Do you take parenting advice from non-parents seriously?

Updated Oct 12 2015
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Photo by Laughlin Elkind.
I don't have any kids of my own, but I have been a full time nanny for children ranging from newborn to 15 years old throughout the years. My friends have just started having children of their own, and the pleas for advice on Facebook seem endless. Questions on things like what to do if diapers are leaking during the night (changing how the diapers are positioned depending on how the baby sleeps+diaper inserts), activities for toddlers on long car-trips (magnetic play-boards and stickers!), and the best music for toddlers to dance to (anything you enjoy dancing to, the toddlers love everything you love).

I responded to a question once, ending with a somewhat standard disclaimer of "Whatever you feel is best for your baby is right though, this is just what I have found to work" and got considerable negative back-splash along the lines of "You are not a mother, anything you say is invalid." And now I am afraid to offer any advice about anything.

I feel that I have a lot of experience dealing with many common situations that arise during parenting but I am not actually a parent — so does that make me unqualified to give any advice? As parents, is any advice from a non-parent appreciated? — AllieJean

  1. As a parent of one child, and very little experience with children, other than my own, I would listen/read your advice and take it seriously. If you have been a nanny for several years, you have more experince with children than I do! Some people wouldn't, but they don't have to make negative comments about your advice on fb. That's just being rude…

  2. I think that when people are specifically asking for advice, a suggestion that begins with "In my experience as a nanny, I've tried…" should be acceptable and appreciated. Perhaps people are having a reaction because they don't realize that you have non-parent experience with children?

    • My advice is usually prefixed by something like, "My sister, a mother of two toddlers, is a huge advocate for cloth diapers because…"

  3. I generally don't ask for advice on parenting from anyone (other parents included) because I figure I can figure things out for myself (and I'm kind of stubborn I guess.) With that said, if a non-parent with tons of kid experience was offering advice on activities for car ride or tips on getting a diaper to stop leaking, I would definitely listen and consider it. With that said, I would probably ignore any advice on sleep, feeding and discipline simply because I feel strongly about those topics and I've done my research. I do what I feel is best for my baby and admittedly get a little defensive when people try to give me advice on those issues. For "softer" topics like what you mention though, I think anyone who spends a lot of time with children could have valuable tips to offer.

  4. I think parents and non-parents alike are capable of offering helpful advice and insight when it comes to raising children. I don't automatically dismiss what anyone has to say… I take their words and use them how I see fit. Some advice that I've been given hasn't exactly been useful to me or my family and that's okay. My own mother makes suggestions that don't or won't work for us, and she raised me! I have several childfree friends who, while they haven't had much hands-on experience with kids, are very level-headed and I respect their opinions wholeheartedly. Being a parent doesn't make you an expert on parenting and NOT being a parent doesn't mean that your thoughts are invalid.

    • "I have several childfree friends who, while they haven't had much hands-on experience with kids, are very level-headed and I respect their opinions wholeheartedly."

      I have a friend who doesn't have children but she has the best perspective on children. She's level headed and has the ability to look at the larger picture. So when I am totally freaking out about something she usually swoops in with some zen Buddhist type advice that kicks me in the butt and makes me see what is really going on.

      • I think it's sometimes easier for outsiders to see what we don't because they're not as emotionally involved and stressed out with the situation, whereas we likely are as parents. They can see things from a common sense/logical standpoint and sometimes it's hard for us to do that. As I've gotten older, I've become much more patient and take A LOT of deep breaths, so I can try to think clearly on how to handle a situation. That took some practice, though… lol.

  5. I take advice from non-parents. Especially non-parents who have expertise in areas I know nothing about (teachers, nannies, day care workers, ect). I regularly ask my nanny friends advice about sleeping and feeding. As nannies they have years of experience were I have months. As full time care givers they also spend more time per day with children. If I am lucky I get 2 hours a day during the work week with my kids.

    The advice I do generally ignore is the unsolicited "I know what I am taking about because I see kids/parents/ babies do this all the time and it annoys me" type of advice. But well thought out advice that comes from experience….that is some useful stuff.

