How Do You Deal with Unwanted Parenting Advice?

Posted July 24, 2009 by

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Why do strangers try to scare parents with random, negative comments? I’m a new mom, and I’m already tired of unwanted parenting advice and snide remarks.

It happened to me again this week while I was walking in the parking lot of the grocery store, my 10-month-old Olivia tucked against me in her Snugli.  It was one of those moments I love as a parent, when your child is happy and content and you’re enjoying the peace and simple pleasure of that moment.  In spite of this, while loading my bag of groceries into the car, an older gentleman commented that it looked like I had my hands full.  I replied, “Not so bad,” which in turn elicited a response of “Just you wait!”  The phrase seemed to transform into a curse when it was concluded with a sinister laugh.

It is amazing to me that strangers will so happily take the opportunity to be harbingers of doom.  Perhaps it sounds like I have a huge chip on my shoulder about it, and maybe I do.  But come on, tell me I look like I have my hands full when I’m accompanied by a caravan of over-tired, cranky children ranging from ages 10 months to 10 years, wheeling 2 carts full of grocery bags, preferably filled with heavy items so a couple of bags just bust right open, and a set of hungry St. Bernards waiting in the car.  But apparently, this older gentleman was just looking for any handy point of entry — a calm baby sucking her thumb contentedly, in our case — before imparting his words of wisdom.

It seems like I’m learning that this is part of some initiation to parenthood that others impose on the newbies in the parenting circle.  I have no control over what other people say and do, but I just wanted to say, “If you’re going to say something obvious and/or negative, save your breath.”

Don’t get me wrong,  I’m all about hearing other people’s stories and experiences and I’m very interested in their (and my own) learning and growth as a parent, but there’s a time and a place to talk about parenting struggles — and it’s not the grocery store parking lot!

I think it ruffles my feathers when I perceive that some people are more focused on being nuisances to one another than being supportive.  And to them I want to say, “If you do want to share your parenting misery, offer some reassurance that it is at least encouraging or practical — or at the very least, give one measly example of how it was enjoyable in some way. ” Without that, I see passing comments as merely as grown-ups acting out.

I wanted to share this annoyance with all you parents out there and see if you’ve had the same experience.  In the end, I realized that it was unacceptable to allow this stranger to have the power to whittle away any satisfaction or pleasure I had in that moment with my daughter.  Because the truth of the matter is, we need to fight for and hang onto those times of peace and success.  They guide us and keep us steady in moments of uncertainty and discomfort.  In fact, I try hard every day to make those experiences visible to the parents I talk through 1-on-1 Coaching, because I know they can become hard to detect when you’re tired and frustrated.  That’s why I love going into the Empowering Parents forum seeing how parents in the EP community encourage and support each other every day. Too bad all parents can’t understand the simple truth — when you’re cutting someone else down or being negative, no matter how benign it seems, it doesn’t do anything to help, and often it actually can hurt. (Or at least make one mom very annoyed!)

Do you remember something another parent said to you in passing that you found to be out of place or even down right insulting that you will never forget?  How did you respond?  Did you find it gets worse as your child gets older?  I want to know!

About

As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. Brooklyn Report

    THANK YOU. Whew…I escaped a horrifying 13 yr marriage with our 3 children safe, but questionably sound. Grocery shopping is at times a nightmare…mostly my 5 yr old son gets cranky and antsy. I will either hear, “Your daughter(12), is such a grown-up, helping you so much…” or, “Wow, you have your hands FULL! And it only gets worse with the GIRL!”
    I never say anything because I feel so ashamed of my parenting. Obviously I do not know something these people know, or why else would they point it out so loudly in public?
    I enjoyed your article, and I found it empowering. Many thanks.

    Reply
  2. terrie Report

    To Tina, So many times I too have heard these comments, It is not what we say that can hurt people it is what we here. You heard this perosn say unkind things if you could hear the other side it would be “God I miss my child being that little , I wish I had held her more, that parent enjoys her daughter, I wish I wouldnt have rushed so through my childs life.” So many times we want to believe someone is trying to hurt us. Now dont get me wrong there out there but who cares about them, Many many times, people are saying something so different! We are truly not hearing what they are trying to say, dont be so defensive all the time, people are just trying to tell you something else, Not we we say!!! it is what we are hearing try to response with isn’ parenting a blast. Tell a relitive I am so glad to share these children with you they are awsome, thank you for being part of there life. Time is to short to pick each statement apart. Relax.

    Reply
  3. B. Howard Report

    I am a mother of twins, boy and girl. They are now 8 years old but when they were around 6 months or so we were at a friend of the familys birthday party. My mother in law made a comment that they (the twins) were really a handful or something along those lines. It was also said rather snidely. I didn’t appreciate the comment any too much and pretty much has put a riff between us every since. Moral to the story is if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all–especially if it is about someones children. BIG NO NO!!

