What do you do when someone is offering unsolicited advice about your kids, your marriage, or your life?
We were all in a long row, my family of ten, singing at church. At the time, my oldest was sixteen and my youngest, my twins, were newborns. My oldest kids at that point had been in the baby game a long, long time, helping me with each of their successive siblings, changing diapers, snuggling, burping. And by this point, I was no newbie myself.
But all that seemed to be lost on the lady standing behind us during worship. She kept leaning over my oldest daughter’s shoulder, who was holding one of the twins. She kept trying to adjust the burp cloth, kept trying to readjust the baby’s head. I put a protective arm around my oldest daughter, thinking that would give our over-the-shoulder busybody a strong signal.
She kept trying to fiddle with the baby, kept whispering comments, even as I began to shoot eye daggers at her.
I should have been surprised.
But I wasn’t.
Not after all these years of parenting…and experiencing the comments, opinions, and interference.
When Michael and I began this parenting journey, we read lots of books, took classes, debated Lamaze versus Bradley birth methods. We sought out mentors, scoured educational models, and juggled disposable diapers against cloth. There were things we were ready for.
There were things we weren’t.
But nothing in all of that preparation could have prepared us for a breed of people who seem to show up when kids are involved.
They’re an ancient tribe, I suppose, those who Mean Well, but who are Not Minding Their Own Business. To be fair, Michael and I looked really young when we had our first child. Because we were. But we were both out of college, had managed big and stressful jobs, and were happy and thrilled when our first child was born. So it was a jolt to have complete strangers quiz us in the grocery store line about how breastfeeding was unsanitary and the type of car seat we were using that didn’t have a particular feature and didn’t we think the baby needed to be wearing a hat?
While it didn’t happen often, it happened enough that it shook my confidence a time or two. I knew I was a good mom; not a perfect one, but one who was attentive and informed. I had worked with children all through high school and college. I had been my mom’s right hand gal with my two younger brothers. I’d always adored babies and had been a trusted caregiver for several families. So I knew my stuff, so to speak. I figured as I started to look a little older and had more kiddos, the commentary would stop.
I’ve had some pretty wild conversations about birth control practices, circumcision, dietary choices, haircuts, and more, all with complete strangers who seemed compelled to comment and query. Everything from proclamations that I should enjoy my current season of parenting as the teen years would be horrific to suggestions for a better haircut for my son have been part of the menu.
In my case, it’s mostly been strangers who’ve generated this dialog. I have other friends for whom it’s extended family members or neighbors who levy their opinions. The Naysayers, the nosey, the negative.
And this: if I myself were to see a child in a dangerous or abusive situation, I would absolutely speak up, interfere, and take action. And I have. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about those people who seem to not be able to help themselves when it comes to commentary about basic childhood decisions and preferences.
While I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be open to receiving wise counsel and insight about our kids, I am saying that boundaries are important. And while I don’t think meeting ignorance or rudeness with harshness is a best practice, here are some ideas if you have a naysayer, a nosey, or a negative person try to comment on your parenting.
Here are three great tips to politely but firmly help someone mind their own business:
1. Subtlety can work.
Remember the lady I told you about, the one who kept fussing with my oldest daughter holding one of the twins? I thought the subtlety of my putting my arm around my daughter would be signal enough. It wasn’t, so I gestured to my daughter to move down the row, away from this gal. It worked. I didn’t have to be rude or dramatic or make any kind of verbal statement.
2. Make your boundaries clear.
I had my three-year-old son with me at a coffee shop. He was happily coloring, quiet as a mouse. I didn’t realize that he was swinging his feet below the table, occasionally making contact with the base of the booth he was sitting in. Another patron of the coffee shop said to him, “Little boy, quit kicking your feet…please.” Um, no. You address me, not my kid. I would be happy to ask my child to stop kicking if it was bothering someone, but that is a request to be made of a parent, not a command given to a child by an unknown adult with a parent right there. Respect, man, respect.
3. Sometimes, you may have to get a little tough.
This time, it wasn’t a stranger, it was someone I value and appreciate. But they had a real bias toward homeschooling, and without being asked, decided to chide me on our educational choices. This was not based on how my kids were faring academically; rather, it was based on their own preference. My natural habitat is to want to make people happy, to consider all sides of a story. But in this instance, there came a point in the conversation where I had to strongly shut down the dialog. While this person loves my children, Michael and I are responsible for the parenting choices we make. We had to have a similar discussion with another person about a different approach we take in parenting. Phrases like, “I appreciate your concern, but we are committed and comfortable with our choice,” or “At the end of the day, we are the people who will be answering for the raising of these children and this is what we have prayerfully decided” can take the sting out a bit, but can still effectively communicate the message.
Thankfully, the naysayers, the nosey, and the negative are fairly few and far between. And I completely get that, in the apex of my mothering career, with eight kids in tow, people were going to be curious and have questions. That part I can embrace. But through the years, I hope I’ve achieved a balance to where I can be open and informative and friendly, while still guarding and holding a boundary well. Take heart, mamas. You know more than you think you do. You’re loving your kids well. Even if that lady in the grocery line thinks they shouldn’t be allowed to wear flip flops in the fall.