How can I respond politely to unsolicited conception and child-raising advice?

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Tummy Monster In the past, you’ve posted “copy n’ paste responses” to help navigate awkward conversations with family and friends. I’ve found these to be really helpful, and I was hoping you might post one more (or point me in the direction of a post I may have missed).

My husband and I are planning to start trying to conceive this summer. I’m so excited about the prospect of starting our family and becoming a mother! We’re doing everything we can to prepare (including taking the Purposeful Conception course!). I want my friends and family to be excited for us too, but so far that’s not the response I’ve gotten.

Instead of support, I’ve mostly received a heap of unsolicated advice and opinions (on our timeline, on the kind of birth I want, on parenting, and so on). It’s been less helpful and more a damper on my hope and excitement for the future. I know these comments are well-intended, but we already have a pretty good idea of what we want to do and how we want to do it, and we’re taking the necessary steps to be as prepared as possible.

What did you say to keep commenters at bay? Do you have any tips on how to respond to unwelcome or negative comments?

Comments on How can I respond politely to unsolicited conception and child-raising advice?

  1. It depends on the nature of the advice- most of it, I shrug off but some does get to me. (People insisting that I cloth diaper when I can’t find a daycare to take my daughter who accepts cloth.)

    Sometimes, when the remark is somewhat sexist, I turn it around. For example, when my father in law suggested that I stay home with my daughter, I informed him that I had a better retirement plan and insurance than my husband, so if James wanted to stay home he could.

    And occasionally, I just blog about it, cut off contact with the person who said it (give up our dogs because the baby might be allergic?), or just bitch about it.

    And occasionally I learn from the comments. My pregnancy hasn’t been textbook, and my choices for delivery aren’t as offbeat as others might expect (medium risk OB, hospital birth and I’m open to a C-section and painkillers). Some things I’m able to pass on- great midwife recommendation helped a friend, etc.

    • Wanted to add- I realize that the advice is usually coming from a place of “I wish I had known this when I was pregnant or had a little one in the house….”

      Except for the give up your dogs comment. That’s coming from stupidity.

  2. Hoo boy! As a newly pregnant mama-to-be who just outed myself to my greater extended circle of family and friends and work communities, this is all fresh in my mind.

    First of all, most important is to have an inner circle of few close and supportive friends/family members that love, accept and celebrate you and your choices no matter what. Having this safe and cozy place to be “me” is so comforting and important for staving off the unwanted advice.

    Some phrases to try:

    “Thanks! Sounds interesting.” (and stop – change the subject)

    “I’ll have to discuss this with my doctor/midwife/doula/husband.” (again stop – finished, information received, I’ll think about it, move on)

    “I’m too tired/emotional/busy to discuss that right now. Pregnancy takes a lot out of me!” (once pregnant, using pregnancy as an excuse to get people to back off and focus on getting you a drink, letting you leave, etc. rather than giving advice – also good for staving off the “you’ll see” horror stories)

    “Since my husband and I will to be doing all the work, we’ll decide how we care for our baby. Unless you’d like to be put down on the list for midnight diaper changes and baby soothing?” (For the really rude ones. This really puts it point blank – will you be soothing my fussy baby at 12am, no, then this is none of your business!)

    I have also had to realize that people like to be involved in big events in other lives – these events are pretty universal in that most people go through them. Which is why so many people want to give advice about weddings and babies. It’s not about you – it’s about them and their experience of the same event. So I try not to take it too personally.

    Something a friend told me really helped. Basically she said that even though I’ve never done this before (this is my first baby), I am the only person in the world to have my exact history, personality, life experience and emotional make-up. I have to be true to myself in trying to care for my pregnancy and then my baby the way that feels most natural and comfortable to me first. And I am the only authority on what that is. Then if I see something isn’t working out, I can choose to change my mind and try someone else’s suggestions.

    It also may be hard for people to be fully excited about the conception phase because the baby isn’t so real to people yet – conceiving can go smoothly/quickly for some and be a much longer drawn out path or challenge for others. So they don’t know what to expect or how to feel.

