The secret to handing out unsolicited advice

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I learned from my daughter that she didn’t like my unsolicited advice. Really, nobody does. I catch myself giving unsolicited advice to people I see in the park, to other parents, especially on the swim team, and to my adult kids — my kids really don’t like it. I’m sure all those other people are so appreciative of me, right?

I saw an interesting article called How I Secretly Give Unsolicited Parenting Advice To My Friend Without Hurting Her Feelings, by Diane Mtetwa on the website Moms.com. Naturally, I was interested to find out what her secrets were. Here’s an excerpt.

Unsolicited advice can be turned down fairly quickly. This is how I offer advice to a mom friend before assuming she needs it.

Nobody likes unsolicited advice. The desire to receive unsolicited advice diminishes, even more, when you become a parent and it literally comes at you from every angle. You don’t even have to wait until the baby arrives before everyone you know has an opinion about how you should raise your child. People who don’t even have kids somehow think they know more about how to raise kids than you do and don’t hesitate to put their two cents in.

This barrage of unsolicited advice makes most parents learn to tune it out together or show resistance to the advice before they even hear it out. For the most part, this is for the best in order to keep your sanity as a parent but some advice, even unsolicited is good, might actually help you out, and doesn’t hurt to listen to. As much as I hate unsolicited advice myself, I know that I’ve gotten some good ideas when I’ve been too stubborn or prideful to ask for help. I don’t know if it was doubt in myself about my ability to raise a child or not wanting to admit that motherhood was as hard as it was but in many ways when I first became a mother, rather than asking other people for advice, I was determined to make my life harder by re-inventing the wheel and figuring it out on my own.

What I learned from my own experiences is that I didn’t love unsolicited advice for several reasons. The first being that people who knew nothing about my situation were keen to offer up advice not knowing if I’d tried whatever they were suggesting already or not. That was my biggest pet peeve about it and when people insisted that they knew my child better than me. I also deep down inside took it as someone questioning my parenting and assuming that I was doing it wrong. I’m sure this was true in some cases, but friends and family members who truly were concerned and knew how rough of a time I was having just wanted to help. I keep this in mind when I’m giving my own unsolicited advice but try to do it as secretly as I possibly can to avoid resistance.

Some of the author’s secrets to giving out unsolicited advice sound like great skills for all people to develop better relationships. Her tips include listening, sympathizing, and lending a hand. The article is definitely worth the read. She said she makes sure she tells the friend confiding in her that she doesn’t know her situation or child better than she does, but she can empathize. Also, she pulls out a story similar to her friend’s to say, I know someone who went through something similar. The end result is her friend will usually ask her for advice. And then it’s not unsolicited.

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When we were all much younger.

What are your thoughts about unsolicited advice? 

The Case Against Parenting Advice

Mother with young son at the beach.
Back in the day when I believed I was a great parent.

I used to be big on giving parenting advice. I’d talk to newer parents on the pool deck and give them advice about swim parenting. I had after all learned from great parents with older swimmers. Lots of advice gets handed out in the stands — like what to feed your kids between prelims and finals and how to start the college recruiting process.

My advice around the pool deck morphed into a weekly column of sports parenting advice. You can read my five years of articles here. But then the COVID year hit and I no longer believe I have anything valuable to share. OR the right to give advice.

My daughter had a very tough year with being laid off and struggling with anxiety and depression while sheltering in isolation. I looked on without knowing how to help. For a month or two she didn’t want to talk to me and I’d learn how she was doing from my husband or my son. It was beyond hard. When that passed and she texted me, I was so grateful. But, I learned from her lots of things that I’d done as a parent that was awful and wrong. I think I overlooked signs of her anxiety and depression for years. Why on earth would anyone want to take advice from me? Maybe I can share what not to do. If anyone wants to listen.

