Thursday, June 23, 2016

Unsolicited Parental Advice

Can we be real for a moment? Being a parent is tough. It seems like there are never ending choices each day and many of the choices lead to more choices... all of which someone else will end up judging my ability to parent over. 

Do I let her pick out her own socks or do I do it for her? Am I taking away her independence and individuality to get them for her? ... OK I will let her pick them out. 

{Five minutes later}

Why is she wearing two different socks? Is that one her sisters sock? Do I make her go change them? Is it worth the fight? ..... At least they are clean, I hope. I will just have her roll that one down and maybe no one will notice. 

It is a constant balancing act and a draining one at that... and this was just over socks. 

I have found that while I can't even manage to handle the stress of socks on my own child, I still go an offer unsolicited advice to other parents. Even worse sometimes I judge their parenting skills based on what I see in a glance. 

While I am very thankful for technology and for the wealth of information at my fingertips, it has one big downfall. Information overload. It seems that each person can be an expert and have advice an information that they believe I should follow, and most of them don't agree. This leads to so many feeling they have a better way, a right way, and they feel the need to tell each person who does not comply. 

Common areas of unsolicited parental advice: 
breast/bottle
cloth/disposable diapers
vaccinations
nap schedules
disciplining
car seat arrangements
cell phones
electronics
circumcisions
bedtimes
family diet
clothing choices
dating
footwear
behavior in public
hair styles
roles of a step parent
homeschooling/public/private school
chores/allowance
access to vehicle
ect.
Whether you are a parent of a small one or a parent of a teen, we have all been offered unsolicited parental advice. Some of it might have changed your view on a subject and some may have made you feel uncomfortable. 

Which is more important, the message or the delivery? 

While the message is the heart of the issue and the thing being conveyed, it is the delivery of the message that make all the difference to me. One thing that drives my hubby crazy is that I will end up stopping and having an extended chat with strangers in Target. I love sharing the information I have, whether it is on free kids activities, an amazing product, or on what God has done in my life. I love sharing with others. I am not against sharing unsolicited advice, in the right circumstance and in the right way. 

So here is my unsolicited advice on giving unsolicited advice. 

1. Speak/Write in "I" and "my", not in "You" and "your"s. 

Often a person can hear advice better when it is spoken in a specific way. I have found that when people say "you" or "your" it automatically makes me feel defensive. I feel like I need to defend my choice and my family. Not only do I feel judged, I also feel self conscious. I begin to doubt myself and my choices as a parent and that makes me disconnect even more from the person offering the advice. 

Example: 
Good: Did you know that you should spend at least an hour a day reading to your child? 

Better: Even though time gets really tight, I try to spend at least an hour a day reading to my child. I heard it was really important for her reading skills. 

2. Speak from inexperience more than experience. 

While I appreciate the experience someone may have in a topic/situation, speaking from their inexperience also brings a mutual understanding. I am more likely to listen to a friend who understands my struggles and does not expect perfection from me because she herself is imperfect. 

Example: 
Good: I have done so much research and find that it is best for children to have no artificial preservatives in their food. 

Better: Some nights I am so exhausted from all the running around that I just run through McDonald's for dinner, but in general I am trying to cut out all of the artificial preservatives in my kids diets. 

3. Ask if the person would like advice. 

This might sound simple, but it makes all the difference. Asking if someone would like advice is a great way to build the trust and respect that will make the person receive the advice better. If the person says no then let it go. 

Example: 
Good: Why isn't your baby wearing any socks? You should have socks on her or she will get cold. 

Better: I hated when my baby would pull off her socks each time we got in the car. Can I tell you what helped us? 

4. Take a moment to evaluate and empathize.

Instead of jumping in with advice, it is important to evaluate the situation. Maybe it is not a good moment to be offering advice. Maybe the person usually does what I am suggesting but there are things I might not know playing a role at the moment. Maybe she needs support and encouragement instead. If my children are acting up in a store, I have had a long day of toddler tantrums, my a/c unit is out in my van, our paycheck was short this week; the last thing I need is a person coming up to offer me advice. If a juggler is juggling five sticks that are on fire, it is not the time to interrupt and offer my advice on how he/she could be doing it better or more effectively. Sometimes I need to remember when approaching a situation to (pardon the language) back the hell up and keep my mouth shut. If anything I can offer a kind word, a compliment, or encouragement. 

I have actually seen my friend Jennifer do this. When we see a child in a store throwing a tantrum and a parent disciplining or correcting the child, my reaction is to look away and to mind my own business. In certain circumstances my friend will acknowledge the parent and tell them that they are doing a great job. 

Example:
Good: {silence  and no judgmental glance}

Better: Keep it up! You are doing great! I love your (blank).

5. Don't use fear as a way to get the message across. 

While I do try to protect my children and do what is best for them, I do not like to live in fear. I do not want to be unaware of risks, but when a person leads with risks and dangers I automatically shut down. I am going to make a lot of mistakes. The world is a scary and dangerous place. I do my best to protect my children, but then I rely on God for protection and strength. 

Example:
Good:Little children should not be around magnets. If they accidentally swallow some they can choke, or worse they can perforate through their intestines. They can end up with internal bleeding, infection, and death. 

Better: Little children shouldn't have access to magnets because they are a chocking hazard and can hurt them if swallowed. 

6. Be aware how things are perceived.

Sometimes when someone is very passionate about the advice they are trying to give, it comes off as if they think they love their child more than I love mine. The person is just trying to help and is acting out of love, but instead it reads as something very hurtful. Phrases such as, "I love my baby, so I..." make it sounds as if the person who does not do whatever it is doesn't love their child. It is assumed that the majority of choices a person makes is in their child's best interest and out of love. 

As parents we have enough pressure on us in general, without adding the judgment of other parents. While sharing advice is a wonderful and helpful thing, it is important to make sure we are doing it in a supportive loving way. 

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Romans 12:18  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Philippians 2:1-4 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.