Everybody’s a critic: How to listen and filter advice about parenting

May 21, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. ET

We've all been there: The kids are melting down, and out of the corner of your eye, you see a concerned stranger approaching. Do you stick around for the parenting advice or run and hide in the bathroom?

Mother and daughter talking

Photo credit: Daniel Grill/Getty Images

We asked real women what they thought about receiving parenting advice, when they pay attention and when they blow it off. These moms had plenty of stories to tell. We learned that if the advice came from a trusted source, it was usually taken to heart; otherwise, not so much.

Advice worth hearing

Grandma advice

Grandmas have been there and done that. They also have a parenting track record that you can see. So, when Grandma tells you something, listen up.

Toni said, "My Grandma Eloise taught me two important lessons. First, she told me to 'talk your lips off to those kids,' and second, she said, 'Teach them. You are raising men and women.'"

Tara's grandma told her, "Kids need free time to be kids. They cannot have every moment of their day scheduled for them. They need to have fun." Good call, Grandma.

Doctor advice

Another agreed-upon source of advice was the pediatrician.

Jen said, "The best parenting advice that I received was from our pediatrician. Both of my kids can be pretty stubborn. Owen lives on chicken nuggets, applesauce, yogurt and junk food and still sucks his thumb. When I asked the doctor how to get him to eat other foods and curb other behaviors, he said that the most important thing is to be sure that meal times are not stressful. He assured me that Owen would get sick of eating only chicken nuggets eventually. We are slowly moving in the right direction. We went from eating no fresh fruit to eating strawberries and apples!"

If you have built an honest relationship with your pediatrician, he or she can be an amazing resource.

"I understand your job is hard" advice

Our moms also appreciated advice that acknowledged the challenges parenting can bring.

Kate said, "Two pieces of advice always positively resonated with me: First, everything is a phase. If you think things are bad, remember, it will pass. Second, you don't have to be the best mom. You just have to be good enough."

Nancy shared, "The best advice I received was that you have two parents to teach two views of everything. Sometimes they are the same view, and sometimes they are not; not that one is right and one is wrong. They're just different."

Respectful advice

No matter who is giving it, our moms insisted, the advice needs to be given in a way that is nonjudgmental.

Tara observed, “I will listen if someone starts out saying 'have you tried this' or 'what worked for us was...'"

When to smile and nod

On the flip side, there are many appropriate times to filter parenting advice. Our moms shed light on when ignoring someone is totally OK.

Limited-perspective advice

Tara said, "I stop listening to the advice if it sounds like the speaker is ignorant to different parenting styles and only has one view."

Adina shared, "Honestly, I tune most parenting advice out, unless it comes from another special needs mom."

"I'm right and you're wrong" advice

One of the biggest turnoffs was advice based on strong personal opinions or beliefs.

Keegan said, "Worst advice ever? 'Don't homeschool your kids, or they will be anti-social and weird.' My daughter is amazingly social and has not spent one day in public school."

Sara said, "The worst advice for me was sleep training books. I loved every minute of co-sleeping with my babies. People advised me it was an awful idea to allow your child in your bed or they'd never leave. I loved co-sleeping, and my boys still like to come in and cuddle with me!”

"I know your baby better than you do" advice

There is nothing more irritating than someone assuming they know more about you or your child than you do.

Carrie shared her experience receiving this type of advice before even giving birth: "When my husband and I were pregnant, people were always saying to us (rudely), 'You know, your life is about to change.' Every time someone said it, I wanted to say, 'Yes, I know! I am ready for this change. Why do you think I'm pregnant?' Guess what — because Lucy is very easygoing, we still go out to live music, hang out on the deck at the brew pub, and do a lot of stuff we used to do.”

Just say no

So how to you squelch unwanted behavior from an adult? Just like you would with your kids: redirect. Jen redirects the conversation back onto their children, as she put it: "Everyone likes to talk about their own kids." Kate said the best thing is a tried-and-true conversation-ending cliché like "different strokes for different folks." If you are offended and need to end the conversation before a parenting debate erupts, Keegan said to just just smile, nod and walk away.

Share with us: When do you tune in to parenting advice and when do you tune it out?

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