SHOULD YOU OFFER UNSOLICITED PARENTING ADVICE?

Good Enough Mother is still recovering from our trip to Lowes last night. We (and by “we” I mean ME) are going to undertake a painting project while here in South Carolina and needed supplies.  It was there my kids, both of them, decided to show their arses. Arguing loudly, play slapping, snapping each other with a rubber band ball, you know, the usual.

I was replaying that scene as I read How to Give Parenting Advice to Strangers from our friends at Babble.com. The gist of it is, if you see a parent with their hands full, even if their methods is ineffective you should bite your tongue.  I couldn’t agree more. Here’s why.

*IT’S REALLY NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. As soon as you leave the store or park of wherever you are, you will probably never see this person again in your life. So what difference does it make to you whether they do it “the right way” (and you know how we feel about that. See 10 from GEM)? It doesn’t – so butt out.

*YOUR ADVICE, NO MATTER HOW SOUND, WILL NOT BE TAKEN WELL. The person you are talking to is, no doubt, on overload. They’re dealing with a kid in full on meltdown mode. Even if you channeled the dulcet tones of Mother Teresa they’ll be pissed.

*THEY WILL ULTIMATELY FIGURE IT OUT ON THEIR OWN. The lessons in life that are attached to pain are the ones that are seared into our very being. Sweating, miserable, unhappy, embarrassed they will finally learn how to deal with the fussy kid. When they strike upon that success, they will file it away for use the next time it happens, and oh it will. Don’t take that away from them.

Luckily for me, all of the shoppers at Lowes last night were too busy searching for their plumbing snakes and 2 by 4’s to do more than offer disapproving glances to me and my wild kids last night. I thank them for that.

Have you ever been offered well-meaning advice from a stranger? What was it? How did it make you feel?

Rene Syler is a wife, mother, breast cancer advocate and television personality whose burning desire to tell the truth about modern motherhood led her to create GoodEnoughMother.com . When not spending time with her family or burning something for dinner, Rene travels the country as host of Sweet Retreats on The Live Well Network and Exhale on Aspire.

15 Comments

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  2. Lisa

    July 10, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I witnessed a woman beating her child with a belt taken from the rack at a TJ Maxx. I don’t mean gentle swatting, I mean striking as hard as she possibly could. I walked up to her, told her if she hit the child one more time, I would call 911. The child was screaming and cowering. She stopped, took the child and left the store. Condemn me for interfering, but I was not going to stand by and allow this adult to beat this child in public. The child probably suffered a stronger beating once in the car or home, that I could not prevent. But public humiliation and a public beating, I could.

  3. Rene Syler

    July 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Let me add one thing: I would say all bets are off if a child’s life is in danger. The above refers to the relatively minor meltdowns that kids have.

  4. jacki marie

    July 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

    I’ve learned to walk away and keep my opinions to myself even with family and friends– unless asked. Now if they ask…
    I agree that situation with the beating with a belt in the store, I would have interfered also. I probably would have called 911 because that parent definitely needed anger management classes. It’s one thing to go off at home, but to let go like that in public…

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  10. Mary

    August 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    You “interfere” – eg, offer the parent assistance with a smile and non-judgemental attitude or step in to tell a parent you think hitting children is wrong – because all that child needs is one adult willing to stand up for them and reinforce the idea that they are worthwhile people, too, undeserving of violence, to help them break the cycle of violence in their adult lives.

  11. Rene Syler

    August 23, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Thank you Mary. Yes, I will concede there may be a way to do this that does not create more problems for the child when they are out of your view.

  12. Faun

    May 21, 2011 at 8:25 am

    If kids are having meltdowns and parents are overwhelmed or ignoring the behavior, I ignore it UNLESS it has a straight impact on me, like if I’m at a restaurant and all of a sudden they come sit at MY table or they farting around in the store causes an injury to me or the people I’m with, then I’m hopping mad! Now seeing as though I’m a mandated reporter, if I see anything that looks like a parent is simply disciplining their child, I stay out of it. If I see a child that is getting whipped (not just tapped with a ruler or belt or their behind or hand or something) then I’m obligated to go over and say something, tell them I’m going to report them (depending on the situation)…I’d probably follow them out to the parking lot and get the tag off their car and call the police as well as child protection to locate the parent. Oh, and by the way, while I’m on the subject, if I see a kid that looks like they’ve got bruises on them in places that unusual or hard to get and certainly more than one or two, I watch that kid hard during my shopping, outing or eating escapade. I also notice things like a kid wearing a sweater in the summer time.

  13. Jana

    May 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

    As the parent of two kids with Asperger’s, I have dealt with a ton of unsolicited advice from strangers in public on many, many occasions over the years. The previous column on your site from the mom with a kiddo on the spectrum nailed it. Don’t judge the situation unless you have all the facts. Child endangerment situations are obviously something no one should ignore. However, a meltdown that a parent is forced to ignore in order to manage the smallest everyday errand does not call for a lecture on undisciplined kids and techniques that *always* worked on your own kids. The teen with no self-regulation trying to argue very, very loudly with their parent or sibling is not a belligerent punk with no respect, they just haven’t learned to control verbal output and remember social norms while worked up or excited. A 7 year old who needs to be carried through a noisy store is not necessarily a spoiled kid trying to manipulate his mother. He may be totally overwhelmed by too much sensory input and has shut down, unable to function. All kids with special needs are capable of learning coping techniques but it takes time. You often find burned out, tired parents with little support and few options other than to take their kid into stores and malls because they can’t leave them home alone or have no one to watch them. They’ve got to grocery shop and pick up medicines or diapers (or paint!) at some point. Even if their kid is tired from a day of therapy or doctor’s visits, life doesn’t stop. I guess my point is that there is often more to the situation than you’re seeing in the 3-10 minutes that you’re witnessing so *judgmental*, unsolicited advice is definitely going to be inappropriate at those times. Take a moment to consider what you’re not seeing before rushing to share your wisdom.

  14. Faun

    May 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    @ Jana…I’ve done a lot of studying on Asperger’s and have even had a couple of clients with the, I hate to use the word “disease” or “syndrome.”

  15. Cathy

    May 24, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Yesterday evening I was walking out of Target with my 7 yo daughter, thoroughly exhausted after a stressful day at work. For the life of me, I could not remember where I parked our car. Ever since my daughter was 3, I have relied upon her uncanny ability to locate it in times such as these. This particular night, she strutted in front of me as though she ruled the world, and was treating me as though I was the most stupid person on it. I knew it was wrong to let her get away with that behavior, but in my exhaustion, it was comical. I was saying something like, “So, if our car’s over there, why are we going out this door?” and this very annoyed older lady shoving her cart by my strutting kid snapped, “Because she’s in charge!” My mind transported to this very post on Good Enough Mother, and I laughed out loud. Clearly, she’s of a generation that is tired of seeing parents let their children run over them. And, I was guilty as charged. When I laughed, instead of telling her to mind her own business, she was taken aback, and then smiled. No way could she know that I have a raised a child who is typically more respectful than most, that teachers and coaches adore. I just let her have her moment of standing up for kids respecting their parents.

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