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.