The audacity of strangers never ceases to amaze me, especially when it comes to people you barely know offering advice.
Never is this more apparent than around parenting — and rarely is this advice helpful.
The only thing a pregnant woman needs to hear is, "Congratulations!" The only thing a parent needs to hear is, "You're doing a wonderful job." Of course, if you genuinely have concerns about potential red-flag issues, like verbal or physical abuse, that's a different situation altogether. But let's operate under the assumption that most parents are, indeed, doing the best they can.
Everyone with kids knows that parenting is the hardest job in the world. Because there's no manual, it can feel like you're stumbling around in the dark half the time. When someone offers unsolicited advice, the unspoken message is, "You're doing it wrong," which is the last thing any loving parent needs to hear.
Over the years of working with pregnant women and parents as they navigate this tricky time of life, I've heard more than enough pieces of advice that they didn't need to hear. The following 10 are the most common and most unhelpful:
1. "Don't worry, you'll lose all that weight once you have the baby."
Does being pregnant trump the golden rule of never commenting on a woman's weight? I don't think so.
2. "Your life will end as soon as you have the baby."
While many elements of life do go underground for a while as you adjust to life with a newborn, it's not helpful to emphasize it unless the couple brings it up first. And while there is a loss of freedom, having a baby does not spell doom for anyone or their marriage.
3. "This is what you need to do about [fill in the blank]."
Did I ask? Any unsolicited advice — whether it's about breastfeeding, sleep, sharing, potty training or any other parenting issue — is invasive and disrespectful, and often undermines a new mother's already fragile sense of self-trust.
4. "Your child should be [fill in the blank] by now. You should have his [fill in the blank] checked."
Any comment that indicates a comparison against a milestone chart or the "should" of the culture is best kept to oneself. It's all arbitrary, and parents need to be trusted regarding how they're handling their own child's development.
5. "Stop worrying."
Telling someone who falls on the anxious-sensitive continuum to quit worrying, especially about their own child, is like telling a frog to stop being green. Highly sensitive people are wired to be hyper-vigilant, and telling them to stop being who they are will only lead to self-doubt and shame.
6. "Your child shouldn't still be sleeping with you."
This is, perhaps, one of the best-kept secrets among parents: kids well into elementary school years are ushered to sleep by a parent or find their way into the parents' bed in the middle of the night. When most of the world (outside of Western culture) co-sleeps, why do we still carry such shame and stigma around what is natural?
7. "You mean your child never eats [fill in the blank]?"
Again, it's none of your business. Food is often a challenging issue for many parents, especially if their kid is a picky eater, so any comment will only inflame the issue.
8. "Why is your child still using a bottle?"
Every child has their own timeline, and every culture has their own expectations regarding how long a child is supposed to rely on sources of comfort, whether it's breastfeeding, using a binky or drinking from a bottle. In its emphasis on early independence, Western culture differs from many other cultures, and this is reflected in the looks and comments that parents receive when their child is still breastfeeding or using a binky beyond the age of what we typically see.
9. "You should have your child tested for OCD, ADD, or autism."
Wow. Again, the audacity of strangers. And even friends and family members.
10. "She must be shy. You need to socialize her more."
In a culture that upholds extroverts as the ideal, this statement is clearly said with implied criticism, as if shyness is something to be fixed and not part of someone's intrinsic wiring. Not only is it insulting to the parent, but the child absorbs the belief that there's something wrong with her for needing time to warm up (a very common trait of sensitive introverts and not something that needs to be fixed).
The bottom line: Unless you're observing true abuse or your advice has been explicitly requested, please, mind your own business. Advice given under the guise of being helpful can create damage, while a compliment about someone's parenting can go a long way.
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