Parenting advice you always hear from non-parents

If you have kids, chances are you’ve received some unsolicited advice from your non-parent friends and family members a time or two. While it’s not always appreciated — and sometimes can feel like a personal attack on you, your kids, and your parenting skills — most of the time, it’s probably coming from a good place (even though it can be hard to remember that). 

Whether you’ve had kids for a while or are soon to be a parent, you’ll nearly certainly hear some of this parenting advice from your non-parent friends and family members. Deep breaths.

You should be stricter

It seems as though all non-parents think they’d be the strictest parents on the block if they had kids of their own and seem to think that you should be stricter as well, as if you could prevent anything mischievous kids do just by being stricter with them. 

“I remember when I was raising my son, my non-parent friends always seemed to want me to be stricter,” Kathryn Smerling, a mother and family psychologist, told me. “They felt as if my parenting style was overly indulgent.” 

While, sure, you might be a bit of a pushover at times, they really can’t say that they wouldn’t do the exact same thing if you don’t have your own child in that exact same situation. Not only that, but each kid operates differently, so what’s best for one might not be what’s best for another.

You should desensitize your kids with food allergies or feed them organic food

For whatever reason, some people who don’t have kids with food allergies seem to think that they’re not that big of a deal and that you as a parent should be doing something to somehow alleviate the allergy. First of all, food allergies can be quite serious, so if you’re not the parent of the child, you might not understand all of the complexities of what they’re dealing with. 

“People with no children and even those with children but not with kids with allergies, will often say that we should desensitize them or maybe that we should feed organic or other comments on what the kids should and should not eat,” Cara Maksimow, a clinical therapist, social worker, speaker, author of Lose That Mommy Guilt, and mother of two, told me. 

It’s easy to comment on the decisions that other parents are making, but you can’t really be sure that your opinionated advice is actually useful, especially if you don’t have kids going through the same thing.

You should/shouldn’t breastfeed

Breastfeeding is arguably one of the most personal and controversy-laden decisions that moms make. There are all sorts of reasons why women do or don’t breastfeed, whether by choice or necessity. Regardless, it’s no one else’s decision or place to advise you to do one or the other. 

“Almost from the beginning and certainly after my kids were born, friends and even strangers seemed to weigh in on whether or not I should nurse, and those who were proponents always added in their beliefs about the absolute importance of it,” Jennifer Theriault, a licensed clinical social worker, told me. “I can remember having a very difficult time nursing both my boys and feeling so inadequate and ashamed that it was not enjoyable or easy. In fact, there was nothing about it that made me feel bonded or attached during those agonizing times.” 

Whether or not to breastfeed — or breastfeeding difficulties — can be really emotional for moms and, to be frank, they just don’t need your opinion on the subject.

You should/shouldn’t just let them cry it out

Whether or not parents let their babies cry it out or not is, like breastfeeding, one of the most personal decisions parents make. 

“The advice, especially by those who themselves have not experienced the struggles of parenthood, triggers negative emotions in parents,” Clinical Psychologist Anna Prudovski said. “This is especially true for those parents who made an informed decision on a controversial issue and are now challenged by their childless friends or family. Parents feel judged and may become defensive. Some may experience self-doubt (as if the self-doubt that naturally comes with becoming a parent is not enough).” 

Cry it out is one of those things that feels like a really weighted decision. Your parent friends already spent time fretting over what they were going to do, so don’t upset them by saying they’re doing it wrong unless there’s a concrete way that you can actually help.

You’re too attentive, let them be independent

“Helicopter parents” is a term that you’ve likely heard before and there is, to a certain extent, some truth to it when it comes to some parenting dynamics. But if you don’t have kids, you probably shouldn’t act as though you know exactly how much attention or independence your parent friends should give to their kids. 

“I think as my son got older, I continued to get criticism that I was giving him too much, was overattentive to his needs,” Smerling said. “I may or may not have done that, but you know what? He grew up to be a kind, compassionate, generous, smart, amazing human being. I think part of it had to do with him being an only child. It’s like a triangle relationship between the child and the mother and the father, and it becomes very close-knit.” 

Parents make a million choices every day and it might sound silly, but the world really is different now than when you were growing up. Don’t smugly tell your parent friends what they should do with their own kids because who knows what you’d do with yours if you were in their position.

You shouldn’t let them wear that

I know, if you had kids you’d have them wear the most age-appropriate outfits that look flattering on them and always match. But since you don’t, it’s probably best if you don’t tell your parent friends that their kids shouldn’t be allowed to wear the outfits they say are okay and that their kids like. 