    • I think this: “Thanks! Sounds interesting.” (and stop – change the subject)

      “I’ll have to discuss this with my doctor/midwife/doula/husband.” (again stop – finished, information received, I’ll think about it, move on)” is awesome – because it acknowledges the advice and then just change the subject – it’s so hard to remmeber that most advice is coming from a good place – people just love to share advice. The quickest way to get rid of too much advice is to listen to it real quick.

      (I did once have someone in my life who got offended when I didn’t follow her advice, but this is one of the main reasons we’re not friends, because she was patronising and controlling! oh and my step gran, so I just don’t tell her much and accept that anything I do tell her will be met with lots of unwanted advice which I then ignore and if she asks about it I fabricate something entirely: “oh, yes that was out of stock” or something).

      If these people are really really close and you care about them, it’s worth thinking of at least one subject to ASK their advice on – it’ll make em feel wanted. I get this is harder to do with conception (it’s sort of all important) but…

  3. While it would be awesome if all your friends and family felt exactly the same way you do about parenting, that’s not particularly realistic. These are the same people you disagree and debate and argue with about religion and politics and books and movies and basically everything, so why would parenthood be any different?

    I hope your family and friends come around, and that everything goes smoothly and happy. But the only advice I can give to help make that happen is that maybe some topics are just better left undiscussed?

  4. I know it sounds weird/awkward but I think it’s important that you point blank, tell your close friends and family members that you are looking for their support and not necessarily their advice. I think 9 times out of 10 when someone is confiding in another person all they want is to be heard but the listener goes into this knee jerk problem solving mode (even when there is no real ‘problem’ – people seem much more comfortable with advice and opinion giving than just listening and empathizing). It was hard but I had to do this with my mother early on in my pregnancy. It has strained our relationship but it’s made my life so much easier and stress-free (and it has helped me work through other ‘issues’ that I have with her).

    Also, and I think someone mentioned something along the same lines previously, one of the best quotes is: “I’ll be sure to bring that up with my child’s pediatrician (or my doctor).” And if that doesn’t work looking at them like they are crazy always seems to help for me =)

    And really, if you are comfortable with it there is nothing wrong with being honest about how these comments are making you feel. I think a lot of advice comes from people who really do care but if you just sit there and smile they won’t realize how inconsiderate they are being. You could say something like “wow, that really puts a damper on things” or “focusing on the negative is really getting me down, can we talk about something else” etc.

    In any case, good luck!

  5. It’s kind of awkward, because it sounds like you want communication with the people in your life about this, but only a certain kind of communication. What feels supportive to them (giving advice) doesn’t feel supportive to you. So you’re in the position of saying, “I want you to say these things to me, and not these other things.” That’s… kind of awkward.

    I try to accept comments as they’re meant as much as I can. For instance, my grandma who wants us to circumsize our baby if it’s a boy. That’s not an option, but what she’s REALLY saying is “I want your child to be raised in the Jewish faith and have a connection to their ancestors.” Great, I can do that, and that’s really a very sweet sentiment of her to express. I do NOT engage in argument about the actual content of the advice–I’ve never found that to be helpful.

    And if that doesn’t work, I shut down the conversation. “Thanks for your suggestion. How’s your child doing these days?” Or their favorite football team, or their quilting club, or whatever. Change the subject. This doesn’t really sound like what you want, though, because then you still don’t have people being excited about you and your choices.

    I guess what you could also do is say to your friends and family, “I’d love it if you responded in this way–ask me questions about what my plans are, tell me stories of people who were successful doing the things I want to do, etc”–whatever it is that that DOES feel supportive to you. Get really specific, and ask for what you want. Your friends and family may be feeling supportive and just not know how to express it in the ways you want.

    • It’s kind of awkward, because it sounds like you want communication with the people in your life about this, but only a certain kind of communication. What feels supportive to them (giving advice) doesn’t feel supportive to you. So you’re in the position of saying, “I want you to say these things to me, and not these other things.” — this is so important! My mum gets really upset with my brother for being like this – she feels like all the conversations are on his terms and she worries about wrong footing and stuff. Good point!

