No matter how you choose to raise your children, you will hear about it. Having a family member criticize your parenting hurts, but even an offhand comment from a stranger can sting. Occasionally, the advice offered is a pearl of wisdom to cherish and apply. But often, it’s best to push these comments aside and forget them.
The key is to figure out what to tune in and what to tune out. Asking yourself these questions can help you distinguish between useful advice and unhelpful criticism, and learn how to respond to critics.
Ask Yourself: Did You Request Advice?
Before you prickle at a comment that sounds like criticism, consider: Did I open this door by actually asking for the person’s opinion? Or is this truly unsolicited advice? If it is the former, accept the fact that you invited the person to share her thoughts with you.
Clearly Vocalize What Kind of Support You Need
It’s tough when you ask for help and don’t like the response you get. But try to avoid blaming someone for having an opinion when you did ask them for it. Instead:
- Clarify what you need. Instead of asking a friend or family member what she thinks, ask specifically for her support. You might say, “I’ve decided to do this. I know you may not agree, but what I need from you is ___________ [just to listen, your encouragement, no judgment, etc].”
- If you ask for advice, be ready to hear it. Seeking advice requires vulnerability. Make sure you can accept that your family member may tell you something that is difficult to hear.
- Seek out people who are educated on the topic. You will find that different family and friends are great resources for different topics. For example: If you are suffering from low milk supply, turn to a friend who is a member of the La Leche League, rather than a relative who did not breastfeed.
Ask Yourself: What’s the Intention?
When you receive unsolicited advice that feels as if someone squirted lemon juice on an open wound, take a moment. See if you understand the heart of the person who seems to be criticizing your parenting. Is she speaking up because she genuinely cares for you and for your family? Did she attempt to speak her piece respectfully and lovingly?
Respond: Set Clear Relationship Boundaries
If so, you may want to restrain an overly defensive reaction. Weigh her comments: Do they have merit? Apply or (gently) reject them accordingly. It may be helpful to focus on her heart rather than her advice.
You may decide that the person is being hurtful, or that their advice is well-meaning but simply unwanted. If you don’t feel you can let go or ignore their comments, set boundaries with the advice-bearer. In as positive a way as you can muster, let the person know that you are comfortable with the parenting methods you have in place and that you are not looking for advice on the matter.
Ask Yourself: Am I Reading Between the Lines?
Sometimes it is easy to make the mistake of misinterpreting advice. We add meaning or emotion that was never intended by the giver. We replay the interaction in our minds and sometimes over-analyze what was really said. This is particularly true in our world of electronic conversations (Facebook statuses, tweets, texts, and emails). We are even more likely to read between the lines, filling in meaning that was never intended.
Respond: Actively Listen and Ask Questions If Needed
Especially in discussions of parenting style, engage in active listening. Use verbal and nonverbal cues to give your attention to the speaker and confirm what you understand the person to be conveying.
If you are unsure, ask for clarification. “Did you mean to say _________? Can you elaborate a little further?” When you communicate well, it can help build your relationship rather than harm it.
Be particularly mindful that electronic communication makes it very easy to misinterpreting someone’s comments. We can’t hear our friend or family member’s Inflection and tone of voice. So, if you read a Facebook status that leaves you thinking, “Was that directed at me?” or an email that starts to make your blood boil, either let it go or seek out the person for a calm, face-to-face conversation. You might be relieved to learn you were completely mistaken.
Ask Yourself: What Would Your Pediatrician Say?
Whether it be any of the many myths about alcohol and breastfeeding or how soon you can turn your baby forward-facing in the car seat, there are going to be times when people offer you suggestions that your pediatrician would advise against.
Respond: Ignore Them or Inform Them
In these instances, you have a choice. You can either drop the subject by smiling and nodding, or you can gently educate the person. Which method is best will depend on the situation and the person.
Many times, older family members can get stuck on a phrase like, “Well, when I was a parent…” You can give a simple, “Is that so?” and let her have the platform (while knowing your own information is more up to date). Alternatively, you can reply with a simple message such as, “Well, nowadays doctors actually recommend _____, and I am comfortable with that.”
Ask Yourself: Am I Being Defensive?
Finally, pause to consider whether there really is nothing wrong with what the person has to say. Maybe this is a sensitive topic for you, or you actually have an issue with the person and not the advice. Sometimes as parents, we have our self-defense mechanisms in place. We might be frustrated at the behavior of our children, and so we put our guards up high. Additionally, we might feel as if our family is always criticizing us. Suddenly, every comment feels like a dagger that cuts to our heart.
Respond: Listen With Your Mouth Closed
This is hard, but try it: Just listen, without feeling like you have to justify your parenting choices. Simply being honest can help defuse the situation. You might tell your family member that this topic makes you feel a bit sensitive, or let her know that right now, you need to hear encouragement rather than suggestions.
The next time you find the steam rising inside you as you listen to what you perceive is a critique of your parenting abilities, before you do anything, reflect on the situation. By taking the time to think before you react, you might actually find some helpful insights and avoid an unnecessary confrontation.