I’m pretty sure advice is often just a projection of the advice giver’s greatest fears and anxieties. When that stranger on the street tells you to put a hat on your baby’s head in late June, she’s probably doing it because when her own baby once got sick, her pediatrician blamed it on the absence of a suitable head covering.
Don’t make my mistakes, she begs you, without ever actually saying those words. This woman is so thoughtful and also must be avoided at all costs. If you’re like me and take advice about as well as six-year-olds take naps, may I offer you my own unsolicited two cents on how to handle being told what to do with your kid?
Wait! I don’t want you to find yourself so flooded by the demands of a bunch of well-meaning jerks that you lose the ability to differentiate your own thoughts from theirs and slowly implode into a small pile of frightened dust!
Still not interested?
OK, well, here it is anyway! *cups hands around mouth and shouts* DON’T MAKE MY MISTAKES!
Explain that one of your lingering postpartum side effects is temporary hearing loss. Move along.
Interrupt the advice giver mid-sentence with a gleeful, "Oh, I meant to ask you for that pasta salad recipe!”
If the advice-giver is a random person on the street, adjust slightly and say, “I’m sorry, but I really need a good pasta salad recipe. Do you have one?” If they don’t, remind them that that salted water isn’t going to boil itself.
If they do, well, two birds, one stone, and zero fucks given!
Thomas Jefferson said, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.” And unsolicited parenting advice is often a sea of unintelligible propositions.
When your cousin suggests you call the pediatrician to ask why, upon being denied a chocolate doughnut, your son grits his teeth, makes rage fists, and weeps, it is completely acceptable for you to say, dry as toast, “I’m also going to call his lawyer and mine.”
Ask the advice-giver for detailed instructions on the potty training they are so wholeheartedly championing. Do not let them stop speaking, not for a second!
This will give you time to allow the fury emanating from your every pore to dissipate into the atmosphere like a silent fart. It will also give the advice-giver time to relieve himself of the anxiety and insecurity compelling him to tell you what you must do.
When it’s all said and done, you’ll both feel better (and his kid, who he was paying no attention to, will most definitely have peed his pants).
Show the advice-giver how you feel. This isn’t manipulation; this is the beginning of a conversation. You don’t need to apologize, you can just say, “Wow, that hit a nerve.”
If the advice-giver is warm-hearted, as most truly are, she’ll apologize and you can proceed as you wish. Maybe you’ll keep talking, maybe you won’t. But if you’re with your kids, you will have inadvertently shown them that even grown-ups feel their feelings. And live to tell the tale!
Say, “Thanks, that’s really kind of you, but I’m not in the mood for advice right now.”
Do not expect this kind of maturity to win you friends, but do expect to give yourself bravery chills. Kindness and candor take guts, but so does parenting in these strange times.
I mean, don’t take it RIGHT THEN! Goodness, how embarrassing.
Take it later, when your ego isn’t a blown glass ornament swinging on a tree during a tornado, and ALSO WHEN no one is around to see you realize how excellent a suggestion it actually was.
Then, swallow your pride, call the advice-giver, and thank her. You will MAKE. HER. DAY.
It takes a village!
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