    • the relevant distinction here is that the latter isn't advice at all; it's judgement couched as advice to make it more palatable, which is just nasty.

      and is probably why parents are so often touchy about advice – it's so easy to see advice as judgement (even when it wholeheartedly is not), especially on a subject you are already nervous about doing "wrong" (hence the asking).

      • I think this often IS well-meaning advice, because I probably thought I knew it all before I was a mom too, and had done enough reading to sometimes know what I was talking about. What I didn't know was how different the theory of parenting is from the reality of it. Now I find advice from non-parents (i.e. telling me I should sit in the front passenger seat of the car instead of the back next to my baby, because I'd leave her alone back there if I had a second kid anyway… yes, but if I can hold her hand while she bawls, *I* feel better!!) annoying, though I try not to take offense since I was that annoying person too. πŸ™‚

    • I don't have any kids, but I am a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician….so I give advice and instruction on child car seats. So, yeah, get advice from people with expertise, even if they don't have kids yet!

  6. I appreciate any advice I get even if I don't agree with it or go with it in the end. I'd take your professional advice just as seriously as any parent's! Especially with your disclaimer I see no reason for people to be so negative.

  7. as a side note, parents, especially new parents, are probably going to be super critical of ANY advice. and because you're a non-parent, that's going to be the quick retort. my daughter is almost one, and it's still hard for me not to snap to the defensive every time someone makes a suggestion. the "as a nanny" suggestion is probably best. but keep giving out good advice! we need each other's experiences!

  8. Part of it may be that some people ask for advice because they actually want advice, and some people ask for advice because they want validation, and they see actual advice as criticism. A typical defensive reaction to criticism is to try to invalidate the other person's point of view ("You're not a parent, so you couldn't really know!").

    • This is what I suspect happens with some of my friends. They'll whinge and ask for advice about issues they're having, but if I actually offer up what's worked for me in the past, I'll get berated for being an infertile foster carer who doesn't really understand what it's like to be a 'real' parent. I've realised that what those people want is someone to say, 'oh yes, parenting is the hardest thing in the world', and they never actually want advice. I on the other hand love advice from anywhere if only to talk about the different ways of doing things. But I get that without being secure in who I am and my ability to care for the kids who come into my home, I'm sure I wouldn't be able to handle even the most well meaning advice either.

  9. Sadly, I don't think that this kind of thing will ever change. I was a nanny for years and have come up against these types of comments for almost 20 years. I am now a [non-practicing] midwife and get asked for advice regularly, but then have the advice shot down because it is different than what the pediatrician said… (why ask me then?!?)

    I think that what happens is that 'if your advice is different than what I already think or suspect I won't like it'.

    I am now a (new) mother and this kind of thing still happens… (Nobody wants to know that you can help your infant learn to sleep at night, nobody wants to know that you can teach them 'gentle' as soon as they begin investigating with their hands… etc. We've been taught that these things are the child's personality and nothing can change them. Apparently, I got a 'good' baby and I'm very lucky.)

    Ok – enough running off at the mouth…

    I think that in North America the 'If it is different, it is wrong' attitude permeates everything.

    I don't think that it is because you are not a parent. I think that it is because you are different and don't have the same life set-up as the other person. It is hard to take advice from anyone whose life doesn't look exactly the same because "How could you possibly understand what I am going through?". A mother with 5 children might find it difficult taking advice from a mother with 1. A mother in Southern US might find it difficult to take advice from a mother in Northern US… etc.

    I think that it is the 'difference' that is to blame – not your perceived lack of experience.

    I do have some people who come to me specifically for advice or suggestions. I give my thoughts and leave it at that. If I come across as a know-it-all or judgey at all – I may as well have not said anything, they can't hear it anyway. To be honest, I'm always surprised these days if anyone follows my suggestions. πŸ™‚

      • Yes! Please write a guest post about how you teach a kid to be gentle with their hands that early – I had no idea this was even possible. (I'd love a regular "ask an offbeat nanny" column on offbeat mama!)

  10. I generally don't ask for advice, and as a parent (esp a first time parent) you get A LOT of unsolicited advice. I can understand people getting upset about unsolicited advice, no matter how useful or not, no matter who it came from — because unsolicited advice seems to say "You aren't doing that right, here, let ME tell you how to!" (even though I realize that is not usually the intention behind any advice).