“A non-parent may comment that my daughter’s outfit is inappropriate or that I should make her put on something else,” Maksimow said. “Only a parent of a teenager can appreciate how challenging that really is.”

You shouldn’t let them get away with that

Listen, I get it, I don’t have kids either and I’m guilty of sometimes wondering why that mom in that Target aisle is letting her baby scream at the top of its lungs. But I shouldn’t tell my mom or dad friends that they shouldn’t let their kids get away with things. Being a parent is hard and if you’re not a parent, you don’t know why they are or aren’t letting their kids “get away” with what they’re doing. 

“It’s very easy to make judgments and have ideas about how other people should raise their children,” Theriault said. “I think people can fall into the trap of making assumptions about why children behave the way they do without really knowing or understanding the complexities of the child or the dynamics that play out between child and parent.” 

Just because you think the kid is being disrespectful or is misbehaving doesn’t mean that you know all the specifics of the situation. Better to keep that to yourself.

You shouldn’t let them eat that

If you don’t have kids, you might think that when you’re a parent that you’ll be strict when it comes to eating: they won’t be able to eat dessert every night, maybe they’ll be gluten-free, maybe they’ll be vegetarian or vegan like you, maybe they’ll only be allowed to eat organic food, or no dairy, or nothing overly processed (aka “junk food”) — ever. If you feel that way, you might be judgmental with regards to the kinds of food your friends let their kids eat. Even if you do have kids, you might judge your friends based on the things that they let their kids do that you don’t let your kids do. 

Parents have to pick their battles, whether with their kids or with their non-parent friends. “Most parents make their parenting choices based on their beliefs, their family situation, and their kids’ temperaments,” Prudovski said. “Usually, those are thought-through decisions. At other times, parents may have preferred a different strategy, but it proved too difficult to implement (which is often a case with TV and junk food).” Whatever the reason for the boxed macaroni and cheese, drive thru dinner, bag of chips, or cookie or two, it’s their decision to make — not yours.

You should/shouldn’t let them watch TV

Like just about everything else, it can be easy for some people to criticize parents for letting their kids watch too much TV or too little TV (or what they perceive is too much or too little). Prudovski said that her family doesn’t have a television and that that lack of one can sometimes seem to elicit comments like “you should let them ‘have a childhood’.” 

While non-parents might think they’re helping you to be a better parent or make choices that will ultimately benefit your kids, it can be extremely difficult for parents not to feel attacked. Not only that, but non-parents (or other parents) really can’t say what’s best for your kids. Only you know that, when it comes down to it.

I can’t believe you let them have a cell phone

Especially for people who didn’t grow up having a cell phone when they were in elementary school or even junior high, the age at which parents give their kids cell phones can be a ripe area for unsolicited advice-giving. 

“People without children will judge the age you give your kids a phone,” Maksimow said. “If I chose to allow my child a cell phone before middle school, people can have very strong opinions about how that is not ok and that we should wait until they are older.”

 Whether it’s because of texting, surfing the internet, or spending all their time on social media, people tend to have strong opinions on what age is appropriate for kids to get cell phones. It’s probably best if you keep it to yourself, however.

I’d never put my kids in daycare/let someone else raise my kids

Yikes. As if being a parent weren’t hard enough, having your non-parent friends tell you that because you work and need to put your kids in daycare or find a regular babysitter or nanny to watch them while you’re away, you are letting someone else raise them can be a bit devastating (so I’ve heard). 

“I had some people in my life talk about how they would never ever leave a child with someone else and how could I possibly go back to work with little ones,” Maksimow said. Don’t be that friend that makes your friend feel like they have to go cry in the bathroom or in the car on the way home because you told them they weren’t being a good enough parent. Don’t be that person.

I don’t believe in punishing kids

Prudovski said that this is one of her favorite pieces of unsolicited advice from people who aren’t parents and haven’t ever been in a position where they need to determine how to discipline their kids. While you might think that not punishing kids (or, adversely, controlling them better — another of Prudovski’s favorites) is the best way to handle things, you’re probably not the authority on the subject. 

Theriault agreed. “People feel entitled to all kinds of ideas that they really have no business expressing to others,” she said. “Most of the time it’s not worth arguing or losing relationships over.” 

And if you’ve heard this particular opinion from your non-parent friends or family members, it might help if you remember the relationship you have with them (they’re in your life for a reason) and, also, the things that you believed before you had kids yourself. As Maksimow told me, “I used to think I was a great parent, until I became one.”

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