  6. I’ve learned a lesson from the men in my family. After watching my brother-in-law sit calmly and quietly through all kinds of advice and nagging, I thought “Why can’t I let it all slide off like he does?” Sometimes the best thing to do is nod or change the subject.

    However, sometimes it all gets a little much and I make an excuse to leave the room until everyone has moved on to another topic. Or if all else fails I resort to the best shutter-upper of all: “My doctor said…”

    • I don’t know that I’ve ever received advice, but YES. THIS. It’s easy to deflect any prodding about our plans by treating every instance as no big deal. That doesn’t mean it ISN’T a big deal to you — it just makes it clear that it’s not an interesting topic of conversation for you. Like used cars.

  7. I agree with the above comment about how men react to advice and comments. I know it sounds sexist, but it is true in many cases. I think the key is to not take it personally, and understand that it really has nothing to do with you. it’s THEM. I’d say to just be polite, and say “thank you” or “Oh, interesting” “I’ve heard of that.”. People just want a way to connect and share.

    • I don’t think it is sexist. Little boys are socialized to react to things differently than little girls. Now, it would be sexist to say “All men should act like that.”

  8. One thing a friend of mine said was that she was happy to hear about things that worked for other people but didn’t want people to say “You should do this.”

    So I was happy because I could say “Here’s a thing that worked for me” and she could ignore it or use it or do the opposite and there was no conflict.

    • Yeah, I have to bite my tongue on a knee jerk bitchy response everytime my boyfriend says “No, you should just do what [my wife] did and _______.” I understand that she did her research and came to the conclusion that those things worked best for her. But I have ALSO done my research and may yet come to different conclusions.

      ::sigh:: But he IS just trying to help. They’ve already had to kids and he’s trying to help me skip the trial and error phase and jump straight to what works. Except every child and family is different and there will be a trial and error phase no matter what and what worked for them may not work for me.

    • Actually, I have a friend that uses that phrasing, and it’s *still* overbearing sometimes – mostly because of the way she says things. I haven’t quite figured out how to get her to back off until I ask…

  9. I tried to take all of those comments and suggestions in the spirit of knowing someone cared enough to want to be helpful. So I’d just say something to the effect of, “I appreciate the thought, and I’ll be sure to tell (my partner) about it!”.

    • Thank you! “In the spirit of knowing someone cared…” That’s exactly why people are saying stuff. I would add: if you don’t want people to respond honestly to what you’re doing, it may be best to simply not reveal that information.

      Close friends and close family might be appropriate to tell, because these are people whom you should be able to have an honest discussion with if their well-intentioned advice/suggestions resonate badly with you. You could say, “Wow, that really puts a damper on our excitement” if someone says something that’s really a bummer.

      You’ll get enough advice once everyone can see you’re pregnant…

  10. I think you already put the perfect response into words:

    “I know these comments are well-intended, but we already have a pretty good idea of what we want to do and how we want to do it, and we’re taking the necessary steps to be as prepared as possible. ”

    When we told our families that we were planning on giving birth at a birthcenter with midwives instead of an OB we got a little push back at first (because they were concerned for our wellbeing). However, once you let people know that you aren’t looking for advice, and that all the decisions you are making are well researched, they tend to back off and can just be excited for you 🙂

    • I think this is one of those “Yes, but…” threads where everyone has their own unique story, but I’m adding mine anyway. Awesome that people backed off in your case, but for me, some family members did, and others (my mother) didn’t. We eventually reached a point where we had to agree to stop talking about it, which was disappointing to me. She was sure that my birth center + midwife choice was unsafe for the baby (thanks, mom, I hadn’t considered the safety of my unborn child), and no amount of calmly communicated information could convince her otherwise. I went with the strategy of no more bringing it up, but she kept coming back to it (and even offered to give us a ton of money to cover a more midwife-friendly hospital than the one our insurance favored). Ultimately with her what worked was agreeing that we weren’t going to end up on the same page, and since this is my body/child/life, your page doesn’t win. Oh well.

