Getting and giving parenting advice

By Jeri Kayser 

The holiday season is upon us, full of celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. There are plenty of cookies, leftover turkey and fortunately (or unfortunately) unlimited parenting advice.

  • The advice can be fun when Grandma recounts the temper tantrum your mother threw in the grocery store when she was little and how it was handled.
  • The advice can be helpful when your sister-in-law tells you about a website with deeply discounted baby supplies.
  • The advice can feel judgmental, overwhelming or misinformed when a bunch of aunts declare your baby must be cold because they are. “Why don’t you put a sweater on that child? He’s going to catch pneumonia!”

On the flip side, when you’ve lived life and raised kids, you do have some worthwhile advice to share. It’s hard to watch others struggle when you have good parenting tricks up your sleeve. So, how do we maintain family harmony and actually make this advice business work?  Some thoughts….

Unsolicited advice is rarely valuable. To be motivated to follow advice, it’s best if we actually sought it. As a Child Life Specialist, my day is filled with offering advice to parents on how they can help their child cope with their medical care experience. If the advice is going to be valuable, it has to be given with respect to the individual child and families’ needs, as well as their ability and desire to hear the information. Letting someone know what you have to offer and then respecting their decision as to whether they’d like the advice will encourage a dialogue that’s supportive.

No two situations are the same.  We’re unique individuals. A parenting technique that worked with one child might not work with another. Plus, every parent has their own set of skills and challenges that they work with when parenting. My mother-in-law gave me one of the greatest gifts possible (not counting her incredible, perfect son!). She told me when we had our first child that she wouldn’t tell me how to raise him if I didn’t tell her how to raise her kids. She recognized and respected the fact that we would each have our own style and would be more supportive of each other when we removed judgment.

Is now the right moment? In the midst of a huge toddler meltdown, no one is going to hear anything clearly. During the middle of a challenge is when you feel the most vulnerable as a parent. If you’re the advice giver, find a time later to reflect on what happened. If you’re the recipient of advice at an inopportune moment, be ready to redirect, “I would love to hear your perspective later Aunt Bertha, but I need to deal with this right now.”

Be open to the possibilities of great ideas in the sea of advice. When you’re pregnant, you’re a magnet for advice. People feel compelled to give it. During each of my pregnancies, parents at the hospital would offer me advice. Some of the hints I politely listened to and discarded because it wasn’t right for me, but most of the advice proved to be phenomenally helpful.

When people love us they want to help. They want to know the knowledge they have acquired in life is valuable. We also want to forge our own unique paths. When we are respectful in giving and getting advice, it can be priceless in the tremendous challenge of parenting.

This is a post by Jeri Kayser, who’s been a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota since 1985. Her educational background is in child development and psychology. She has three children who have been a great source of anecdotes to help illustrate developmental perspective. They’re wonderful at being good sports about it.

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