    However, if someone requested it, then of course your advice is valid. In fact, I think if someone is asking for help, whether or not you have ANY real experience with children, it would be appropriate. For example, I am not really good with cars, but if somebody in the parking lot actively waves me down and asks for me help, I would offer what little help I could. I might not run over to them right away and volunteer, because I'd naturally assume someone else in the parking lot surely knows more and could help them better, but maybe if they seemed desperate enough and nobody else was around, I would!

    Personally, I don't take a lot of advice on parenting from anyone. (Although my baby is still pretty young!) I have, like you, worked with children, from daycare to highschool, for years, and have pretty strong feelings on child-rearing, so advice is generally not welcomed over here πŸ˜‰ But I would STILL be polite!

    As to whether your specific advice is appropriate given your experience — sure. The asker can take or leave it for what it's worth. As someone else mentioned, you might want to add an into of "As a nanny I saw a lot of kids who have trouble setting down for a nap" or something. If I were asking, I would take a good idea ("sing the same song before naptime each day") from anybody, experience or not. On the other hand, parents (esp parents who need to use other caregivers when they wish they didn't have to) are sometimes very sensitive to more relationship-type issues (things that specifically relate to the parent/child relationship). That would be the only kind of advice I can see a parent not wanting to take from a teacher/caretaker/nanny, and even though I don't think that gives them the right to be rude, I can understand that feeling.

  11. If people are actually asking for advice on facebook, they should be grateful for whatever they get from anybody. I think a lot of parents may eyeroll some advice from non-parents but they shouldn't negatively respond outwardly when they -asked- for advice.

    I'm a stepmom and the one thing that drives me nuts is when anyone offers me advice I don't ask for. and I will admit when that comes from non-parents, I do get a little more annoyed that usual. But I didn't -ask- for the advice.

    If someone wants advice from other parents only, they should make that known or ask a particular person privately for their opinion. If I'm really stuck, I call my mom. But if they're crowd sourcing for advice you shouldn't hesitate to put your two cents in, especially with that much experience with children.

  12. Like others have said it depends on the advice. My brother works in a daycare and I'm hesitant to take his advice on sleeping, because while he's experienced with naps, he's not experienced with the middle-of-the-night wakeups. On the other hand, I frequently ask him for advice about activities, fostering independence, and teaching skills.

    • That said, I distrust ANY advice that the advice-giver thinks applies to all children ever. I'm going to roll my eyes at "All 1 year olds need to nap for a total of 2 hours" while I would be much more interested in "If your 1 year old does x, y, and z, that's probably a sign of needing more sleep."

  13. Just being completely honest here… I don't like receiving advice from non-parents. Granted, I don't like unsolicited advice from ANYONE whether they're parents or not. But, when it comes from someone who has never been a parent, I tend to internally roll my eyes and hear that sarcastic voice in my head saying "Oh, because you're the expert, huh?". Just to clarify tho, when that happens, the advice is always UNsolicited and, therefore, comes across as rude.

    On the opposite end, I also don't think that having more kids makes you a better parent. I know someone with 5 kids who is always trying to tell me how to be a mom (in a very passive-aggressive and nasty way) because she "knows what she's doing"… and I just want to scream at her that her kids are terrible and I don't want mine to behave anything like them!!! But then I just take a deep breath, walk away, and bitch about it to my husband in private.

    • "Granted, I don't like unsolicited advice from ANYONE whether they're parents or not."

      This, this, this. Advice is fine, in response to me asking for advice. Unsolicited advice is the real problem.

      • No joke! I rarely actually ask for advice online, but it seems I cant make any comment about my children without a barrage3 of well meaning " you should" 's from a ton of folks, a lot of them childfree and many of them were never every nannies. If you have advice to offer, make sure someone asked for it first!

  14. My best friend worked in the infant room of a preschool/daycare, and she doesn't have kids of her own… and I asked her for advice ALL THE TIME! I really dislike the perception that people who aren't parents have no insight – sometimes i trust them MORE because they're not towing the party lines of "everything about being a mommy is magical and wonderful aaaalll the time!" or woe-is-mom self-defeating self-pity. It's called a "reality check" and I value my non-kid-having friends for it!

