because it disarms the other person, and sets them into reassurance mode as they tell you what a wonderful, not-bad mom you are. Some of the time.
This works especially well when you get a passive aggressive missile, where it’s advice and disapproval all rolled into one. “Oh, is that another new toy car you have? I thought you had just got a new toy car last week, silly boy! How many cars do you need?”
“He’s got another one because I’m a bad mother. I’m spoiling him and I’m doing it wrong.”
Scary Mommy has lots of other great, snarky ideas.
This piece is more than a little tongue-and-cheek. But as you rub shoulders with unsolicited advice-givers over the stressful holiday season, a little bit of context and a whole lot of humor could be helpful.
Other Reads You Might Enjoy (Casual Statement, Not to be construed as Advice)
- 9 Christmas Dresses for Kids: Fun Options for the Holidays and Beyond
- Matching Pajamas: 16 Options for All Styles and Budgets
- Save $15 at Alice and Ames: Get the Insider Scoop on How to Save and How to Resell
- Small Business Saturday Deals: Kate Quinn, Jamie Kay, Rylee + Cru, Boden, Hanna Andersson, Quincy Mae, Mikoleon, Frugi, and More!