Parents Explain Things to Me

They and everyone else have opinions about life transitions.

Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

Mention your kid in a conversation, and there’s a fifty percent chance someone will offer you advice. You didn’t ask for it, but now you’re trapped. You gotta stand there and fake gratitude.

Otherwise, you’re a bad parent. Right?

For some veterans, it doesn’t matter how much research you’ve done on your own, or what’s changed in the last five years. Their opening statement begins with something like, “Now what you should do is…”

It’s an interesting pronouncement. Nobody talks that way when you actually seek out an opinion. Anytime I ask for advice, a humble person goes, “Well, here’s what worked for me…”

Some of these parents don’t even take thanks for an answer. They assign you homework, like some reality TV coach.

Age doesn’t matter. In fact, I’ve noticed that folks ranging from their 30s to 40s offer plenty of advice. I’m talking about parenthood specifically, but really any major life transition. If you’re having kids, getting married, or just graduating college, suddenly everyone becomes an expert on what you should do — even if they normally don’t care.

Advice comes with ulterior motives.

A few weeks ago, a father tried to give me advice on sleep training based on an article he’d read about naps for adults. Not only did he contradict every published sleep training manual out there, he also followed up with me a week later. You know, to ensure I’d done as told.

When I informed him what I’d been doing instead, and that it worked, he got visibly irritated. His whole face turned into a grapefruit. If I’d poked his cheeks with a fork, he would’ve squirted bitter juice all over me.

The guy started an interrogation. “But how much sleep are you getting at night?” he said. “You’re not a super hero.”

Well, that’s debatable.

His speech ended with some cliche about parents having to take care of themselves, too. Most of us have learned the best way to handle these so-called conversations. Just smile and nod.

Parents explain things across gender.

Parent-splaining happens to dads, too. Just in different ways. So far my partner has been reminded five times to start saving up for college. Once, a coworker tried showing him how to make his own baby slings and wraps. He told her he was late for a meeting. She wouldn’t stop.

Finally he said, “Thanks but I’ve already got a carrier.”

Her face fell. How disappointing. That lasted for three seconds, then she started talking about how to wash diapers.

He was definitely late for his meeting.

Explaining the obvious doesn’t help.

Some parents do incredibly dumb things. The other week, I read about a woman who dumped a shot of bourbon in her baby’s bottle. Why? Because someone told her that whiskey helps with teething.

They meant rub it on the baby’s gums. Whoops.

Thankfully, the kid survived after an adventure to the hospital. There’s a simple solution to these situations. Take their kids away. Nobody should have to explain not to feed your child bourbon.

After a certain commonsense threshold, advice no longer helps. You just won’t make it as a parent. And yet the most obvious advice is what people are most willing to offer. Stuff like, “Support the neck!”

I’ve lost track of how many times I heard that. Yes, we get it. Your newborn baby’s not a bobble head doll.

My favorite advice happens when people tell me what I can’t do anymore. As if we don’t already know we can’t go to movies now. Or that some weekends kinda suck these days. Or that dining out becomes harder. Does this even count as advice? Some people seem to think so.

True, some parents do bring their infants to Marvel movies and piss off everyone around them. Personally, I think theaters should stop them at the door. “Excuse me, is that a baby? Nope, turn around.”

Thirty years has taught me one thing. People who routinely need the obvious explained to them aren’t doing much with their brains.

Of course, new parents need a lot of information. It’s an exciting and terrifying experience.

There’s usually a handful of people qualified to give advice. They include: pediatricians; nurses; lactation consultants; and authors of books from legit publishers. Finally, maybe a few friends and relatives who really have their shit together and know what they’re doing.

Life transitions open you up to everyone’s advice.

Everyone wants to share their opinion. It’s the American way. People boost their egos by hosting their own reality TV shows in their heads, where they’re the life coach who assigns homework.

This problem especially applies to new parents, or any other major life transition. About to graduate college? Get ready to hear everyone’s opinion about what should come next.

Starting a new job? Here come the opinions. Getting married? All your friends have something to say about that.

Parent just die? Everyone becomes your grief counselor.

Even people who don’t normally offer advice suddenly start hounding you. It’s bewildering. We’re used to politely ignoring opinions. But during these periods, it comes in hail storms. You get overwhelmed.

And irritated.

Mark your boundaries.

Consider this strategy. When I got tired of people’s advice, I just stopped talking about the transition with certain people. Even when they directly asked, I volunteered only the most basic intel.

In other words, take the “I’m doing fine” approach. You’re used to doing that already. You just have to keep your shields up. Nobody usually cares how you’re doing until suddenly you have interesting shit going on — something new and shiny for them to comment on. It’s hard to pretend like things are normal when your starship has just entered a new galaxy. You want to tell people about it, and for once they want to listen.

If you resist that impulse, you’ll dodge a lot of bad advice. Save your real talk for trusted friends, family, and professionals.

Sanitize your life for certain people.

That phrase TMI works both ways. Some people actually do want to know all the dirty details of your day, especially if you’re in the midst of big change. I’m convinced they get off on it.

Don’t let the dirt devils into your mess.

Come up with some funny anecdotes that last about five seconds, completely sanitized and devoid of emotional truth. When someone looks like they’re about to offer advice, and you don’t want to hear it, share one and then while they’re laughing, abscond.

To that one person who won’t give up on offering advice, tell them, “I’ll think about it,” or “I’ll look into that.” If they get pushy, tell them everything’s under control. Use that deadpan tone.

Let people think they’re right.

Don’t waste your time arguing with bad advice. Let people think they’re right, even if they’re not.

Just don’t ever let them watch your kids. In fact, you probably don’t want them pet sitting either.

Centuries from now, people will practice the perfect amount of respect for others’ privacy and autonomy. Nobody will dispense unsolicited opinions. Until then, we’ll just define our boundaries and learn when to be polite, and when to tell someone to get lost. And remember, don’t feed your baby bourbon, even if she says she’s 21. Always check her I.D.