How to Deal with Your Mother’s Unwanted Parenting Advice

The first time my mother decided to give me her unsolicited parenting advice, it was during the middle of the night when I was exhausted from caring for my colicky baby and in no mood for her patronizing “advice” that always came in the form of a question.

“Don’t you think you should just put her down and let her work it out on her own?” The words snaked their way 1000 miles across the phone dripping with accusation, “If you don’t, then she will never learn to take care of herself.”

I rolled my eyes (which she probably saw), now regretting the moment of desperation when I reached for the phone to call her for advice. “Yes Mom, I have tried that, but it’s not working,” I lied (I couldn’t stomach the thought of letting my baby cry alone in agony). “I am sure that’s what Dr. Spock would do, but they have made a lot of advances in parenting since those days,” she continues. (Yeah, like the wheel, I thought). 

“Well, he knew what he was talking about. You didn’t turn out so bad, did you?” (And that’s another question.) No Mom, I guess not.

Mother Knows Best?

Like it or not, if you have a mom and you become a mom, she is going to try her best to share ALL of her parenting wisdom (good and bad) with you. Sometimes, those pearls of wisdom are welcome, and other times they're just maddening. 

I grew up in an era where “mother knows best,” so it wasn’t all that easy to reject tradition and go rogue when it came to telling my mother to butt out. Over time, I finally learned to create some healthy boundaries, and I got quite proficient at playing the motherly advice game. Here are some of the tricks that I’ve learned:

  • Play Along: The truth is, our moms have been moms, so while their methods may be as outdated as regular light bulbs, they still deserve our respect. If they suggest (of course they never just suggest) that you try a different way to burp their grandchild, just smile and go along with it. It will make them feel good, and it’s a lot easier than getting irritated and eventually getting into an argument.

    When my mother is critical about my parenting abilities, I just try to recognize that she was helping in the only way that she knew how, and I kept the focus on the positive.
  • Be Firm, But Kind: At the end of the day, these are our little ones, and we have to do what resonates best for us.  I worked hard at standing up to my mother and saying “Thanks for your great advice mom, but I think that I will just stick to doing it this way for now.” Yes, she was hurt and even indignant at first by my new found sense of independence, but over time she had no choice but to accept it.

  • Be Grateful: When we constantly feel like we are being scrutinized and judged for our parenting choices, it's easy to feel resentful and even start walking on eggshells  around our moms. That’s the time for us to start looking for the things to be grateful about.

    While my own mother can annoy the heck out of me, and even at times make me feel I'm failing as a parent, I learned to be grateful for the times that she really did have some helpful advice, and also for the relationship that she had with my kids (as for the in-laws, well… that’s a whole other story).
  • Listen for the Good: Sometimes I get so irritated when I felt like my mother was judging my parenting tactics, that I just stop listening to her advice and get caught up in my angry and hurt feelings. Learning to separate my feelings from the advice that she's trying to offer helped me to listen, instead of just reacting to our old unresolved mother/daughter issues.

  • Be Honest: Sometimes our mothers don’t even realize that they're being critical or judgmental in the way that they are delivering their pearls of wisdom, until we point it out to them. When I finally had enough of feeling so angry and resentful toward my mother’s unsolicited advice, I decided to confront her. 

    I was really surprised at how open she was to my honesty. Of course, she still continues to be the same person doing pretty much the same things, but at least she knew that I had the backbone to stand up to her, mother-to-mother.

Our relationships with our mothers will be as complicated as we allow them to be. It’s up to us to set limits and create healthy boundaries. Once we finally do this, we're free from the power that they have over us and we can just look at them as one parent to another parent doing their best to raise their children.

How do you deal with unsolicited advice (from your mom, or from anyone else?) Share your tips with us!

If you have a personal story you would like to share, contact us at [email protected]

Tags : parenting   motherhood   newborns   

Deborah Essner
Sound advice, thank you!