Dealing with Unwanted Advice

I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve appreciated strangers telling me what to do with my children. That one time was last year, when I was 38 weeks pregnant and Manchild 1 had fallen a few feet from a wall at the nearby playground. Everybody in the park gathered around as I tried to console him. Some told me to take him to the doctor right away, others told me about what they had done when their kid had fallen. Within a few minutes they had dispersed, but one man sat on the bench with me while I held M1 for a long time and tried to get him to stop crying. The man watched what was going on, studied the boy for several minutes, and eventually offered his opinion that he would be fine, that he seemed to be recovering from the fall already and that I didn’t need to take him to the doctor. Maybe I appreciated his opinion because it was what I wanted to hear and I agreed with him. But I like to think I appreciated it because he took the time to examine what was going on, he didn’t shout his opinion from across the street, and he seemed genuinely concerned.

I was reminded of this experience the other day when we were playing at the same playground. We’d gone there to partake of the sprinkler/splashpad. While M1 played in the water, his little brother crawled around on the asphalt. It wasn’t long before M2’s pants were soaked and he was uncomfortable in them. The asphalt wasn’t too hot or rough, so I decided to let him crawl around in his bare legs if he wanted to. Off came the pants and he crawled around without trouble or complaint. And then M1 needed help at the drinking fountain. I got up to help him a few yards away which was practically abandonment in M2’s book. He cried and took off after me, but the roughness of the asphalt slowed him down a bit. Some girls (nannies, I think) sitting at a picnic table nearby suggested that I put the baby’s pants on because the asphalt was too hot for him. I thanked them, told them his pants were wet, that he was fine, and to please let me parent my own children. This was not the first time that I’ve said as much to somebody who offered advice, but it was the first time that we were not just passing each other on the street, and so it was the first time I’ve had to deal with the fall-out.

I helped M1 get a drink, but he continued to play in the fountain. After a few minutes one of the girls turned and said, “Excuse me ma’am, but there was really no reason to be so rude. I was just trying to help.” And it was at this point that I realized that there was really no good ending in the situation for her. For my part, I could hardly care less what she thought of my parenting. She obviously had not taken time to evaluate the situation or she might have noticed that he was crying, not because of the asphalt, but because I walked away from him. My only response was to tell her that I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just a little bit tired of people telling me what to do when I had thoughtfully made a decision. She didn’t say anything after that, but I could tell that nothing had changed for her; she was still ruffled and huffy. As we left I thanked her for her concern and wished her a good day. It was as much as I could do.

Is there any good way to respond to people who offer their advice? I suppose if I had it to do over again, I would be a little less abrupt in my response to her (although at the time my hands were full and my attention divided as it was), but I also think that people who don’t take the time to figure out what is going on don’t merit the time it takes me to walk them gently through the situation. Have you had any similar experiences? How do you handle it?

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11 Comments

  1. I usually just say, “Thanks. Maybe I’ll try that in a few minutes if I can’t figure out what else is wrong.”

    And, like you, I usually know exactly what’s wrong and exactly what will make them stop crying and can deliver it in those few minutes I’ve given to the stranger to let me deal with it.

    Other times, I just ignore them.

    But kuddos to you to suggesting to someone to let a parent be a parent. I often don’t have the guts.

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  2. lizzie

    August 6th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    I think that living in New York has emboldened me quite a bit. Sometimes I just think that these people need to realize that they haven’t got a clue. I know it is not likely to change their behavior because I know a lot of people just like to hear themselves talk and to feel useful. It is very nice of them to want to help, but I wish they would also understand that they are making the problem worse because I then have to deal with them as well as the children.

    One thing I do appreciate is when someone will just do something. Like carry M1 off the bus when there are so many people on it that I can’t help him. He might be weirded out for a moment, but then they put him down, he’s fine, I didn’t have to think about whether it would be okay or not.

    I hope I can remember that when I am in a better position to help people and not so much the one needing to be helped.