This hard, hard year makes me understand that most parents don’t want to hear advice from anyone. I know I never liked unsolicited advice from well-meaning parents. We’re all winging it and it’s a job that doesn’t necessarily get easier as our kids get older. We’re trying to do the best we can.

Mother with baby girl.
Me and my baby girl.

What are your thoughts about parenting advice?

Speaking of parenting advice…

black and white photo from 1960s of siblings
Me and my big brother in the 1960s.

I ran across a fascinating article today filled with more than 20 parenting tips from the 19th century. I’m researching what daily life was like for women in the late 1800s and early 1900s for my great-grandmother Nellie’s cookbook project and I ran across 24 Puzzling Parenting Tips From the 1800s by Ellen Gutoskey on Mental Floss.

From lancing gums to hanging babies in cages out the window, there were many bizarre parenting tips. Their idea of what was safe wouldn’t fly today. Many of their kitchen cures included alcohol and opium laced concoctions to soothe stomachaches and crankiness. Also, the article references many parenting books, so they were a thing back then as they are now.

Here’s an excerpt:

A lot has changed between the 19th century and today, but one thing that hasn’t is the plethora of available parenting advice—though the following tips would likely make today’s parents scratch their chins. From giving a single slice of bread as a snack to lancing gums, here are a few puzzling parenting tips from the 1800s, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

1. Put babies in cages hanging outside of windows to get them fresh air. In his 1894 book The Care and Feeding of Children, Dr. Luther Emmett Holt introduced the concept of “airing,” or exposing infants to cold temperatures in order to improve their immune systems and overall health. Though Holt didn’t necessarily tell people to attach cages to their windows, products like the Boggins’ Window Crib soon cropped up for city-dwellers who were short on yard space (although it should be noted that a 1916 ad for the Window-Crib appealed to city-folk and country-dwellers alike, even claiming that the grandchild of President Woodrow Wilson was a happy window baby). The cages were especially popular in smoggy London, and they didn’t fall out of fashion until well into the 20th century.

2. Instill obedience by never giving kids what they want.

Many parenting books from the 1800s held that obedience was the first and most important quality to instill in young children. People thought it was the best way to ensure that kids didn’t grow up to be greedy, capricious, or self-absorbed adults

To teach obedience, Cassell’s Household Guide from 1869 outright forbade parents from giving children—babies included—what they wanted. Ever. According to the guide, “It is commonly believed that no harm can come of letting a child have its own way, so long as it is a mere babe. But this is a serious delusion.”

What if your 2-year-old pleads for a few measly grapes between breakfast and lunch, you ask? According to Cassell and company, the answer is a resounding “Absolutely not!” Giving snacks to a hungry child still counts as giving in, and it encourages them to expect food at “unsuitable times.”

To the authors’ credit, they do say that “No harsh words, no impatient gestures, need be added to enforce the rule,” but it’s still probably a stricter snack time policy than most parents would enforce today.

A lot has changed since the late 1800s and early 1900s. When I young in the 60s and 70s, it was acceptable to spank children. Teachers had paddles hung up threateningly above their desks. I remember the great show one teacher would have of paddling a rowdy boy in front of the entire class. Can you imagine that happening today?

Our eating has changed, too. My mom, who was a home-ec major mind you, believed that canned foods like Chef Boyardee or fruits and vegetables were just as healthy as fresh foods. She said they tested the vitamin levels and there was no difference.

We rode our bikes without helmets, rode buses on our own throughout downtown Seattle, and walked to school alone beginning in kindergarten. Yes, the world has changed.

Parents didn’t believe in praising children when I was a kid. That would lead to big heads.

BW photo of toddlers in the 1960s

What parenting practices do you remember from your childhood that are now out-dated?

About giving unsolicited advice….

brother and sister playing at the beach

My kids when they liked to eat chicken fingers.

When my kids were young, I’d often get unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family members — and even complete strangers. I read with interest this article by Meghan Moravcik Walbert called Keep Every Single Parenting Opinion to Yourself for a website called Lifehacker.com. 

