We’ve all been there. Everybody has an opinion about something, from how your child is dressed, to what they’re eating to whether they’re “playing nicely” on the playground. Don’t you ever wish you could give those busybodies a piece of your mind? Because, honestly, if there is one thing you DON’T need when you’re expecting a baby or are knee deep in diapers, potty training or kindergarten transitions, it’s unsolicited parenting advice (you may notice we’ve talked about this before). Holly Ellis Spiegel has some ideas about how to handle those awkward encounters.
You know how it goes. You’re walking down the street, minding your own (and your baby’s) business, when out of nowhere, you’re confronted with a barrage of unwanted parenting advice and overall criticism of every parenting decision you’ve ever made from a complete stranger.
If you think you’ll be safe from disapproval with friends and family, you couldn’t be more wrong. Some of the most hurtful comments come from those who are closest to us, and they can be so damaging that they temporarily – or even permanently – hinder our efforts to be the best parents we can be.
Personally, I’ve been trying to come up with the best way to put down the comment without putting down the commenter. When an older parent incredulously asked me why my then 3-month-old was still breastfeeding: “I cut my kids off at 2 months. You’ve got to stop that right now or he’ll never grow out of it.” I say, “it’s wonderful that you were given the freedom to make the parenting decisions that worked best for you. This is what works best for us.”
That said, subtlety isn’t always the best way to play this game. I reached out to some of my fellow mamas* and while most of us admitted to biting our tongues in these awkward moments, here are some great strategies with which to arm yourself for the next time you walk the parenting judgment gauntlet.
*Note: most of the mama and baby names have been changed to protect them from further snide comments at the next family gathering!
Get with the times. A lot has changed since you and your partner managed to survive were lovingly raised by adoring parents with the best information available at the time. A recent study has even pointed out that one of the greatest dangers to today’s babies is their grandparents. Shawna likes to gently ask those offering outdated advice, “there has been a lot of early childhood development research conducted over the past 20 years. How recently did you obtain this information?”
Silence is golden. Celeste finds power in no response at all. “For example: if I say, ‘we co-sleep and I’m aware of my baby’s every breath,’ and they reply, “he’s going to die from SIDS. SIDS, SIDS, SIDS, blah, blah, SIDS.’ Then I let the awkward silence set in while I’m looking them right in the eye (eye contact is key). It usually takes a few seconds but 9 times out of 10 they start stammering out an apology.”
Blind them with science. When Rachel’s son Gareth went through a phase where he’d only nap if he was in the baby sling, her grandmother questioned whether “giving in” to this would make him a social pariah. Rachel fought back by “spouting off attachment theory rhetoric using as much jargon as possible. She couldn’t really argue with that because I sounded like a walking encyclopedia.”
Who says you need to tell the truth? April shares one way to deal with one of the most common questions new parents get: “is she sleeping through the night?” She says, “my aunt always asked me that when Winona was like 1 month old and I just said, ‘yup she is totally sleeping through the night.’ I just really did not feel like having a conversation with her and hearing her never-ending advice and constant stream of irritating questions.
Remind them that it’s not about them. When Tracey’s mom started questioning her parenting choices commented that she didn’t do XYZ when Tracey was a baby, her brilliant reply was, “and look what happened to me. There is still hope for my daughter!”
If you’re done being polite. Sometimes there’s just nothing for it. They’re being rude by judging you, so there’s no need for you to be polite back. Gusta’s (this IS her real name) 18-month-old son was throwing a fit on the R train a couple weeks ago. Gusta was running through all the tricks in her bag (snacks, toys, old-fashioned shushing), but he wasn’t having it. When the woman next to her said, “your child is too old to not be able to communicate his anger more effectively,” Gusta hit her limit. “I just looked at her, smiled, and said as silkily as I could muster: ‘I’m sorry, but go fuck yourself.’ She opened and closed her mouth a few times, apparently trying to decide how to respond, but didn’t say anything for the rest of the trip.” This creative mom even channeled her rage into a hilarious video that pays homage to both film noire and those stealthy, know-it-all parent-judgers.
Similarly, A Child Grows’s Editor-in-Chief Mollie Michel shares this story from a restaurant encounter: “Zada, then about 8 months old, was sleeping in the Ergo. A woman walked up to our table, and said, ‘excuse me, but I can’t just stand here and watch you with that baby without saying something. Baby carriers KILL BABIES. My daughter is a nurse. She told me they’re dangerous. Your baby is going to suffocate in that thing.’ I looked down at Zada, her head tipped back, eyes closed, mouth open, snoozing peacefully, and said, ‘well, I haven’t killed either of my kids yet, but if that changes, you’ll be the first to know.’”
So there you have it, a few ideas for all you parents out there, just doing your best. Stay tuned for my next post with snappy comebacks for unwanted pregnancy comments. Oh yes, sometimes there’s just no love for the bump.
Holly Ellis Spiegel is a writer and freelance film and video producer based in Brooklyn. She’s produced four feature films including the Sundance-selected Prairie Love and countless videos for parents and families on CafeMom and other outlets. She is also a new mom. See her work at www.hollylynnellis.com.