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How to give parenting advice without overstepping boundaries

I am a firm believer in the mindset of it takes a village to raise a child and am in turn looking for support from family, my children’s teachers, school administrators and most often other mom friends. That being said, I adopted another motto early in my parenting days of accept the choices of others without judgment after being on the receiving end of unsolicited advice on more than one occasion.

I was initially caught off guard by the liberty at which acquaintances, and even strangers, openly passed along unsolicited advice that began during my first pregnancy and has continued with even more furry as I navigate the world of raising a child with life-threatening food allergies.

As a woman and mother strong in my convictions, I am quite embarrassed to say that I recently found myself in the very circumstance I promised not to engage in. I gave unsolicited parenting advice, and I’d like to say sorry.

While in attendance at a hospital registration event during my third pregnancy, I struck up a conversation about delivery with a young couple embarking on their journey as new parents. Past initial introductions and questions about whether or not this was a first pregnancy and if either of us were familiar with the hospital and it’s services, I was approached with a question about some of my previous experiences. Surely sharing a bit about my past two deliveries was a fair topic to expand upon when questioned, right?

What started out as a very matter-of-fact, detail-oriented exchange slowly evolved into the exact passing along of unsolicited advice that I swore never to do. I justified my actions by the fact that this couple explicitly opened the door for me to share my input as they lamented over specific arrangements they hoped to have available.

I simply wanted this couple to know that it was okay to trust their instincts because this was something I deeply regretted in my own situation after the birth of my second son. I wanted this woman to know that as she became a mother, there would be intuition and instincts beyond explanation and that she was not wrong for trusting herself. That she was going to know her child better than anyone else. However, in reality none of these reasons were truly enough to justify what I had done.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then why is the line for offering advice so blurry? On the receiving end, it can feel overwhelming and include moments that feel judgmental or out of bounds from what might seem appropriate coming from an individual that is not the direct parent or caregiver. On the other side of the coin, there is wisdom that comes from experience. In the spirit of support and fostering a larger parenting network, shouldn’t our knowledge be shared with others? In rethinking the giving and receiving of parenting advice, I have shaped a few guidelines.

Be mindful

There is no way to know the full circumstances of another’s situation, no matter how close you are to the individual. Speak with caution and share advice knowing that you never truly know another person’s place until you stand in their shoes. Try to receive advice with an open mind, especially when it may come at a time where you are feeling exhaustion or frustration.

Approach with caution

It is easy to overgeneralize when giving advice. One of the more powerful lessons we learn when expanding a family is that no two children are alike. The same applies to parents as well. We all have individual life experiences and beliefs that shape who we are as parents. Even the closest of friends and family members can make very different choices. When it comes to giving advice, consider speaking from your personal place of reference (for example, “It was helpful for me when…” or “… was beneficial for my particular situation.”); and when receiving advice, listen with the notion that even in different circumstances we can still learn from one another and find support.

There is a good chance they’ve heard it before

Apparently, we all find moments to share advice — in part because we know that sharing our story is healing for ourselves and helps us find support in others as well. Whether you are sharing a piece of your journey or listening to the adventure of another parent, take it all in stride and celebrate the connections we are able to make with one another along the way.

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