We’re living in a particularly divided country right now, but we are lucky to still have one great rage-inducing unifier among parents: We do not want your unsolicited opinions about our parenting. This is especially true if you do not have children of your own. (Dogs don’t count.)

I have to believe author Jill Filipovic simply wanted to argue about something unrelated to the literal end of our democracy when she tweeted this sparkling gem of an opinion recently:

Jill Filipovic
@JillFilipovic
I know the thing parents hate most is when non-parents assert what they will do as parents which is inevitably smug and incorrect, but I am 100% sure I will never assent to a “kid’s menu” or the concept of “kid food.”

In a follow-up tweet, she rhetorically ponders, “Do you think children in most of the world order off of a ‘kids menu’ and survive primarily off of chicken fingers and plain pasta?”

It seems her argument is that kids should have more variety in their diets, ignoring that kids’ menus exist to offer smaller, significantly cheaper portions of food for children to make it affordable and less wasteful when families go out to eat. But see, this is why parenting opinions from non-parents is so universally grating: They’re blind to fundamental aspects of parenting that are obvious to those of us who have actually done it.

Yes, you’re very smart, and you’ll introduce your kids to lots of flavors, and they’ll always eat exactly what you eat because there’s no way you’ll cook one meal for you and a separate meal for them. If you become a parent, what’s more likely is that we can look forward to hearing you say, “No, honey, you have to buy the dinosaur-shaped nuggets; he doesn’t like the regular ones.”

I have one dear friend, well more than one, who constantly criticized the bland
“kid food” I served my children. We would go to a friend’s and stay for a long weekend and I’d bring food for my kids to eat — things I knew they’d like. Yes, my groceries included chicken fingers. My friend didn’t understand why my kids wouldn’t want to consume her kale with quinoa or homemade chile rellenos. She’d point out another friend of hers who had kids who loved to eat all her veggies and her adult-flavored dishes. My kids liked carrots, snap peas and the like — especially dipped in ranch dressing. At a young age, their taste buds were more sensitive to spice. It wasn’t long before they grew into more adult diets and indulged in sushi and spicy Mexican food. As adults they love to eat vegetables and they cook healthy and interesting meals. No, they are not living off of chicken fingers — it was a temporary thing.

The point is that I’d get criticized by friends and family members who didn’t have kids, or had children who were infants or teenagers. They weren’t dealing with kids three to seven years old and they either hadn’t been through those experiences or they forgot about those glorious days.

I used to ask my kids what they wanted to eat. My daughter always said chicken. Once I made pan-fried sole for dinner. She said, “Now THIS is the chicken I like!” That was eye-opening to me, because I didn’t realize that she was calling most foods “chicken!”

That reminds me of when we went to a small Thai restaurant with another mom and kids. My daughter, who was three, threw a tantrum and said, “This is the worst Chinese food I ever had!”

One of my friends had a son a couple years younger than my kids. We were at a family-fun restaurant and her toddler son kept jumping out of the high chair. She said, “I really owe you an apology. All of those things I criticized or tried to give you advice about — I had no idea!”

There’s more great examples in the article about unsolicited advice and how parents think they would NEVER raise their voice at their children (who aren’t born yet). Read the entire article for yourself here. It’s an entertaining read.

Here’s another article I’ve written about unsolicited advice. Read it here.

children climbing on me at the beach

Life at the beach with two young kids.

What funny experiences have you had with people giving you unsolicited parenting advice?

Reflections on 2010 — a normal year

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Laguna Beach in 2010.

Looking back on what my life was like 11 years ago, I was in full-throttle, hands-on mom mode. We had no idea that there could be a year like 2020 with COVID changing our normal daily lives. The 2010s had had a ton of milestones like high school and college graduations, my husband changed companies and we lost our loving dog Angus. It’s interesting to look back on FB to see what we doing in 2010, 11 fast years ago.

