I’d heard of “mommy wars” before I became a parent, but I can’t say I fully understood until now. Pre-parenthood, I remember thinking that parents should simply raise their children the way that they want (barring abuse, of course) and mind their own business about what other parents do. Now that I am a mom, although I still think this approach would be wildly helpful if ever broadly applied, I realize it doesn’t seem like it’s going happen anytime soon. Where the internet has given us all invaluable and limitless access to information and digital connectivity, it has also created a surplus of echo chambers. And sure, there have probably always been issues of contention between parents, folks nowadays seem especially convinced that their way of doing things is the only right way — particularly when it comes to parenting. So how do we, as moms, brush off all that unsolicited parenting advice from seemingly everyone we meet?
Aaron Good is a psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon who specializes in nonviolent communication facilitation. He tells SheKnows that this tactic can help us further understand how parents might more peacefully coexist: “A distressing level of anxiety about whether they’re ‘doing it right’ would be a strong sign that a parent is taking too much advice from too many people too personally,” Good explains.
We know we’ve been there. Maybe you have too. The emotional anguish “mommy wars” can cause is legitimate — and we’re no strangers to the search for the perfect polite but deadly clapback to unsolicited parenting advice. But especially when you throw other (very real) variables into the mix — such as postpartum depression and the sky-high cost of childcare — the last thing any parent needs is another parent bringing them down. And yet here we are, navigating our way through offline and online worlds wherein strangers feel it’s permissible to chide, correct or otherwise shame us for the ways in which we want (or need) to be pregnant, give birth and raise our children.
“My observation is that some parents feel more vulnerable to parenting advice than they would about general life advice because, while we might be relative experts at living our lives, a child — at least the first one — is a new experience for most, and so we recognize that we might not be an expert at that,” Good explains.
This might be why some feel the need to interject their opinions on parenting too — we’re all just trying to figure out the best and most realistic way to raise our babies into decent adults. It’s confusing, and most of us, on some level, are afraid we might not know the exact right way to do it. We all respond to insecurity differently, and for some, offering an unsolicited piece of advice could be a coping mechanism.
There are two things we each can do to help address all this infighting and make the parenting world a happier place.
The first thing is relatively easy: Think carefully before you give advice to another parent, try hard not to give unsolicited advice and always treat other parents with compassion, even if they’re doing something you would not personally choose.
The second thing is not so easy, but once you get into the groove of it, it’s a wonderful parenting hack that will help you keep your well-being intact; just brush off the unsolicited parenting advice that doesn’t suit you.
That might sound a bit reductive and implausible. We all have a desire to defend our decisions because our inner belief systems dictate our decisions. If someone suggests our decisions are off, that might mean they’re suggesting that our inner belief system is off as well. Despite the fact that we all know there are many ways to parent well, it can be painful to be on the receiving end of unsolicited parenting advice. Just “brushing it off” doesn’t always seem possible when you’re feeling attacked and angry. But there’s a question you can ask yourself that will help you to effectively and swiftly move past the opinions of other parents:
Do I want to be more like this parent as it relates to this specific piece of advice or do I not?
If the answer is yes, then we can let our guards down. We can enter into constructive conversations with other parents that will facilitate growth for us. Some additional questions Good suggests parents ask themselves in these situations are:
- Does this person actually know what it’s like to live my life?
- Does this person actually have more expertise than I do on parenting?
- Do I care what they think? If so, why?
But when should parents allow themselves to feel vulnerable and open to unsolicited advice? “If they are curious about a particular practice or truly asking for help,” says Good.
If you would like for your child to have more art in their life, then you might want to sincerely listen to an artist’s opinion of how to nurture creativity in the home and beyond. However, you wouldn’t gain anything from listening to a parent’s advice on art if they don’t value it for their own family. It’s almost laughable that you would take their opinion to heart on that issue, right? So if the answer to the above question is no — if you don’t want to emulate the parent giving you advice in the specific area they’re discussing with you, then you simply acknowledge to yourself that you’re on a journey to a different place than they are — and that’s OK.
But there’s also the issue of comparison among parents. Mery Diaz, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City who teaches workshops on child development, tells SheKnows, “What works for one child simply might not work for another. The resources that parents have available, both socio-emotional and economic, is what should dictate child-rearing. When listening to and considering taking unsolicited advice, parents should ask themselves: What are my child’s needs? What are my parenting goals? And what are my resources to meet those needs and the goals? Wherever they find a gap, that’s where one can consider listening to advice.”
In short, only take a page out of someone’s book if you want your own book to read a bit more like theirs (and if that’s realistically aligned with your circumstances). There’s really nothing else to it.