I stood in the line at the Post Office, waiting to mail a package with my three little girls. The girls were on good behavior at the moment, standing patiently in the line with me and not even saying much.
A woman next to me in line asked, “Are all those girls yours?” To which I replied “Yes.” She then said, “Wow! Three girls! That’s a mother’s curse! Just imagine when they are teenagers!”
I was stumped. Mortified. Dumbfounded. But thank God Almighty, I did not hesitate to tell her what I thought about her comments: “I see my girls as blessings and gifts from God and I think that they will be wonderful teenagers to be around.”
I pulled myself together, mailed my package, and exited the office, trembling a bit. Thankfully, the girls seemed oblivious to the exchange that I had just had.
As I was loading my kids into the car, another stranger who had been in line with us ran over to my car and touched me on the shoulder. She looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m so glad you said what you did to that woman about your girls. You are right – they are gifts from God and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!” I thanked her with a smile and got back into my car.
Unsolicited Parenting Advice: It Happens To Us All
If you are a parent, you have no doubt borne the brunt of some rather thoughtless and frustrating comments from strangers about your kids, your parenting style, or (most likely) some judgement they make in a split-second moment of watching you and your child.
In fact, I’ve often joked about compiling a book called something like, “Utterly Outrageous and Unsolicited Parenting Advice Given By Complete Strangers.” Parents all over could sit down and read the stories and realize something: THIS HAPPENS TO ALL OF US.
Yup, I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t have an “unsolicited advice from strangers about parenting” moment. It’s just another passage of parenting in our country, I guess.
Two Strangers, Two Totally Different Experiences
My experience at the Post Office shows that we can have two totally different experiences with strangers – one can be demeaning and discouraging while the other can be encouraging and validating.
The first woman decided to rain down word curses on my poor, unsuspecting kids about their adolescence. The second chose to affirm me that my kids are a blessing.
What To Do When A Stranger Comments On Your Parenting
Due to the fact that most of our encounters with strangers are spontaneous and unplanned (and therefore, we don’t have time to prepare what we want to say in response) here’s a fun little strategy I came up with to deal with those comments when they come:
1) Face It – If you need to speak up so your children hear you say that, “Yes, they are all mine and yes, I love them” DO IT. It matters a lot more to me that my kids know they are wanted and loved than that someone I don’t even know approves of me.
2) Filter It – One of my favorite ways to filter my own thoughts or the criticisms of others comes from Amy Carmichael called The Three Seives. Ask yourself these three questions regarding the comments of others: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
If a child is outside in the middle of a snowstorm without a coat on, a stranger better speak up. If a child doesn’t have a hat on in a 70 degree Target store, um….no comments are needed.
3) Flush It – if the comments that come your way are negative, discouraging, and even cruel – FLUSH THEM. Don’t give a second thought to what was said. If, however, a stranger offered you a word of encouragement or gave a suggestion in kindness that you think is accurate, don’t just toss it.
It’s our choice what words and people we allow to influence us for better or worse in our parenting journey.
Parenting is hard enough as it is, so:
When you sit next to a mom with a baby on a plane or see a Dad flying solo with his kids in a restaurant – let’s offer to hold the baby or give the Dad a high five.
Let’s encourage the moms and dads around us that no one can parent their kids like they can and that their kids (whether they have one or ten) are a blessing from Heaven.
And if people continue to say things like “Can’t you get your kid under control?!” We can calmly reply: “Wow, I probably shouldn’t have given him that espresso this morning – my bad! :)”