“Do You Have Any Kids?”

This is a question I have come across at times when talking to parents. I’ll admit, I’m an advice giver, and that’s not always welcome. However, sometimes the reactions are just amazingly rude and thoughtless.

Here’s one scenario often raised by parents when talking to a childless person:

A mother and a new friend are talking. Mother mentions how frustrating her 3 year old son Tommy can get when he screams in the toy store, because she won’t let him play with the stuffed animals he reaches for. When she tells him, “No,” he screams. Well, it’s hard for the friend to hear her mother friend in distress. Friend has been having troubles getting pregnant herself. She’s read a lot of books about child rearing, babysat a lot of babies in her life time, and has a niece and nephew by her nearby sister that are 1 and 4 years old. She often sees them and is a constant source of attention and second mom to them. She decides to offer her mother friend some advice on disciplining her child in a public place. Mother doesn’t like being told what to do by a childless parent and immediately gets defensive and asks the sarcastic and offensive question, “Do you have any kids?” This becomes a very painful reminder to her new friend that she has been unable to have kids. She also feels a bit belittled that the mother friend has completely cast aside all knowledge of her past with children and has proceeded to insult her instead.

Now who is right or wrong with their reactions in this situation?

1. One could argue that the friend should not have offered advice unless the mother asked for it. The mother was probably looking to vent some steam about her frustrations and may have felt that she had the situation under control. She’s the one with the child in question after all, and she’s the only one that truly knows how her child reacts to things and what disciplinary methods she has and has not been successful with to correct the situation.

2. On the other hand, the friend was only trying to help. She felt sorry that her new mother friend was having some troubles, and she has been through this many times with different children. Her advice was not requested, but friends do like to offer different opinions and to offer help whenever they see it could be needed. She meant no harm by offering the suggestions and certainly no offense by it. She ended up feeling hurt by the harsh comment made by her mother friend and completely unvalidated and belittled.

In this case both people were wrong and both were right. The friend should not have offered the advice without at least asking if her mother friend would like her opinion on the matter. But the mother friend should have both considered her friend’s background, and she should have talked to her with a lot more thought and respect. A simple,”I have it under control, but thank you for your thoughts,” would have been enough to end the conversation and let both people feel like they are heard and respected. No one likes to think their opinions are meaningless. Everyone comes from a different background and experiences that may offer a new perspective on situations such as the one I have sampled above.

So for all those parents out there who get unsolicited advice from friends, loved-ones, and strangers, keep in mind they may have something to add to your situation. If you do not feel so, then please be kind and thank them for their concern and just move on.

I get unwanted advice occasionally for my multiple sclerosis. People that do not have or understand the disease offer advice that really does not help me, but I do try to keep in mind that they are just trying to help and to show concern. I do not bite their heads off, and nor do I ask them questions like, “Do you have MS? Do you know what it’s like?” Those people may not know much about about MS, but they may know someone that does or a friend of someone they know and has heard a lot about it. They may just be offering advice based on what they’ve heard or experienced.

It can get irritating the amount of unrequested advice comes your way, but no one knows what you know either. The most experienced parent or illness sufferer usually does not know everything there is to know about what they are going through. So, from an advice giver’s point of view, keep all this in mind when you receive your next unwanted advice.

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