I'm not a big fan of unsolicited parenting advice.
I believe in seeking wisdom for our parenting journey (because who among us really knows what we're doing?) by reading parenting books and articles or talking with friends and experts who have walked in our shoes, and I do all of that.
But it seems like being pregnant or becoming a brand new mom or rising through the ranks of a toddler parent or adolescent parent or teenager parent suddenly gives people permission (because they've already raised their kids or they're in a stage above this one or they think they know all there is to know about parenting) to tell you how to raise your children.
Maybe it's because most of the unsolicited advice I've gotten has been contrary to the way I know is right for my children, or maybe it's because most of the people who have doled out that advice have done it just to say I'm doing it all wrong, but I don't often heed what people say when I've never asked for their advice in the first place.
Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the friend you talk to most every day or the ones you swap parenting battle stories with or the ones who hold multiple degrees in child development or work as child therapists or are experts in parenting with respect and teaching children emotional intelligence (I'll take unsolicited advice from you any day!).
I'm talking about the lady who watches your son melt down at the playground because it's time to go and he's not ready to go, the one who cuts her eyes at you and says, "What that boy really needs is some discipline," and what she really means is a good old-fashioned spanking.
I'm talking about the one who thinks that just because "cry it out" worked for her three children, who are grown with no psychological problems, it works for yours, too, because people who soothe instead of let babies "cry it out" are really just spoiling their children, and later on those children will be ill-equipped to face this unfair world and you'll regret you ever picked them up to soothe them, because that was the time they could have learned all about life not being fair.
I'm talking about all the others who believe they raised their children right, even though those children were never your children.
So, since we live in this parenting age where people believe they can weigh in without being asked, I wanted to highlight the characteristics of the unsolicited parenting advice I find the most helpful and give us all permission to toss the rest.
1. The kind that makes me a better parent. It equips me with practical tools that help me understand my children in their various developmental stages and encourages me to mold their personalities and temperaments and tendencies not in a way that is easiest for me, but in a way that is the best representation of who they were made to be.
2. The kind that honors and embraces who children are. One of the most important pieces of parenting advice that I've gotten in all my soliciting (never the unsolicited, unfortunately) is to accept who my children are already, today. It's not easy, when one is strong-willed and it would be easier if he weren't; and one is highly sensitive and cries about the least little thing and it would be easier if he weren't; and one is afraid of the dark and wants to sleep in the doorway instead of his bed, and it would be easier if he didn't. The most helpful advice encourages me to honor who my children are instead of telling me how I should be changing them into more acceptable people.
3. The kind that fills me with a sense of empowerment, not inefficiency. So much of the unsolicited advice is given in a way that makes parents feel like we're failing as parents, just because we're not doing it this one particular way that works for all children of all ages at all times. The best parenting advice acknowledges that every child is different and that I, as a parent, know my child best and already possess the ability to raise them right.
4. The kind that doesn't throw out terms like "entitled" or "helicopter" or "spoiled" or "they have to learn life isn't fair." These are old-fashioned terms that really have no applicable value whatsoever.
5. The kind that doesn't make assumptions about who parents are. Lots of parenting advice, especially the unsolicited kind, comes from people who don't really know our family or our children, who only saw us at the store that one time the 2-year-old had a meltdown because it was an hour past nap time but still feel the need to weigh in on how we need to take a firmer hand so our children will never throw tantrums (theirs didn't!).
The other day, I was in the checkout line with one boy loudly crying that he wanted to spend more time than I allowed looking at the toys and two other boys physically fighting over who got to fly like Superman on the bottom rack of the cart.
The woman checking me out handed me my receipt and caught my eye and smiled.
"Three boys. Such a blessing," she said.
I didn't tell her that there were three more at home driving their daddy crazy or that, look, my boys are fighting, see? or that they don't always act like a blessing.
I just smiled back and said, "Yes. They are," and then walked out the door with my blessings crying and fighting all the way to the car.
Sometimes the best unsolicited advice is just a reminder that these little people really are amazing.
The rest of it, well, we can just let it slide in one ear and right back out the other, smiling our brightest thank-you smile.
They don't have to know we weren't listening.