As a parent of a young child, you may be actively seeking parenting advice – looking at books and blogs, listening to podcasts or searching on YouTube at midnight or taking parenting classes. Or even if you didn’t seek out advice, it comes to you in the form of unsolicited comments from people at the grocery store, your friends, or your own parents.
It can be overwhelming, especially when the advice is conflicting. When one person say “you always have to do X” and someone else says “you should never do X because…”
I’ve always said that if you get ten pieces of parenting advice, you’ll eliminate one or two right off because you think “whoo, that sounds like a ton of work! I just don’t have the time / energy / money for that.” You might hear one that you think “oh, that just doesn’t seem smart / safe…” But that still leaves a bunch of ideas that seem do-able but you’re not sure which to try first.
Here are some questions to get you thinking critically about the advice you hear, and figuring out whether the advice is a good fit for your family at this time:
What is the source of the information:
- What is their training? Professional experience?
- Have they had their own children? Have they worked directly with lots of babies in day-to-day life (i.e. not just in a clinic setting)?
- Is the advice based on research? (Do they cite their sources?) Or is it based on real-world experience? Or a combination of the two?
- What is their motivation for sharing this advice – will they profit or benefit in some way if you take that advice? (For example, do they say the only way to solve a problem is to buy their product?)
- Do they share some of your social identities (e.g. race, religion, sexuality, class) or are they speaking from a very different life history?
Is it relevant?
- Does the advice apply to your child’s current age / developmental stage?
- Does the information fit (or can it be adapted) to your lifestyle, economic means, work patterns and other practical considerations?
- Does the advice align with your cultural values or religious practices?
- Is it it respectful – do you feel that the author / speaker respects that you have your own wisdom or do you feel that they’re talking down to / patronizing you?
- Is it fear-based? Lots of people trying to sell parents something (whether that’s a product, a service, or just their ideas) use fear as the motivator – “if you don’t do X, then your child will never _____.” (FYI, children are remarkably resilient, and there are few things which are actually this critical.)
- Or does it over promise? “If you do this, we guarantee your child will sleep through the night and will never throw a tantrum again.” (Nothing is that magical!)
- Does it feel do-able – you can imagine actually doing it and being successful at it?
How does the advice make you feel?
Is it flexible?
In my experience as a parent and as a parent educator, we are always needing to adapt and accommodate. We may be traveling or have visitors or our child might be in the middle of a growth spurt or we’ve got a stomach bug or what worked for our child last week doesn’t work this week or…
Any advice that is very rigid and implies that there is only one right way to do something and you can never vary it in any way just doesn’t seem realistic to me, and I never quite trust that the speaker has much experience with children if they don’t know everything has to be adapted to the unique needs of the moment.
Does it fit?
Really, the final question is: does the advice feel like a good fit for you? Does it seem like something you can imagine doing and doing consistently? If so, give the idea a try. If not, continue to seek ideas from other reputable sources till you find the answers that feel right for your family’s unique needs.
I just want to end with a comment on unsolicited advice. Someone told me that in their mind anytime someone gives them advice, it’s really meant as criticism that they’re not doing a good job. Someone else says that all unsolicited advice feels like “mansplaining” or like the speaker is condescending, assuming that they know everything and you know nothing.
I will grant that some people do these things.
However, I think that most people giving parenting advice mean well. In many cases, they have lived through their own parenting challenges, just like you – they often felt incompetent and overwhelmed, and then they found something that worked for them!! They were so excited and relieved by that experience that they now ‘spread the gospel’ about the idea to random parents they see on the street.
My approach is I listen to all advice I’m given and I evaluate it. Some is sheer nonsense that I shrug off. Some may not be useful to me at that time but I imagine someday it could be, so I store it away for future reference. And sometimes… that unsolicited advice is exactly what I need to solve a challenge I am currently facing, and I’m so glad the person decided to share it. It’s always worth having new ideas.
For more on this topic, read my post Parenting Advice is Not One Size Fits All.
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