You don’t get to comment on my parenting

Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori Bowman Johnson
Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on Jun 05, 2024 · 6 mins read

In every single parenting journey, at least one moment will be hijacked by a piece of advice, a telling look, or an unhelpful comment about your child-rearing choices and style. It’s your children, your rules - until someone else interjects.


Someone, whether it be a family member, a friend, or someone you don’t even know, will find it their business to provide feedback. They may condemn your choices. They may grimace or sigh in response to a direction you give. 

This is a shared experience. So this is how I handle it, and maybe (in the spirit of empowering parents, not correcting them) you’ll find it helpful too. 

The unsolicited advice


I’ve been told many unwelcome things in my parenting journey to date. I’ve been told beautiful things too, but it’s always the spicy comments that seem to stick right?

  • I’ve been told not to wheel my son in a supermarket-trolley, within a carpark. How do I get us safely back to my car?
  • I’ve been told that using formula with an infant was perhaps unnecessary. How do I feed my hungry baby? 
  • I’ve been told that I must give my child antibiotics for an illness he did not have. How do I respond to this non-medical, non-legitimate diagnosis? 
  • I’ve been told not to speak for my child. How do I communicate that my 10-month-old baby does not care for a slice of cake and a tablespoon to eat it? 
  • I’ve been told never to leave a crying baby. How do I train my baby to self-soothe and sleep?
  • I’ve been told I am too sensitive and I need to relax more. No comment.

In each of these instances, there has been a clear reason why I have chosen to act in a particular manner. Without a doubt, every time I’ve acted in the best interest of my child. To keep them safe, healthy, and protected from harm. I do not parent free-willy-nilly. I have boundaries and methods. But frustratingly, people will both cross your boundaries and challenge your method.

Have you ever wanted to stand tall and say, ‘Please leave this to me” or maybe just ‘Please back off?’


Keeping your cool in the moment


Rather than instinctively reacting in the moment, it can be helpful to pause. Inhale for 5 counts… hold … and exhale for 5 counts. In other words, take a moment to think about how you choose to (and want to) react. 

Contrary to what you may think, this is for no one’s benefit but your own. Commentary from others shouldn’t steal the energy from devoted parents. Life’s too short, and your energy deserves to be spent on things that actually matter.

If you can, keep that composed deep breathing going (whether it be real or metaphorical) and hold your head high. Words are just words. They don’t have a tangible tail to sting. Having said this, I also appreciate that words can still be immensely wounding, leaving lingering bruises.

  • ’If I was you, I wouldn’t have …’
  • ‘You must  …’
  • ‘You must not …’
  • ‘Oh, come on. Stop being so overly sensitive …’
  • ‘Relax, they’re kids. Let them …’’

I don’t doubt one or a few of those advice openings sound familiar. Honestly, I think it’s part of the informal yet universal parenting induction. 

While it can be infuriating when an unwelcome comment hits your ears, peer-to-peer feedback is something we’ll never be devoid of as human beings. Since we can’t control what other people say or do, we have to take comfort in the fact that we can control our reaction (or at least try to). 

This is only possible if we can take a breather to think clearly. Flying off the handle can exacerbate the issue – and let’s face it – parents don’t need or deserve frivolous feuds to clog up their schedule. 


Setting boundaries


1. Communicate

Take note of the situation and how you feel about it. When your initial frustration or anger subsides (it may take a day or a week), take the person aside and explain how you felt and why. If you don’t, they’ll remain oblivious and likely to re-offend. 

‘Hey, about earlier with Bobby. I’d appreciate it if next time that happens, you let me handle the situation. I need to make sure Bobby clearly understands rules and boundaries and it’s too confusing for him when multiple people instruct conflicting feedback. Please leave it to me next time, thank you.’

An alternative idea for the non-confrontational folks like myself – ‘I appreciate you’re trying to help, however I feel more comfortable when I handle those situations.’

2. Establish respect 

If you establish respect early in any relationship, the other person will know where you stand and what you will/will not tolerate. To assert yourself as a parent isn’t rude when managed respectfully.  

Ways to kick the conversation off (which by the way, can feel awkward but you can do it!)

  • ‘I don’t appreciate when …’
  • ‘I am unable to tolerate …’
  • ‘I feel extremely uncomfortable when {insert here} and I won’t be spoken to like that …’
  • ‘When it comes to my children, I’ll need to ensure …’

3. Be persistent 

If you notice the same person continues to cross a line, it’s okay to remind them. It might actually take a few goes for them to appreciate your seriousness – especially if it’s a generational thing. 

  • ‘Hey, about what we spoke about earlier …’
  • ‘Remember what we spoke about last week …’
  •  ‘Can we please avoid …’
  •  ‘Please can we avoid saying/doing … ’

Using the term ‘WE’ over ‘YOU’ may help you frame the feedback less accusingly (if you’re worried about that). 

By setting boundaries, we are not trying to ignite an argument. It’s quite the opposite.  

4. Avoid texts 

Tone (including the seriousness of your point), can be skewed or completely misread by the receiver when conveyed in the digital realm. 

Where possible, try to stick to verbal communication in person.

 

5. Be calm before you raise the issue 

I’ve touched on this earlier, but calming yourself before you approach the topic can help you communicate your issue more clearly and concisely. 

Boundary setting doesn’t have to be emotional. It can be more transactional. For example, ‘I would feel X if you did/did not to Y.’ 

Or as mentioned above, replace ‘YOU’ with ‘WE’.

Wrapping it up


It is okay (and important) to say no. I think this is the #1 rule in parenting. 

By not having a “No” up your sleeve, you’re more likely to burn out. By not putting up boundaries, you let someone else deem a less than parent. There are times that we can listen and take on feedback, but those need to come from people you trust (people who know you, or know they’re talking about – i.e. experts). 

Comments will always fly our way during the parenting journey, many of which may not float our boat. At the end of the day if you back yourself and trust your instincts – nothing else should matter.

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