    Ignoring is definitely a good strategy as well. Just walk away like you didn’t hear. 🙂

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  3. Well, obviously Lizzie, it’s because everyone is a much better parent than you are. 🙂

    Sometimes it really gets to me as well. And it’s usually the older ladies that say anything so I hate to be snooty but, like Heather, I usually just say “Thanks” and keep doing what I’m doing. That way I’ve acknowledged that I heard them say something to me (so they don’t feel like they have to repeat themselves) but they can see that I feel like I am doing what’s best. If I have the time, I explain my side. One time at the grocery store a woman pointed out to me that Clark’s shoes were on the wrong feet and that he would trip get hurt. I smiled and told her that he was 3 and learning how to be independent and dress himself. Allowing him to feel like he accomplished something by himself was a lot more important to me than if it would trip him because honestly he was 3 and would trip with his shoes on the right feet occasionally. 🙂

    People mean well, but some don’t remember what it was like to parent young children, or don’t have any children and don’t really know what they’re saying. Remembering that makes it much easier to ignore, if necessary.

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  4. I get very frustrated with people at times. I was in the grocery store and my son was crying. A lady came up to me and said, “Your son would be a HUGE job for Super Nanny!” I said, “He’s two, these things happen…” But, inside I felt incompetent and too permissive.
    I read this dad blogger. He addressed the same issue:
    http://www.sweet-juniper.com/2010/07/open-letter-to-all-busybodies.html

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  5. I agree with all the things you’ve ever said about this topic. It is so hard to have people think they know better than you, the mom. Sometimes it has taken me days to get over what people have said to me while trying to “help”. People here definitely seem to speak their minds freely. I never have a good response, either.

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  6. lizzie

    August 7th, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    You know, Jodie, I did used to think that everyone else in the world did know better than I did . . . but then I realized that I was getting parenting advice from teenagers and I thought, EXCUSE ME? And then I decided I needed to take charge. You are totally right that sometimes it is helpful to explain to people why you are doing things the way you are. I wonder how many people walk away feeling like they did a good thing when they tell someone else how to take care of their own kid.

    Loved that post Misty, and I can’t believe someone told you your boy would be a huge job for Super Nanny. Honestly people. Two-year-olds are sometimes just two years old.

    Catlin, I think I am catching the “speak your mind freely” thing because two years ago there is no way in heck I would have been able to tell anyone to let me do my job and leave me alone. For better or worse . . . .

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  7. Generally when people try to control you (whether it is intentionally or unintentionally meant to hurt) it points to an insecurity they have in their own lives… kind of like an emotionally unhealthy cry for help. So it’s kind of feeding the fire if we respond in an unhealthy way.

    If for some reason they are right on the button in their advice– it takes a lot of humility to listen. It’s all apart of our journey to becoming better people 😉

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  8. I think the next time someone sees me with my three kids and comments “boy you sure have your hands full”, I think I’m going to lie and say something like, “with just these three? Nah! My three oldest are at Grandma’s house this week. Coming to the store with just these three is cakewalk.” I can’t wait to see what kind of reaction THAT will get! 🙂

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  9. lizzie

    August 10th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Summer, that is an interesting thought, but I think I’m going to use Occam’s Razor on this one and say that they just weren’t thinking/paying attention.

    And Jodie, I think that is a brilliant idea. I’d love to hear how it goes next time around. Or maybe I’ll use it myself.

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  10. I just smile, say thank you and keep going. As for lying and saying your on a “cakewalk,” prepare for a jaw drop and then a sheepish grin. It is fun to watch, although I’m not lying about it. It is life. The other thing I like to do when I get the “you must have your hands full” comment is say, “Yeah, isn’t it great!”. I do this even when I don’t have my full handful.

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  11. Really…be open to it. I found that sometimes people gave a little jewel of advice that served me and my children well. I realized that they might have something they already learned that I hadn’t. Mostly, I think people really ARE just trying to be helpful, when they see us in a difficult moment. Being defensive is a natural reaction, but being open feels better, and you never know what you will gain from it. Breath, and listen, say thanks and give it a moments thought.
    I did have my hands full and I got lots of comments…some of them were keepers…the rest you just let blow away in the wind. Strangers have had some good ideas for me along the way, especially because one of my children has a disability, and every once in a while, someone with great experience felt free to speak up, and point me in a great direction. I may be the expert on my own children but only because I am willing to keep learning….and not feeling I am the only one with amazing ideas. Hands full and hearts full! Have fun!

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    lizzie Reply:

    Thanks. I appreciate your perspective and I’ll try to keep it in mind and be less judgmental of those who, I hope, really only have my children’s best interest at heart.

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