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Mom to Stranger: MYOB!

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Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: As I trotted out of Starbucks one sweltering afternoon, a Frappuccino in my hand, my 1-year-old babbling to himself on my back, another customer said to me, "You bought yourself a nice cold drink, don't you think your baby is thirsty, too?" 


I was stunned. No, he's not thirsty, I wanted to scream. And what baby needs coffee?

I shouldn't have been stunned. This happens all the time. I have come to believe the word "clueless" is carved into my forehead. Nearly every week, some stranger (usually an elderly woman) tells me my son's feet must be cold (when it's 90 degrees out), or suggests he needs a hat (like I haven't tried to keep one on him) or tells me he must be uncomfortable in the baby carrier (when he's cooing).

Apparently, I am not alone. Thirty-four percent of moms complain about receiving unsolicited parenting advice from strangers, according to a Parenting magazine poll. In my desperation to make sense of this bewildering phenomenon, I asked Cindy Post Senning, parenting expert at the Emily Post Institute, for insight into what compels strangers to do this. And, more importantly, how can moms politely tell them to bugger off?

Momlogic: Am I wrong, or is it inappropriate to tell a parent how to dress her kid?

Cindy Post Senning: Yes. It is inappropriate, from an etiquette perspective, to make comments about how people are doing things. Giving unsolicited advice is not considered good manners.

ML: Why is it upsetting when this happens?

CPS: It hits you right at your core. It's hard to be a mom--and moms work hard at doing the right thing and making the right decisions. How you feed, cloth and discipline your baby are apt to be things that--on any given afternoon--might already be stressful. You want to be a good mom, and the implication from unsolicited advice is that you're not a good mom. The underlying message is you don't know what you're doing.

ML: How can a mom politely respond to unwanted advice?

CPS: By being really clear and just saying that you consider that a personal issue. Don't say, "Thanks for your advice."

ML: How do you respond to a complete stranger?

CPS: Keep it short. I'd be inclined not to say anything. Or say, "This is not a good time to discuss this," and go on your way.

ML: What if it's your mother-in-law who's giving the advice?

CPS: Prepare to change the subject. Say, "This is really personal and I don't feel inclined to talk about it." You just change the subject and make it clear that you're changing the subject. Don't engage in an argument with her about your choice. It escalates the situation--you're not going to change her mind.

ML: Is it ok to tell the advice-giver to shove it?

CPS: People ask me all the time if it is okay to be rude back. No. It's not okay because then you just have two rude people.

next: Why Women Date Older Men
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
ame i. August 10, 2008, 7:47 PM

An older lady once said to me “Give that baby a drink of water!”
My baby was 2 weeks old, breastfed, and wouldn’t take a bottle of anything. I had nursed her 10 minutes before.

Anonymous August 11, 2008, 12:35 AM

It irritates me when this happens, it also irritates me when people without childern try to give me advice.

Anonymous August 11, 2008, 10:48 AM

I tell them to F off!

Sonja  August 11, 2008, 6:44 PM

If the advice doesn’t seem too rude, and you just don’t intend to take it, you can say, “I’ll keep that in mind” and ignore it. If it’s really rude, a good long stare will usually back them off.

SW August 14, 2008, 12:22 PM

It seems to me, although I could be wrong, that strangers who offer unsolicited advice do this either because they think they know more than the mom they are advising, or they want to feel superior and figure a new mom is vunerable. I wonder, in ame i’s case, if she had responded with, “Water, for a two week old?!? You must not know anything about babies!” if the older woman would then have left her alone.

Anna August 17, 2008, 10:50 PM

I think it depends on the advice, if it is critical- like, “arn’t you giving your baby something to drink too”, it is definatly rude and critical.
Advice like, “I noticed your baby has the hiccups, have you tried giving them________?”, is not really rude- at least in my opinion anyway. It sounds more like you stumbled apon this discovery one day or at least it is little known remedy that they did not expect anyone to know but themselves. It may be just me though.

lavortiz157 October 7, 2008, 7:54 AM

My baby @ 3 weeks old had baby acne which I heard was normal all of a sudden its like a disease and everyon is giving me there old family remedy! Even strangers! When they see them again and they ask how it went then I tell them I didn’t try it! I just found it easier to just smile and nod!

Golf September 14, 2010, 10:36 AM

In related news, Tiger Woods stars in a movie called “My Favorite 18 Holes.” It turns out it’s actually about golf.

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