  15. I have learned some of my most important lessons about parenting from the non-parent who is my child's daycare provider. I have a ton of respect for how people who provide professional childcare work with and deal with kids.

    That being said, I learned this stuff from watching my kids' daycare person, and reading what she put in the manual, and sometimes by asking her. She has never offered me advice. I think one reason I respect her opinions so much is that I see her in action AND feel confident that she knows and cares about my kids in particular.

    Something I didn't understand when I wasn't a parent was that kids have different relationships and issues with their parents than they do with adults who are not their parents. So a technique that works for a nanny, auntie, or babysitter may not be as effective for a parent. I see this with my own kiddos, now that I'm in it. So I also consider that when or if someone who isn't a parent offers advice.

  16. my little isn't here yet, so i'm not quite sure how i will respond to advice from non-parents, but i think like marina said, there's a lot of valuable advice from someone who's worked with kids (as well as areas, like she said, they won't be as knowledgeable in).
    i worked for years with kids of all ages and abilities, and i think i've got a pretty solid foundation, but i know i don't know everything, and i don't hesitate to ask/research. sometimes i have a question that's more geared to someone who actually lives in a house with a kid, and i will specify that, but i've gotten great advice (on said questions) from friends who are aunts and uncles as well. i think you've gotten a lot of valuable feedback here about why someone might not appreciate a non-parent's advice – the new mom wanting to figure it out or feeling defensive, and that makes a lot of sense.
    for me, i totally understand what you're saying, though, because even though i'm going to be a first time mom, some people have been treating me like i know NOTHING about children and therefore should gobble up all their advice because i couldn't POSSIBLY know anything – it's exactly what so many others here have said. good advice is good advice, no matter who offers it, but unsolicited advice, no matter how useful, is usually not as appreciated. xo

  17. Hey all! Thanks for the energy in the comments (seriously, this discussion is amazing so far!) but let's proceed with caution — please don't bring up stories about specific family members/friends.

  18. Don't be discouraged by one person's (or a few person's) negative reactions. I have no kids but was raised around a bunch of younger cousins and a niece in the same household. I also worked for a nonprofit with new mothers, infants and children. Whether you are a parent or not, I just always recommend offering solicited advise only. You opinions, experience and observations are valid, people don't have to take it and certainly should not be rude to you when it is offered!

  19. Heh, I probably wouldn't ignore it outright if you weren't constantly jumping in with advice, but I admit that I definitely get more annoyed by advice from people without kids (or even people with grown kids) than I do parents with kids the same age or a few years older than mine.

  20. I also had a lot of child-care and young child education experience before becoming a mom. I know that there are a lot of situations where advice I might have will be helpful, but I also know that sometimes, my relationship with a child as a nanny has an ENTIRELY different dynamic than the relationship a child has with a parent. So, I also would often preface my advice with, "As a nanny, this worked for me…" and I would use a specific example (that didn't violate the privacy of the family I worked for). There were some things, like handling night terrors, that were much easier for me to handle than a parent — only because I got to go home in the morning & take a nap! So my experience there might not necessarily be as applicable to a parent who had to work at 7:00am every morning. I get that. Still, the things I did to soothe that child might still help another parent with new ideas on how to soothe their own. So I would point out how my situation was different from their own, but still offer that advice if they asked for it with the caveat that I hoped it helped even if it wasn't exactly what they were looking for.

    • I think your perspective is totally awesome. I usually listen to whatever advice is being thrown my way because you never know what you might be able to pull from it, but I love that you preface it with "As a nanny, this worked for me…" — such a great way to establish that you have experience with kids and likely have really awesome advice, but you also realize that your experience may not be the same as the parent-child one and therefore your advice could be circumstantial. So awesome!

      • thanks! I think I took that approach initially because I was always cautious that parents might not think I had any basis to build an opinion/advice upon, so I wanted to establish that I did have some experience up front. But, I also wanted to establish that given the nanny/child or educator/child dynamic really can be very different from a parent/child dynamic… it doesn't always carry over (like, sometimes a kid is just willing to take nap time for anyone except Dad… or won't take a nap for anyone unless it's Dad!).