Here are some of our highlights from 2010:

I started a new career in 2010 as a financial advisor working with my husband. I went to Orange County and took a five-day class to prepare for the Series 7 and 66 from Tina–the same instructor my husband had a million years earlier. Nowadays, the classes are online instead of in person! I passed the tests.

I wrote on FB that Robert finished filling out his college applications with three hours to spare! He went to Boy’s State on the same day Kat went to the Kevin Perry Meet in Fullerton. Our days were spent around the pool cheering for Kat as she got her first Junior Olympic medal for an individual event and qualified for higher level meets. We spent the summer in Laguna beach hunting for sea glass and had the team over after relay day. Reading through my old posts, we seemed super busy and happy.

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One day’s catch of sea glass.

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Robert and friend Lynette during the Physics’ boat races in their cardboard boat. Lynette’s now married and we attended her wedding right before the pandemic struck, Feb. 2020.

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Kat with her first individual medal at JOs.

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Girls’ team t-shirt painting party in our backyard.

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Swim Festival in the old Long Beach Pool that we loved. It sat on the sand on the beach.

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My nephew’s wedding at my brother’s house.

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Angus. I miss this good dog.

What were you up to in the 2010? What were some of your highlights and milestones?

 

 

 

 

 

When is time to press the pause button?

my kids at the beach

Just breathe!

One of my kids’ principals from elementary school talked about the “mother bear” syndrome. It’s that creature that comes out of our skin when we think our child is being harmed. The mother bear may come out when our child is being bullied, or comes home upset about something their teacher or coach said.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with that gut-wrenching feeling when we want to protect our child. It starts with a burst of adrenaline and may result into marching into the principal’s office or picking up the phone to chew out a parent about their kid being mean.

In a parenting article, ‘To make sound decisions, employ the power of the pause,” in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman offer tips that will help us as parents as well as in the rest of our lives. Here’s an excerpt:

The pause is the space you intentionally create in your mind to pull back from circumstances and retreat into a quiet corner of your psyche — a place where you can calm your nerves, think about the end result that you want to achieve and plan the steps you will take to reach it.

The pause can mean the difference between reacting out of raw emotion and responding out of rational choices. Often, it can mean the difference between strengthening and ruining relationships.

Few things spark an explosion in our emotional state like a conflict can. But when we pause, sometimes even excusing ourselves from the room, we can take slow, deep breaths to calm our bodies and regulate the fight or flight hormones that are coursing through our veins. We can pray or meditate for a few minutes, and then we can ask ourselves a few critical questions:

– What emotions am I feeling?

– What triggered these emotions?

– What is the root problem here?

– What is my role in fixing the problem?

– What is the best outcome in this situation?

– What is the best way to reach that outcome?

Instead of reacting to a situation from the intense emotions sparked by the conflict, the pause gives you the advantage of responding thoughtfully, carefully and calmly.

I used to be an emotional parent who would react at the slightest wrong-doing I perceived. Through the years, I learned to wait at least 24 hours before taking action. Action to me meant sending an email, making a phone call or showing up in person for a face-to-face meeting. Often, after I slept on it, I had clarity. In most cases, the problem went away on its own. Then a new one would pop up. Can you imagine how much energy and outrage it would take if I reacted to every uncomfortable moment my kids encountered?

Now, I use the pause in my own life if there’s something I need to deal with. I weigh the pros and cons, decide what outcome I want–and if it’s worth the energy to pursue at all. It makes life run smoother in the long run. I’ve written about this here.

My kids call and ask for advice on how to handle a situation at work or with a roommate. I offer the same advice of taking a pause. Wait a day or two before making a decision. When we’re flooded with emotion, it’s hard to make the right one.

I think we can also use the pause button when interacting with our kids. If they are upset or angry with us, it’s time to press that pause button. We need to be the adult and not react in the heat of the moment or when we’re feeling hurt. A lot of pain can be avoided by taking a moment to reflect and think before we speak.