      I also agree with a lot of comments that this is one of those (of many) times in life where people just have opinions/thoughts/personal experiences (hey – like me!), and the only response you can control is your own.

  11. I got a little rude with my responses, but that was because everyone decided they knew what I needed/wanted more than I did(I wanted an all natural home birth but had a c-section in a hospital). I usually said,”Is it your uterus/vag that is carrying the child? No? Then shut the f*ck up!” And then everyone decided that I needed their advice since my fiance’ was deployed, again I said”Are you waking up every two hours to breast feed or change muddy diapers? No? Then shut the f*ck up!”

    But that was me.:)

    • my baby has colic and I can’t stand unsolicited advice from people who don’t know what they are talking about. Colic is heartbreaking No one wants to see their child in pain. I don’t need anyone to make me feel worse then I already do about it. The other day a woman who I have never even seen before came up to me when my baby was screaming in her stroller and told me she didn’t have kids but I had I tried this thing and that thing? I replied no I hadn’t tried anything for my daughter because uncaring was the kind of parent I was striving to be. Very sarcastic i know but unless you have been through colic or have a phd on it then I prefer you mind your own business. It can be really frusterating having people you don’t know giving advice about something as personal as your child.

  12. Know your audience. If I know I’m amongst people who have very different ideas about things than what I’m doing, I just don’t share as much. I’ll say something like “I’m still considering my options”, or “I’m just going to play things by ear”.

    If someone starts telling negative childbirth stories, I’ll excuse myself to the restroom, or let them know that I don’t want to hear scary birth stories right now.

    I’ve also had to tell people, and my own mother (in regards to her not agreeing with me using a midwife), that if what they have to say isn’t positive or supportive, to please keep it to themselves. I was gentle about it, but if you stress that you just want people to support your choices, it seems to get through to them.

  13. It’s hard for people to know what to talk about that early in the game. It might be best to wait to discuss it with anyone but highly trusted family and friends until after you have conceived.

    • Yes, for some reason telling people you’re planning or trying to conceive is an open invitation for crazy advice. Once you’re actually pregnant, people are a bit more delicate about it, since it’s not a wide-open question anymore. And once the baby is born they’re typically even more careful not to step on your toes.

      See also: Not telling people names you’re thinking of until you’re sure. Grandma may throw a giant fit about little Anabraxis Moonshine if you say you’re THINKING of that, but if you present it as THE NAME she’s usually going to bite her tongue.

      (Seriously, try it: “We’re thinking of naming our daughter Jessica” “Ugh, I went to a school with a Jessica, I hated her, I can’t stand that name.” vs. “We’ve named our daughter-to-be Jessica.” “(pause, brain engages before mouth) What a lovely name!”

  14. When I was pregnant I got alot of unsolicited advice. But in a way I was happy to hear it all. This is our first child so we had no idea about anything and by listening to other people’s stories and advice, when your baby is screaming in the middle of the night and rocking and swaying isn’t working, then you can try something that someone said.. In my case my son hated the rocker and glider but I remembered one of my clients had said that their daughter also had hated the said so they bounced her on a birthing (Pilates)ball.. And omg it worked and still does almost 8 mths later it has saved our lives! And with my birthing choice (water birth, midwife, birthing center, bfing) women were usually more interested than anything. So take everything with a grain of salt and store it tucked away and maybe you may use it! And with rude comments just laugh it off, people don’t know you like you do.

  15. This is why I didn’t tell anyone when we were TTC! But I hate to break it to you — the unsolicited advice does not stop. You’ll get it all through pregnancy (I totally agree w/ the commenter who said do NOT tell people the names you’re considering) and you’ll get it as you raise your child.
    But at the same time, try to have an open mind, especially when you know the advice-givers are really just trying to be helpful. No one likes to hear it before they have kids, but there really are some things you won’t understand until you have gone through it yourself — no matter how many classes you take or books you read.
    And if you really don’t want to hear it, I’m a fan of “Thanks, I’ll check that out” and then doing whatever I want. Best of luck!