  21. Some people assume because I can't have children (five years of trying though and more than enough time to get used to children and their habits)that I have no idea what children are like and have actually been verbally abusive at times when they've asked for advice. However there are some of my friends who've thanked me profusely for my unbiased advice.

  22. This is such an interesting topic for me! I don't have kids of my own OR much experience dealing with littles, but I do have a tonne of friends with kids. I care about them, and want to have some insight into what they are going through, so I read up (I wonder how many like me are lurking on this sight).

    But then…sometimes a friend will describe a baby/kid problem, and I'll have read about it, and before I can stop myself, I'll say, "Oh, I read about that sort of thing on Offbeat Mama [or another such venue]. What that mom wound up doing is…."

    I guess the situation is, basically, I don't have any expertise of my own, so sometimes I borrow some. I genuinely want to help, and not be sitting in silence while my friend frets about her problem. But is it really helpful to tell these secondhand tips? Or should I stick to areas where I have actual experience?

    • I have to say I tend to end up feeling defensive in that kind of situation. My immediate response is that MY situation is SO UNIQUE that any solution someone read about couldn't possibly be applicable. πŸ˜‰ Only when advice comes from a place of "Man I've been where you are and boy does it suck" that I'm able to get past that to hear the ideas.

  23. I always give my credentials with any advice. "when I nannied we did this and it worked" "this works for my daughter" or "I recently read this"

  24. I always give my credentials with any advice. "when I nannied we did this and it worked" "this works for my daughter" or "I recently read this" It shows that I'm not just talking out of my butt.

  25. It depends a lot on the situation and the person. For things like activities, music, education by all means a nanny or childcare provider is sure to have a ton of great suggestions whether or not they have kids! When it comes to more complicated issues like breastfeeding problems, weaning, co-sleeping, and so forth I am less likely to ask a childless person and if they offered up advice on it I wouldn't feel like they necessarily "got it". Plenty of other parents give bad advice though, but when it comes to tough situations I'm just looking for someone to empathize with. Sometimes there just isn't a solution (like with my daughter's constant night wakings until she was over a year old) and the best thing to hear is pretty much "that sucks so hard, I went through it too, and it will pass eventually". I definitely wouldn't rule out helpful (not condescending) advice from a childless person even on complicated parenting issues, but in my experience my (brilliant, helpful) childless friends seem to think there is always a "solution" and if nothing works the parents are just doing it wrong, when sometimes there just really isn't a fix and ya just have to power through the rough patches.

  26. Parenting is so emotionally charged .. for myself add to that a bit of sleep deprivation, sometimes feeling like you don't know what your doing, irrational guilt, and the pressure of every where you turn to having conflicting opinions and I can sometimes get my hackles up to anyone sweet soul offering to help and it is so not their fault. I'm not a type to lash out at someone whose advice (judgey or not) rubs me the wrong way but I'll do some inner seething. Sometimes we act or react in ways we are not proud of. That said most days if anyone gives me support, as long as it doesn't come with what I perceive as judgemental overtones, I'll grab it with two hands. And I've always appreciated the advice of my kids child care …. They've studied both academically and through life experience, and probably are not so caught up in the same type of emotions Im in a tangle with at the time … Sometimes it is their non charged perspective that gets me through and I thank my lucky stars for it.

  27. As a both a former nanny and mother, I understand the backlash. Personally, i appreciate feedback from experienced care-givers I respect just as much as "mothers". Professionals are often just that- professional in their observation with less of the emotionally tinged/biased opinions. Your loving experience is just as valid.

  28. In your situation, the person was asking for advice so I think they should have welcomed whatever advice people offered. Also, being a nanny gives you a ton of experience with kids and loads of ideas to share! Like others have said, I definitely take advice on activities, games, naps, etc from nannies and childcare workers!

    However, I've worked with kids for 8 years – 2 of those years were in an infant room at a daycare – and after having my daughter, I realized that having your own child is TOTALLY DIFFERENT than working with them during the day and giving them back in the evening πŸ™‚ I thought I was gonna have this parenting thing down automatically, but in reality my learning curve was just as long as anyone else's. I'm not saying this to justify your friend's response, but I'm just recognizing that it is a different ballgame (as I'm sure you know) πŸ™‚

  29. I completely understand how you feel! I am the eldest of eleven children and have also been working in childcare for years now, but just because I don't actually have children of my own, some people like to think that means I can't possibly understand anything about parenting. T.T It's a pity, but oh well! Good luck!

