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The Single Best Response to Unsolicited Parenting Advice

DSC01332As a parent you’ve encountered your fair share of unsolicited advice. From your mother-in-law to your child-free hairdresser, every person who has ever had a kid, known a kid, or been a kid seems eager to offer parenting answers to questions you’re not asking.

Parenting is a complicated, highly personal game of trial-and-error, with each day offering a Groundhog Day kind experience that somehow makes us just a wee bit wiser in the ways of our kid than we were the day before. The process is a long, slow investment of the heart. And because of this, no one person gets to swoop in, determine you’re doing it wrong and offer unsolicited advice to “fix” what they perceive to be broken. They just don’t. They haven’t earned the right.

Of course I say that, but once upon a time I was a new mother in need of advice. I specifically remember asking a Target cashier what she thought of pacifiers because I had no one else to talk to. Desperate for answers, I screamed a silent prayer, “Please, somebody to tell me what to do with this baby!” Well, guess what – they did. Everybody did. Strangers initiated conversation about breast vs. bottle, diapering, immunizations, co-sleeping – you name it. And because people talked with such ridiculous authority, I carefully considered each opinion under the assumption that they knew better…only they didn’t.

As my son grew into a toddler that I miraculously managed to keep alive, I found myself building a virtual wall around myself and my son. Steely downward eyes, tight lips, and cold demeanor told strangers, “Your advice is not welcome here.” Only it didn’t really work and the advice just kept coming.

Desperate, exhausted, and so obviously done with the unsolicited noise, I reached out to a child-free girlfriend to share my pain. And wouldn’t you know it, it was she, a non-mother who offered me the single best bit of parenting advice I ever received, “All you have to do is smile and tell people, ‘Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.’ People just want to be heard.”

Oh. my. god. Could it really be that easy? Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind? You mean I didn’t have to engage in lengthy personal conversation? I wouldn’t have to further inquire as a courtesy? Nope. All I had to do was smile, respond, and keep moving, she advised.

The following day I took my son to the park to play. When it was time to go home, he objected in his typical toddler meltdown fashion for the entire park to witness. As I attempted to wrangle his squirmy body and quiet his deafening verbal protests, a grandmother called out, “You know, if you take him to the park after nap, this won’t happen.” Clearly she didn’t know my son, but OK, the after-nap thing worked for some kid she raised, knew, or met one time. “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind!” I nervously smiled. As we awkwardly strolled out of the park, the grandma stranger smiled and waved goodbye.

Sweet Jesus, it worked. All she wanted to do was help and be acknowledged and by golly, somehow my six little words managed to do that! Huh. And you want to know the best part? The entire exchange didn’t sting my sensitive mom soul even a little.

Even now, a cool decade and another kid later, I still use that pocket reply every time I encounter unsolicited parenting advice, because it works.

Now go on and try it out…or…just…thank me and tell me you’ll keep it in mind.

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