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Friday, October 4, 2013

My Unsolicited Advice, About Unsolicited Advice

Julie Owsik Ackerman

Almost two years ago, I wrote about an instance of backseat parenting. When I read it just now, I laughed to see the same issue rearing its head again. Apparently, I haven’t transformed into a fully confident mother who believes in my skills yet. Oh well.

It’s been a tough few weeks. I’ve had health issues, Daniel started full-time school, Carl is back to his fall schedule, our little world is in upheaval. Last week, I was thrilled to bring Daniel to a support group we’ve both attended as long as he’s been alive. This group is a central piece of my self-care regime. But as I pulled up, I had a sinking feeling as I realized that our group had changed locations, and Daniel hadn’t been to the new place yet.

With so many changes in his world, I wondered how he would react to this. The answer was: not well. I have left him with our group’s babysitter, since he was a few months old, without incident. But last week, I could hear him wailing after I left. My first instinct was to go get him, but I wanted to give him a chance to settle in. One of his best friends was there, the babysitter was an awesome, fun guy, and I really needed that meeting.

Daniel quieted a few times, only to resume sobbing. After 15 minutes, I went to get him. He calmed down when he saw me, and sat quietly next to me in the meeting room for the next 45 minutes, only starting to squirm at the very end. I was glad I had listened to my instinct that told me that he might just need some extra cuddles.

Then I got hit by the backseat parenting squad of one: self-appointed. “I’m not giving you advice,” she started. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. “I just wish I had known when my kids were younger that when you give in to them, you encourage the behavior.”

I know this woman, I like this woman, and I felt like she had kicked me in the stomach. I had sat there for 15 minutes listening to my child’s cries. I knew what was going on in his life, and I knew he was beyond his limit that morning. I had made a choice based on my intuition, and it was a good one for both of us. I got to listen to my meeting, he got to sit with mommy. Win-win. So why did her comment set me off? Why can’t I just dismiss unsolicited advice as, “Wow, she’s pretty controlling and busy-bodyish.”

After some reflection I realized her comment bothered me so much because I was already feeling like maybe I wasn’t a good mother. I had made a large change for Daniel—going to full-time child care—and I wasn’t sure it was the right one. This woman, whatever her intention, poked a very tender spot.

Once I identified why her comment upset me, and I saw Daniel continue to adjust well to his new school, I let go of resentment toward the mommy police. I know I give unsolicited advice too. I have so many brilliant ideas, and I want to share them. But next time I want to impart a helpful hint to someone, I’m going to try to remember how it feels on the receiving side, and keep my mouth shut.


  1. Julie, Love the title of this post. Does your advisor follow this blog? I hope so. It amazes me that people feel like they are doing you a favor by giving parenting tips. Your intuition is your best advisor. After all, you said you're working; maybe you needed him in your lap for that hour or so. I'll remember this post next time my opinionator kicks into gear.

  2. Hi Julie, I love the title too, and the reminder that I don't know what's going on with behind the scene others so it's a good idea when I'm "not giving advice" to keep it to myself

  3. Loved the post, Julie! And the title. Good reminder for me, too, both as a contributor and recipient of "good advice." In my job search and career change, going from an employer to an employee, it has been good for me to MYOB and remember that "I am not in charge." And, since I am a "senior citizen" returning to the job force, I do my best not to bristle when 20-somethings feel the need to show me how to operate a printer, learn a new computer skill, etc. I was just thinking last night that in my old life, I was perceived as a respected expert; in my new life, I am perceived as a hapless oldster...and I haven't changed! Thanks for the valuable lesson in keeping the focus on myself!

  4. Thanks, broads. It's funny how many of my friends worried that they were the advice giver. We all do this, myself included. I think advice about mothering can be especially hard. The stakes of parenting feel so high, so the suggestion that I'm not doing it "right" can really set me off. I have to remind myself that there is no such thing as a perfect mother, and keep doing my best.