  30. Thank you so much everybody! (op here) I read all the comments, and before I give any advice I'm going to thoroughly edit to make sure it comes across as non-judgmental and begin with "in my experience as a nanny." I'm hoping I didn't sound judgmental before, but when I speak(type) before thinking it might have come across that way. Thank you, I've loved getting everyone's insights!

  31. The myth of the parent PhD. Obviously if actually giving birth to a child gave you all of the answers parents wouldnt be asking so many questions. Its only from LEARNING after you become a parent that you acquire those answers. Its just as easy for someone else to stumble across those answers as it is a parent. I mean… how many women with out kids read OBM? Which certainly provides a few perspectives that most mainstream parenting sites dont, but you dont have to have had a child to read it.

  32. "You are not a mother, anything you say is invalid." This breaks my heart.

    I am a 30 yr old infertile woman. I have nannied and babysat for babies and children of all ages too. I have my niece 25% of the time.

    I have a lot of experience, but I get the same response when I try to offer advice and it kills me.

    Look if you're going to ask for advice on facebook, don't act all offended when people offer it up. Take it with a grain of salt, different things work for different people. I'm not being judgmental or telling you how to raise your kids, but you asked and I told you what I've read and tried and what worked.

  33. As a childless individual, I generally stick to giving advice in the areas I actually have expertise. I have taught swimming lessons for 15 years. So if a friend of mine has questions about kids and water, I pipe right up. I make sure to use the disclaimer that all kids are different, but I've seen and done a lot when it comes to kids in the water. I've worked with special-needs kids, I've coached sobbing children into laughter by the end of my class, and I've watched kids terrified of the water go on to join the swim team. I feel qualified to give advice on this topic…but ONLY this topic. I know shit about diapering, nutrition, behavior, etc. I can only nod and murmur sympathetically when these topics are brought up by my parent-friends. Unless someone asks me straight up "What do you think about this?" I try to keep my opinions to myself. But I think experience as a nanny is valuable…hell, let's be Facebook friends, and I'll pick your brain when I have kids of my own!

  34. For me if I ask for advice I listen to whats being said weather or not it comes from a parent or not. It took us 10 years to receive our child, and I often had down to earth advice for my friends with children. Looking back I would and still do give the same advice. So yes depending on the situation and the person giving the advice I do appreciated it.
    You have much experience with children so your advice would be most welcome.

  35. I too was a baby for year before I had my son. I wouldn't completely dismiss any advice from a non-parent friend but it might now hold as much weight as a friend with their own kids. One of my best friends is a nanny right now and I just wouldn't believe a word that came out of her mouth. My sister has been a nanny for years, but I know she has good advice unlike my friend.
    Funny thing is that when I was pregnant/first had my son, everyone treated me like I was an idiot and never took care of a baby before. They seemed to forget that I had all that nanny experience. Lol

  36. I approach it with a sense of humor. When a few of my friends asked me to help them put together a registry my daughter was about 5 months old. I joked to them "I can help you keep them alive until 5 months but anything past that…I'm not real sure about."

  37. I also nannied several age groups and worked in AFB Child Development Centers for many years and didn't become a parent until this August. Many friends immediately had babies as soon as they were married or in long-term relationships, and we waited 5 years, but in that time, a few were accepting of my humble advice, but most did react with,"Yeaaa okay. You're not a parent though…" and then when I finally became pregnant with our first child, they were SO GODDAMN OVERBEARING with heaping advice (I didn't ask for!) on to me. That more than bothered me. I thought, "So all of your child advice comes from your very specific experience with YOUR OWN FUCKING CHILD and my knowledge means nothing because I don't have my own child yet? I think mine actually carries more weight and substance because I've experienced Many Different children of all ages in many different settings and situations, and that allows for more of a well-rounded approach. Argh, I stopped saying Anything after that. And of course, now with my own little one at home, I'm happier just caring for her and her alone, but I surely won't be forcing what "werks fur mee" on anyone like they did. Appreciate a variety of perspectives and you'll build a humble library of knowledge πŸ˜‰

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