I get really defensive when I receive unsolicited parenting advice. It’s so bad I’ve been snapping at strangers and find it hard to be around friends and family members who have kids. How can I navigate this advice without creating tension?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

Unsolicited advice is composed of an interesting mix of motivations and emotions, as the advice-giver is usually trying to make themselves feel important and helpful, while the advice-receiver often feels like they’re being told they don’t know what they’re doing. For the most part, the only kind of advice that doesn’t cause tension is the solicited kind. So yup, it’s perfectly natural for your hackles to rise when someone starts preaching

about sleep training, insists you’ll kill the planet if you use disposable diapers, or shares some other opinion that primarily serves to pump up their ego. And while you have every right to be annoyed or defensive, remember that you and the advice-giver likely have two completely different perceptions of the conversation. They think the two of you are bonding over their knowledge and helpfulness, while you feel like they’re judging your parenting and putting their opinions where they don’t belong. Keeping that in mind can significantly reduce your defensiveness.

Something else that could be happening is that you’re feeling insecure about your parenting knowledge and choices, and need space to figure out what feels best for you. People telling you what you should do can make you feel rushed to make decisions and even more insecure about your base of knowledge. If you’re feeling this way, I encourage you to remember that you’re the expert on your child. You’re the guru of your family, even if you haven’t consumed as much parenting literature as the other person or haven’t found all the answers. (And spoiler alert: no one ever finds all the answers.) So instead of letting the advice get to you, take it as a sign that it might feel good to take some alone time to meditate on what’s going on with your baby, yourself, or your family and what solution intuitively feels right. If you don’t know where to start, use that alone time to research the issue and make a list of potential solutions that resonate with you.

It’s also common to feel the urge to tell the advice-giver why certain advice wouldn’t work for your family and, in the case of something like corporal punishment, why you think it’s wrong. But the fact is, they don’t want to hear it, and you don’t want to waste your breath. You don’t have to convince them their advice is misguided, or the way you’re doing something is working fine, or you’re confident you can come up with a solution on your own. You don’t owe them any explanation, and you don’t have to get sucked into a parenting debate — save your energy for something enjoyable.

What to do

Here are some tips for slipping away from advice sessions with minimal effort and emotion.

Scream “No!” when someone tries to give you advice. Just kidding. Try this:

Keep parenting challenges to yourself when you’re with chronic advice-givers. Minimize the chance of receiving advice that might activate your defensiveness and anger by dodging parenting conversations with people prone to offering advice.

Compose go-to responses. When most people give advice, the response they want is an unsarcastic version of, “Oh my gosh, thank you! I never would have thought of that. You’re a genius! What would I do without your superior insights?” But you don’t have to give them that. You get to think of a response that allows you to shut down the outpouring of advice without getting into an argument. I usually say something like, “Hmm. That’s interesting. I’ll think about it.” If they continue with the advice, I’ll interrupt with an, “I’m so sorry but I think my baby just pooped. I’ll be right back.” And then I’m not right back.

Here are additional responses you can tinker with:

  • “[Insert the parenting choice here] is working just fine for us. No need to fix what isn’t broken.”
  • “It sounds like that worked great for your family. I love how there’s so many unique ways to raise a child, and that every family gets to make their own decisions.”
  • “I’m sure that’s an ideal option for some families. We’re going to keep doing what feels right for us.”
  • “We tried that, but it didn’t work for us. Just shows that each child is different!”
  • “I’m doing what the pediatrician advised.” And it doesn’t matter if this is a lie — it will likely shut down the advice or judgment, as people are often loath to go against the word of an expert.
  • “Luckily, we don’t have to agree on the right way to [insert parenting topic here]. We can each do it our own way.”
  • “Thanks for your concern.”
  • “I’ll keep that in mind. Anyways, tell me about that book club you joined.”

Check in with yourself after receiving advice. After you’ve gotten out of an unwanted-advice conversation, take a pause and look objectively at the advice. Do you instinctually know it won’t work for your family? Does it go against your parenting philosophy? If so, fuggedaboutit. But if the advice sparked some interest, file it away for later use.

Remember that the advice-giver is (probably) coming from a good place. Most people aren’t trying to insult or annoy when they give advice — usually, they’re genuinely trying to help. Hold on to this belief when they blast you with their counsel. While you don’t have to agree, or even listen to it, remembering that they’re probably not intending to insult you can help you stay calm enough to gently extract yourself from the conversation, instead of raging.

Avoid being the advice-giver. I like to preach about how annoying unsolicited advice is, but I myself give it all the time. And I’m working on this. Be better than me and swallow your advice when it tiptoes to the tip of your tongue. I can almost guarantee that people would prefer your empathy or your questions about what they think they should do over your wisdom (as wise as it might be). And of course, if they ask for your opinion, you can let it rip.

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