Sometimes talking about parenting can feel a lot like talking about politics or religion when it’s done around friends and family. The conflicts that can easily arise when the subject of parenting comes up are reason enough to say nothing at all much of the time.
But the fact of the matter is, new Moms and Dads need help and support from loved ones. And even though having babies is the most amazing gift of all, it can get tough. And when the tough parts do occur, loved ones are the people new parents will look to first for an explanation, listening ears, and, in many cases, advice.
However, the subject becomes a difficult one for families when people are horrible at giving this advice.
Here are five easy steps to giving your new-parent loved ones the advice they are looking for without looking like an idiot:
1. Make sure you’ve been asked for parenting advice.
The most important thing to do when giving advice to new parents is to ensure you were asked to give advice in the first place. With the ridiculous technological advances even in the past 50 years, today’s generation of parents is far-and-away the smartest group of parents there ever were. They know everything. They have read all the right books, taken all the right classes, asked all the right questions, joined all the right Facebook groups, etc.
Today’s parents have access to every resource under the sun on parenting, and, therefore, they are extremely prepared for the job. Thus, for those people on the outside, it’s important to remember that your new parent friends and family don’t always need advice from you. So most of the time, they aren’t going to be asking for it.
In other words, just because your friends who just had a baby keep bringing up the absurd number of disposal diapers their baby is going through, that doesn’t mean they want to hear from you about how they should probably start using cloth ones. And just because your daughter keeps using her baby’s sleep pattern as an excuse for not calling you in days, that doesn’t mean she wants to hear about how you think she should be putting her baby to bed on his stomach.
Almost 98% of the time new parents fill you in on things that are happening in their new parenting lives, they are doing so because they need to vent about it. They want to talk with you, but parenting is now their entire life, so it’s going to come up a lot. So be careful not to offer up advice to people who just want to share their new experiences with you. You will know if someone is asking you for parenting advice because it will be incredibly obvious to you. How can you tell for sure if they are asking? A good rule of thumb is that most of the time you will hear the word “advice.”
2. Make sure what you’re going to say isn’t the most obvious thing in the entire world.
As I mentioned before, today’s parents are well-equipped for the job because they have constant access to the most up-to-date parenting information on things like how babies should be sleeping, how often they should be fed, etc.
There are many areas, however, in which tools like the internet become difficult for new parents. For example, there are a kajillion crazy forums out there on which car seats are the best for new babies. Review after review pours over the screen, and new parents wish there was a simpler way to decipher the differences between the millions of different types of car seats out there.
So when your new parent friend asks for your advice (see step 1) on what types of car seats are the best and you tell them that they can find reviews of so many different kinds online, you are not being helpful. And they’ve actually now imagined three different ways of casually slapping you in the face. OH, GOOGLE? I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT GOOGLE.
3. Stay away from the phrase “it gets easier” unless you’ve been through something similar.
After seemingly endless nights of feeding, changing, feeding, changing, and on and on, new parents do enjoy hearing the phrase “it gets easier.” They like to know that there is a time to look forward to in the future that will involve larger breaks in between those things.
This note needs a little bit of clarification, because if you are an acquaintance of new parents, the phrase “it gets easier” should be a go-to. When you see those new parents at the grocery store with massive bags under their eyes, go ahead, tell them how much easier it’s going to get! But when you are a friend or family member of new parents, you usually need to be a little more specific with this kind of advice.
Because what often happens is that the new parents look back at you with that face that says, “ok! But hey, just wondering, WHEN?” And if you tell a new parent that it gets easier and then say something like “Yeah, it took little Joey over two weeks to sleep through the night!” the imaginary slapping hand very quickly becomes a fist.
4. Don’t be a know-it-all.
If there’s one thing that really rattles new parents’… rattles, it’s when other people act like they know what their baby is thinking or feeling. So when the new baby starts wailing around you and you say something like, “Oh, he’s just tired,” or “He doesn’t like that noise” or something like that, you sound like a huge jerk.
Because when you do that, you are either, 1. stating the obvious (“Oh, he’s just tired? HE’S JUST TIRED? Why didn’t I think of that? Oh wait, I’ve been trying to get him to fall asleep for the past 5 hours — see step 2), or you are saying something new, but pointing out that the reason for the baby’s upset is something that’s obvious to even an outsider. And, contrary to popular belief, making someone feel stupid is not the way to give advice.
Also, the parents have been around the baby way longer than you have, so just don’t.
5. Use the phrase “I did” instead of “You should.”
Often, you know exactly what your new-parent friends should do! After all, you were a new parent not long ago yourself. But sometimes, no matter how great your advice is, if you say it wrong, it can come off sounding like you skipped step 4.
A foundational tool for giving advice to new parents (after confirming that you were asked, of course), is to make sure you aren’t pushing your own parenting methods on them. The best way to do this is to, when advising them to do something you did as a parent, start by explaining that it is a method which worked for you and that’s why you advise it.
That way, they have a new tool in their reservoir to use, but they aren’t made to feel like they should have thought of it themselves. Because instructing is not a synonym for advising.
Now, go forth and be helpful, young padawans!