It’s hard to avoid parenting advice . . . and sometimes even harder not to give it

Jen Hogan: Hell hath no fury like the mother of a teen offered unsolicited advice by the mother of a toddler

Few things are more frustrating for parents than unwelcome and unsolicited advice – except perhaps when it’s offered by those not necessarily qualified to give it. There’s truth in that lesser known proverb, hell hath no fury like the mother of a teen offered unsolicited advice by the mother of a toddler.

And only recently I was chatting to a mother about this very thing. A family member with a three-year-old had told this particular mother how she should discipline her teenager. The woman’s children are now adults – she still hasn’t forgotten, or forgiven. It’s the judgment, you see. The idea that you know better and you’re going to let the other person know that they’re doing it wrong.

Of course for those of us with teens, or who have reared teens, the notion that our toddler-parent selves had any clue as to what was coming seems completely laughable now. Judge not lest it come back to bite you firmly on the backside, when hormones, environment and peers carry way more influence than you’re prepared for.

Still, knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to keep your tuppence worth to yourself. Channelling your inner Dalai Lama is not so easy when really you just want to scream, “Let me be your guinea pig. Learn from my mistakes!” or, as Master Yoda might put it, “Know better, do I.”

And it doesn’t seem to get any easier with age if a recent conversation I had with a grandmother is anything to go by. She shared her worries about a grandchild who is clearly not meeting milestones. There were other worries too, but greatest among them, was how to bring it to the attention of the child’s parents who seemed unaware of the concerns.

It’s a tricky one, because a lifetime of experience is invaluable, and there are times when sharing that wisdom is clearly for the best. But the pace of change for parents is so rapid, that there are also times when the sharing of information by our elders is contrary to current advice.

Like moving a six-week-old to solids because they’re “big and hungry”. Or leaving a baby to cry it out so they learn to fall asleep alone. Or my own pet peeve as I held and carried my babies to my heart’s content, “Don’t pick them up so often, you’ll spoil them.” Nonsense, of course, if anything they’ll learn that you’ll be there when they need you. And they’ll feel safe because of it.

Phones and devices for teens is another area certain to compel those who think they know best, into sharing that with you. All too often I have heard parents of younger children confidently declare that their child won’t have access to either until they are at least 16. I suspect many have forgotten that Newton’s third law can be applied to parenting – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. No, it’s not just the spontaneous combustion likely to follow when you stop a teenager from doing a normal thing their friends can do. It’s the fact that when you stop them having a phone for their “own good”, you also stop them being able to communicate with their peers – which is not so good.

But be warned, there’s a danger too, in actually soliciting advice. In fact, asking advice on parenting should possibly carry a public health warning, because once you open those floodgates, everyone has a viewpoint to share. And if, perchance, you presumed to already half-know the answer, you may be in for rude awakening.

Like the poor unsuspecting mother who asked a question on Twitter about her daughter who was earning a decent income for taking care of the neighbour’s children over the summer. Was she being unreasonable asking her daughter to hand up a small portion of this income? she asked, innocently. Like vultures, the all-knowing descended, to pick apart her tweet and condemn the very suggestion.

Let there be no uncertainty – this bystander thought she was absolutely right in her actions. Others were aghast and expressed confusion about the whole concept of “handing up”. Perhaps it’s a “regional” thing, some pondered. Others wondered about her financial situation and questioned her on it, publicly. If it was reassurance she sought, she was out of luck. Pandora’s box had been opened.

It’s hard to avoid parenting advice, whether you seek it or not. And it’s sometimes even harder not to give it. But it’s important, when deciphering the good advice from the bad advice, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater – which while we’re at it should always be tested with your elbow to make sure it’s not too hot.

Sorry, force of habit.