Investing in Self: Dealing With Unwanted Advice

When my girls were babies, we would attract a lot of attention going about the store in our double stroller. Strangers would often stop us, asking if they were identical, commenting on them in general. And always there was at least one kind soul who thought they’d give us a pearl of parenting wisdom. (My favorites were always from those who had children close in age, say eleven to fourteen months apart, who "knew" exactly what it was like to have twins and then proceeded to give me some bit of advice, but I digress.) In any case, what do you do when a person offers you some wisdom that you just didn’t ask for?

For the Casual Encounter

I think a lot of people out there are generally interested in others and really want to help...even if it is to give advice about how to correctly swaddle a baby when you’re just trying to get to the produce section at the store. Though you yourself wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to take on the part of the grocery store Dear Abby, others do without any encouragement from you.

You could choose to make a huge deal of the thing, pointing out that you didn’t ask for advice. Or you could choose to take whatever the person’s offered up with a grain of salt and let it slide.

My thoughts? Let it slide. Offer a smile. You could even throw a “Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind,” in there. Often, this will get you out of the situation without anyone’s feelings hurt, and it could get you on to the bananas and apples without a lot of time spent hearing about how it was to diaper a baby before disposables were invented. They're not hurting anyone by offering the "advice," and you're not offending anyone with brash or harsh words.

For the Repeat Offenders

I have a neighbor who falls into this category. Don’t get me wrong; I like this lady, it’s just that she always seems to have some tidbit of wisdom for me, even when we’re just making small talk. For example:

    Me: “There’s something going around. My Maddy has got the sniffles.”
    Her: “Make sure you give her soup and crackers for lunch. My mom always made me soup and crackers for lunch when I was sick; it’s the best thing for them.”
    Me: “Oh, thanks for the suggestion. That’s such a comforting meal.”
    Her: “Make sure it’s Campbell’s; it’s the best.”

You get the idea.

Again, I err on the side of a firm, noncommittal thanks. Hearing and acknowledging the advice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re taking it. Advice is what you make of it, to do with or not to do with what you want. Closer relationships, like a neighbor or well-meaning family member, are a bit trickier than the shopper grandma at the mall; there is a way to get past the unwanted advice without putting the relationship in jeopardy. Again, a simple thanks can get you past that bit of the conversation and onto other things you’d rather talk about.

But They Just Keep Doing It...

...Over and over and over again. Then what? Well, you could take a variety of approaches on it. You could, if it really gets to be cumbersome to your relationship, distance yourself from advice-giver. If you're not around them, there can't be any way for them to espouse their views on how you should dust your house, rear your children, feed your dog, etc. etc.

You could also try a gentle heart-to-heart. Maybe the person really doesn't know their constant onslaught of expertise is wearing on you. Something nice and simple, like, "That's one way to look at it, but I'm pretty set in my bottle brand choice right now," might get the message across so that you can move on to other topics (like the latest news in the Gosselin clan). Or you could continue to let it slide. It all depends on you and the Ann Landers wannabe.

However you slice it, becoming a mom puts some kind of invisible sign on your forehead that says, "Give me your advice ASAP!" How you deal with it is totally up to you.

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