From the article:

As parents, we can also coach our kids through this process. When we see emotions begin to spike, we can gently pull the child aside, help them calm down and then walk them through the same problem solving questions that we would ask ourselves.

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Walking outside and enjoying nature can put things in perspective.

Do you have any other tips to offer for making rational decisions when we get upset? Please share below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About That Unsolicited Parenting Advice…

brother and sister playing at the beach

My kids when they like to eat chicken fingers.

When my kids were young, I’d often get unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family members — and even complete strangers. I read with interest this article by Meghan Moravcik Walbert called Keep Every Single Parenting Opinion to Yourself for a website called Lifehacker.com. 

We’re living in a particularly divided country right now, but we are lucky to still have one great rage-inducing unifier among parents: We do not want your unsolicited opinions about our parenting. This is especially true if you do not have children of your own. (Dogs don’t count.)

I have to believe author Jill Filipovic simply wanted to argue about something unrelated to the literal end of our democracy when she tweeted this sparkling gem of an opinion recently:

Jill Filipovic
@JillFilipovic
I know the thing parents hate most is when non-parents assert what they will do as parents which is inevitably smug and incorrect, but I am 100% sure I will never assent to a “kid’s menu” or the concept of “kid food.”

In a follow-up tweet, she rhetorically ponders, “Do you think children in most of the world order off of a ‘kids menu’ and survive primarily off of chicken fingers and plain pasta?”

It seems her argument is that kids should have more variety in their diets, ignoring that kids’ menus exist to offer smaller, significantly cheaper portions of food for children to make it affordable and less wasteful when families go out to eat. But see, this is why parenting opinions from non-parents is so universally grating: They’re blind to fundamental aspects of parenting that are obvious to those of us who have actually done it.

Yes, you’re very smart, and you’ll introduce your kids to lots of flavors, and they’ll always eat exactly what you eat because there’s no way you’ll cook one meal for you and a separate meal for them. If you become a parent, what’s more likely is that we can look forward to hearing you say, “No, honey, you have to buy the dinosaur-shaped nuggets; he doesn’t like the regular ones.”

I have one dear friend, well more than one, who constantly criticized the bland
“kid food” I served my children. We would go to a friend’s and stay for a long weekend and I’d bring food for my kids to eat — things I knew they’d like. Yes, my groceries included chicken fingers. My friend didn’t understand why my kids wouldn’t want to consume her kale with quinoa or homemade chile rellenos. She’d point out another friend of hers who had kids who loved to eat all her veggies and her adult flavored dishes. My kids liked carrots, snap peas and the like — especially dipped in ranch dressing. At a young age, their taste buds were more sensitive to spice. It wasn’t long before they grew into more adult diets and indulged in sushi and spicy Mexican food. As adults they love to eat vegetables and they cook healthy and interesting meals. No, they are not living off of chicken fingers.

The point is that I’d get criticized by friends and family members who didn’t have kids, or had children who were infants or teenagers. They weren’t dealing with kids three to seven years old and they either hadn’t been through those experiences or they forgot about those glorious days.

I used to ask my kids what they wanted to eat. My daughter always said chicken. Once I made pan-fried sole for dinner. She said, “Now this is the chicken I like!” That was eye-opening to me, because I didn’t realize that she was calling most foods “chicken!”

One of my friends had a son a couple years younger than my kids. We were at a family-fun restaurant and her toddler son kept jumping out of the high chair. She said, “I really owe you an apology. All of those things I criticized or tried to give you advice about — I had no idea!”

There’s more great examples in the article about unsolicited advice and how parents think they would NEVER raise their voice at their children (who aren’t born yet). Read the entire article for yourself here. It’s an entertaining read.

Here’s another article I’ve written about unsolicited advice. Read it here.

children climbing on me at the beach

Life at the beach with two young kids.

What funny experiences have you had with people giving you unsolicited parenting advice?