    • Totally agree – we’re not pregnant yet, but we do get a lot of unsolicited advice about how to raise our puppy!! 😉 Can only imagine how it will be down the road…

      Anyway, sometimes even the craziest-sounding things can help you in the situation just because having heard it means that someone else was challenged by that same situation (even if you throw the actual advice out the window).

  16. I would highly recommend NOT telling anyone but REALLY close family/friends you are TTC, unless you want people to ask you every month how things are going, are you pregnant. Hopefully, you will get pregnant right away, but if you don’t, those questions, while well-meaning, become painful quickly. I have no suggestions on advice responses, other than nodding and saying “thanks.” The well-meaning advice never ends.

  17. I agree with the above commenter. I have not told people we are TTC, for fear of those prying questions. Now the issue seems to be if/when we tell people we are actually pregnant. My husband is the oldest in his family and watched his mother suffer through several miscarriages throughout his childhood. He wants to avoid telling people until we either can’t hide it, or until after a baby is born. I understand the place he is coming from, but I’m not sure if I could keep my mouth shut on that topic if we successfully concieve. It is possible that as things progress he will feel more comfortable and not be so worried. Any thoughts on this?

    • Telling *some* people isn’t the same as telling *all* people. So say you get pregnant and find out around 5 weeks along. Perhaps you tell your parents and a best friend each at that point. At 12 weeks, when things aren’t as risky, you could tell more friends while still keeping the group small. That way, it’s only as the pregnancy progresses that people find out about it.

    • In Europe people usually tell their family and friends that they are pregnant after/on the three month (12 weeks) mark. After the first trimester a miscarriage is much more unlikely, so that’s why almost everyone waits 3 months. One of my closest girl friends is now pregnant and I was the first to hear after their parents, which heard it too at the 3 month mark. Maybe this can be a guideline?

  18. This is one of my biggest fears when my husband and I do decide to have a child. We are both atheists, and my mother and step-father are as well, but my husbands entire side of the family is very religious. Despite his mother knowing we are not religious she gave us a religious wedding card and a cross to hang, this is very annoying but I can deal with it. But I absolutely dread the fights that I know will arise from us choosing not to raise our child with an sort of religion. I sincerely want my child to have a choice in the matter.. When he or she is old enough to comprehend it. If, as a teenager, our child wants to go to church with my in-laws, that’s fine with me.

  19. Tatem, I get where your husband is coming from but that’s taking it to an extreme! I had a lot of spotting at first when I was pregnant and feared the worst, so we waited until I was about 13 weeks. I did have a friend who waited until about 20 weeks because she had a family situation that made it bad timing for her to announce it earlier. At that point, you’ve had a lot of the tests and may feel more secure. Obviously there is no guarantee but you guys might feel more confident sharing after that u/s.

  20. Smile, nod, take what you need, leave what you dont. If someone is persistent and bothering you, be honest, firm, and kind when telling them to kindly shut the fuck up.

  21. Smile and nod, baby! And then fake enthused and say “Oh that’s so interesting! I’d never thought of that!” then do more smiling and nodding and grumble about them with your husband later.

  22. I was a teen Mummy and obviously had more barriers than the women who were in there 30s and 40s who were at the Birthing Center. With every rude and disrespectful comments I received I answered something like this:
    “I would really appreciate your love and support. If you feel like I am truly harming myself or my baby then your concerns are needed. I am doing everything I can and more to prepare for a healthy perinatal experience which involves professional and personal advice. I may not be doing things the way you would but I’m giving my family the healthiest most loving start in life. I would like you to join me in this while respectfully withholding comments which are making this experience (which should be beautiful) stressful for me. Stress is bad for the baby and I know you care and love the baby…”
    I had to deal with this a lot throughout my pregnancy. Even though I was seeing a nutritionist & herbalist along with CNMW, eating OG w/NO alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs of any kind. I wasn’t even drinking coffee or eating chocolate. I exercised throughout my pregnancy, etc etc.
    The best advice I ever got & still use (my boys are 10 yo):
    “Trust yourself! You know in your heart what’s best for you and your baby.”

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