Parenting is so rewarding. And it can be hard as hell. Keeping kids safe and healthy is challenging enough. Providing for advanced needs like education, entertainment, and growth, can be downright daunting.
And face it, to the non-parent it, it’s hard to understand all the fuss– until you experience it yourself.
If you aren’t currently parenting, think twice about doling out offhand parenting advice. Here’s why.
1. Every Child is different.
Misplaced advice can cause damage, so think twice before doling it out.
Each and every child has their own strengths and challenges. So please don’t assume that whatever superficial knowledge you’ve accumulated from observing one child applies to another. Kids are different, and they should be treated like individuals.
And if you have an “observation” to make about somebody’s child, think twice before expressing it to a parent. The way I see it, these observations are thinly-veiled judgments, and for parents, it can feel hurtful to be judged by our biggest support systems.
2. You Don't Know The True Extent of Parenting Challenges
Parenting can be lonely, even if you have a good solid partner to do it with. And parents aren’t always going to share their difficult challenges with you. Many parents just aren’t sharing their most difficult challenges.
Case in point: a neighbor’s child was over at our house for a movie and acting very unsettled, before eventually going home. My first instinct was to say “that kid is a little anti-social” or “that kid is strange.”
Turns out the kid had digestive issues. He was worried about pooping his pants and was scared to go to the bathroom at our house. I had no idea! My initial judgment could have easily turned into a dumb comment like “hey, your kid seems a little anti-social.” Thank goodness it didn’t.
3. Parents don’t need advice. They need your help.
I get it, it can be tough to know what to do when dealing with other people’s kids. Especially with so many different schools of thought on overall child-rearing philosophies. And sometimes parents don’t make it easy on those around them who don’t have kids. But mostly that’s because they are trying to do the right thing while keeping their own personal crap together at the same time.
So here’s an idea. If you care so much to offer unsolicited advice, try offering some help instead.
Take this case, for instance. You are worried that your fictional niece, Ella, isn’t learning to read. A common comment to make might be, “Hey, shouldn’t Ella be reading by now?” But don’t do that— it amounts to shaming the parent (and the kid) based upon your own vague standards.
Instead, offer help. Try this: “Hey, I would love to read books with Ella sometime. What kind of books does she like?” Here, you are showing not only that you care. You are showing also that you want to contribute in a tangible way.
Want to help? Here are some suggestions.
I know, I know, you want to help your loved ones who seem to be struggling as parents. Consider helping not with your words, but with your action. For instance:
- Worried that a child of a friend or relative is not eating right? Take the child out for lunch, and order something healthy. Let them see you eating right.
- Worried the child isn’t getting enough activity? Take them to the park. Throw a ball with them. Take them swimming.
- Worried the child doesn’t have good manners? Don’t worry. Society will let the kid know what’s acceptable and what’s not, in due time. Don’t take it upon yourself.
- You can always ask the parent "what do you need from me?" That creates a nice opening to give the child what they need.
Be Part of The Village
Fellas, it takes a village. The best way to support loved ones who are parents is to be available. Be available for the kids. Let them see you doing what you love. Be patient, be kind. Someday, they may be the ones babysitting your kids, supporting your parenting journey.
This advice is based on the author’s personal experience. Take any advice with a grain of salt and apply it to your life where helpful. Good luck!