How To Handle the Unsolicited Baby Advice That You Really, Really Didn’t Ask For

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“If your baby ever has trouble sleeping, just give them a bath in boiled lettuce water and it will knock them right out! But don’t forget to take the lettuce out before you put the baby in.”

Just before I let out a polite laugh, I realized my grandma’s neighbor was being serious. I’d just announced my pregnancy to her, a woman I’d known my entire life, and she cried tears of joy while giving me a surprisingly strong hug for a 94-year-old woman. And then she started rattling off every baby tip she could think of, including the lettuce bath. It was sweet and made me miss my own grandmother, who’d died during the first trimester of my pregnancy, all the more. Even though I didn’t ask for advice, and a lot of what she said sounded like something I’d never try, I knew it was coming from a place of love.

I think it’s safe to say that for the most part, while this advice is well-intentioned, there will always be people who speak up for no good reason. I’m not saying that a person actually wakes up one morning and thinks, What is the most damaging thing I can tell someone to do and pretend it’s good advice? That type of behavior is on par with a sociopath. So, let’s assume the people we’re referring to aren’t clinically cruel, just occasionally obnoxious.

With these individuals, unsolicited advice is given solely to imply that you don’t know what you’re doing, or that the way you parent is wrong. Nothing can come from that, other than making you feel awful, and, unfortunately, that is the exact outcome these people are aiming for.

The harsh reality is that some people you know are petty and jealous, or maybe even downright mean. And that won’t change just because you have a baby. Mean people aside, even when given with the best of intentions from the most caring of people, these nuggets of advice that you never asked for can be aggravating. Receiving unsolicited advice is one of the most universal frustrations among moms I’ve spoken with.

This sounds a little selfish, right? If people are only trying to help, what’s so bad about that? Well, it’s not really that cut-and-dried. And a lot of it has to do with who is offering the unsolicited advice, how and when they offer it, and if they’re advising — or telling — you to try something.

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Your baby will be fine, whether you listen to the advice or not. You are surrounded by well-intentioned family and friends who love your baby very much. But you need to develop a strategy for dealing with all their unsolicited advice, before it drives you crazy. There are things you and your partner can both do to help soften the impact of this well-intentioned but often unbearable aspect of parenting.

1. Make a plan before your baby arrives.

If you and your partner even have one conversation about it, you’ll be ahead of the game. Discuss how you feel about unsolicited advice in general and how you’d like to handle it. Also, be sure to talk about it again after your baby is born, because that’s when you’ll be inundated with it.

2. Have an honest conversation with those closest to you.

Personally, I’m not one for confrontation, but I can be up-front with my immediate family and closest friends. If you have a strong opinion about being offered “gentle suggestions,” let them know one way or the other.

3. If you can, let it go.

In an ideal world, if someone decided they absolutely needed to tell us how we could better push our baby’s stroller, we would nod along and thank them for sharing. Then, we’d either take the advice or forget it. Some people are better at this than others. Try to overlook at least some of it.

4. Create an exit plan.

If you know for a fact that you receive unsolicited advice about as well as fish can swim out of water, plan things in advance that you can say to end or change the conversation, especially if you struggle to come up with ideas on the spot. “Thank you for that idea, but I’m running late for a doctor’s appointment” or “That’s interesting, but can you tell me what happened with your neighbor who you think stole your Amazon package?” Turning the focus back to them is a great way to change the course of the conversation.

5. Be direct and honest.

A polite response that makes your feelings known in no uncertain terms might sound like this: “Thank you for the suggestions. I value your experience, but I think I want to try things my own way. Would you be open to me calling you to ask for advice when I need it?”

6. Take a vow of silence at home.

In addition to how you feel about unsolicited advice, you need to factor in your partner’s opinions of it, too. One of you may have no problem with it, while the other wants nothing to do with it. In that situation, you might want to consider putting a moratorium on it, meaning don’t talk about it and especially don’t share with your partner anything someone may have advised you to do or try.

7. Write it down for your partner.

Sometimes the problem with unsolicited advice is the timing. I know that, if I’m especially tired or stressed, I’m not as open to hearing uninvited opinions. But when I’m rested and clearheaded, I’m much better at managing my emotions. My husband actually had the idea that, instead of just telling me everything and anything people told him, he would write it down. We tried this and it was actually a big help.

8. Keep it anonymous.

In many instances, the only thing we don’t like about unsolicited advice is the person giving it. If you or your partner know that certain people can trigger you, consider making a list of people you don’t want to hear from. Then, if someone on your partner’s list starts telling you how to raise your baby, be sure you don’t run home and tell them all about it. Or at least, don’t tell them who said it.

9. Ask permission.

My biggest problem with all this unsolicited advice was that it made me feel like I was receiving it because I was failing as a mom. Many moms have said that they would be much more open to hearing secondhand advice from their partner if they just asked first, instead of unloading without warning. A lot of us handle this better when we’re prepared and in the right headspace. For example, instead of saying, “Someone told me we should do …” try “I heard an interesting idea. Do you want to hear about it?”

10. Stay aligned with each other.

Advice, whether invited or not, can cause problems when one parent wants to try it and the other doesn’t. It’s important to be on the same page to avoid resentment. This is another great conversation to have before your baby is born. What will you do if one of you wants to try something and the other doesn’t? Do you each get a veto? Maybe you both agree to a timeline, such as “We’ll try this if the problem still persists in a week.” It may seem like overkill, but you’ll be happy you put boundaries in place before you find yourselves awake at 3 a.m. with a baby who refuses to sleep.

If my husband and I had thought to do that before our son was born, we likely never would have had an argument about me insisting he go to the grocery store in the middle of the night to buy a head of iceberg lettuce.

This is an excerpt of Becky Vieira’s new book, Enough About the Baby: A Brutally Honest Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, available now on Amazon.

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