How often do you receive parenting advice from well-meaning family, friends, and even strangers?
When my first was born it felt like I’d received a sticker on my forehead that said “New mom, criticize me.”
Strangers said I didn’t dress my baby warmly enough, friends gave me books saying I’d ruin my kid if I didn’t parent in a particular way, and comments from family that weren’t in the least meant critically would hurt.
I had received unsolicited advice before, but it ramped so quickly after having kids that I knew I’d have to come to terms with it somehow. I quickly learned I could never please everybody and I better find a way to make peace with critical comments.
Sometimes the advice made immediate sense in a kind of “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. More often, the advice was at odds with something intentional I was doing. It was then that I would suddenly feel insecure.
I hit upon a simple and helpful question to ask every time a comment made me unsure of my path:
Has the person giving advice ever given me concrete, selfless, and timely help?
If the answer is “no,” then I’m free to listen to the comment graciously, say “thank you” and move on with my life without guilt.
If the answer is “yes,” then I need to take the time to consider the matter carefully.
In other words, listen to your mother.
But seriously, I’m not saying do whatever your told, my point is that only people who have sacrificed to invest in your life in a way that you personally find helpful and uplifting are the folks who are likely to have chosen their criticism carefully.
Advice is cheap and there is plenty of it spread around, but the folks who have invested in your life are to be treasured.
I’m not a puppet of those that help me, I just take what they have to say seriously and take the time to wrestle with their ideas.
Where this question is most helpful is when a comment is bothering me that really shouldn’t. The comments of haters on the internet is perfect example.
Somehow these comments hurt, but they are not based in reality – or only in a twisted way – and though we all know haters aren’t worth arguing with, their comments still hurt.
This question helps me see the matter more concretely and reminds me to turn to the faithful few in my life for perspective and advice and not to be blown by the winds of opinion.
If we set out to build a family culture according to our deepest values then we will bump up against established norms and ruffle feathers and get criticism. We need to stay calm, gracious, and confident in such exchanges and bounce right back again.
I hope this question helps you the next time you feel oppressed by negativity!