    Reply
  4. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    mom2nick: Your son’s response was so perfect — and who knows, maybe he taught this woman a lesson. (We can always hope!) I also am bothered when people put their negative feelings about kids in general onto our kids. The last time it happened, a grumpy older man made one of those disparaging “He’s a good kid now, but just you wait” comments in the grocery store. (Believe it or not, my son was behaving fine, too — there wasn’t even any reason for this man to “warn” me.) Whenever someone makes comments like that in front of my son, I always try to say later (after I’ve calmed down), “Did you hear what that person said about kids? That wasn’t really fair, was it? What did you think of that?” This last time, my son said, “Maybe that man was sad because he had a fight with his son.” Kids are smarter than we think!

    Reply
  5. mom2nick_d Report

    I was at the grocery store in the checkout line when my then 5-year-old told me he loved me. He just up and said it. I was so in love with being a mom at that moment. Then the cashier said, “What does he want?” in a despicable tone. He answered her, saying he didn’t want anything. Then she kept going with her negative attitude, telling us that when he becomes a teenager he’ll be telling me how much he hates me. Right in front of him! My boy then tells me right in front of her how he would never tell me that. I imagine the cashier felt defeated by goodness and all that is kind at that point and didn’t continue her negative attitude, but I was very annoyed at her giving him the idea of hatred. The hugs and love of my boy made everything better.

    Reply
  6. Jan in AZ Report

    I have three different comments about this post:

    1. I have used those kinds of remarks as a lesson for myself to be careful about looking like a know-it-all, and making sure MY comments are always uplifting or at least supportive.

    2. I usually just either ignore or give a wan smile to those remarks, but I have a friend whose daughter is autistic, and when she has had too many remarks about her daughter’s “bad” behavior from well-meaning friends, she resorts to telling them that “My husband and I consider how to handle our children together. When you become the third partner in our marriage, we’ll give you a vote.” I personally have not said that to anyone, but I certainly have had the urge!

    3. My husband was out with our son when he was about 2 years old, when a woman came up to him and said “Oh, are we playing Daddy today?” He looked her straight in the eye and said “No, I’m deadly serious.” That, to us, was more offensive than all the “just you wait”-type remarks we ever heard. A good father doesn’t “babysit,” he takes his turn. It’s not just something he does once in a blue moon to help the “real” parent!!! All I can figure is that she was hoping he was a single dad, and was trying to start a conversation with a lame remark, without thinking just how very lame it was!

    Reply
  7. Tina Wakefield Report

    lunalite:

    Way to go! When you’re feeling disrespected or put down, it takes a lot of guts to stand up to someone (especially in public) and let them know their comments are unwelcome.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments and saw a lot of value in each perspective.

    Reply
  8. Tina Wakefield Report

    lizziea:

    Thanks! I loved your article and it made me feel like it was okay to be fed up with such comments — I also had a couple of good laughs.

    Reply
  9. Tina Wakefield Report

    tb:

    First of all, all I would be able to think in that situation is that my kids weren’t the only ones up past their bedtime. If I was a mind reader I’d want to pay for your groceries and offer to babysit — sounds like a stressful night!

    Reply
  10. Tina Wakefield Report

    smj:

    I liked your post because I think it’s a good reminder that some people’s stories contain more sadness and heartache than they ever bargained for in regards to raising their children. The most generous thing you can do is perhaps to listen and if permissible ask a question to find out where they’re coming from.

    Reply
  11. Tina Wakefield Report

    mabbene:

    I think you are absolutely right that it’s not about me. I’m sure I’ll get along much better in life if I can view such comments as pleas for attention like you said. I guess it will be up to me who I pay attention to and who I ignore!

    Reply
  12. Lunalite Report

    I have had so many experiences similar to yours. One time I was watching my son at his Kung Fu class and another mother asked how my 4 month old baby was doing. I told her that she was great and we were trying to keep her awake before bedtime so that she would sleep better that night. Well, another woman overheard and complained that it was physiologically damaging for her to sleep through the night and that we should be waking her up every two hours to feed her. I told the woman that I already have three children and do not need her advice. I also went on to tell her that I was feeling like a wonderful mom and feeling great about my parenting that day until she came along with her negative speech. It was really awful! The only good thing was that the other mother had listened to the whole argument and said that I had done the right thing because that woman was trying to put me down. It did feel good to take up for myself and my three perfectly healthy children!

    Luna

    Reply
  13. tb Report

    What I love, is that no one can read your mind when this happens. My husband was working two jobs and I had to lug 4 kids under 7 to the grocery store at 8pm to get tylenol. As soon as I got in the store teo of my kids started crying because they wnated to push the cart at the same time and this 80 year old woman turned around and screamed at me:”Those kids need to be in bed!” and I thought, Ok, lady I’ll bring them right over to your house.

    Reply
  14. smj Report

    I second the comment that it’s not about you. Some of us have had horrendous experiences with teens (before the Total Transformation system), and the pain and destruction is just overwhelming. No excuse, to be sure – but I suspect it’s just a vent on the part of the parent of a tough teen.

    Reply
  15. mabbene Report

    It’s really not about you. I remember it well. It also happened to me when I was pregnant. I was LOVING my pregnancy and so content. Older women would say “Oh, just you wait”. Or when my beautiful little girl and I were out… they’d say the same thing.

    I did realize that it was as simple as them needing to feel important, or experienced… the child in them needing some attention. Don’t take it personally. Just be happy you don’t need to do that to anyone else.

    Reply

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