The slippery slope of advice

Be careful about giving unwanted parenting tips to your children.

Mary Rose Remington and her grandson
Mary Rose Remington and her grandson

MAMA: By the time I became a parent in 2016, the Internet had already become a wealth of information on child development, health and parenting. But even in the era of Google, my family and friends — and strangers alike — were more than happy to share their wisdom and stories with us, welcome or not. For my parnter and me, the most challenging advice to receive was from our parents/in-laws.

We knew our parents were coming from a place of genuine care, a desire to support us and be actively involved in their grandchild’s life, but we weren’t always on the same page. While many fundamentals of parenting remain constant across time, some things have changed significantly due to generational differences and advances in science/research over the past 30-plus years, such as putting babies to sleep on their backs and car seat installation methods.

There were also occasions in which differences in parenting styles resulted in us choosing alternative approaches to those our own parents used when we were children.

I’ve found the following strategies helpful to ensure our parents know how to make their advice-giving as helpful and supportive as possible:

Set clear boundaries.

Explain issues in which you’re open to advice — and specify when you’re not:

  • “I’m struggling with ___ and would love to know your thoughts. How did you handle this when I was younger?”
  • “My partner and I have talked it over, and have decided we’re handling ___ in this way. We’re not looking for advice on this issue.”

Be open and honest.

Say up front how and when you prefer to receive advice.

  • “I prefer that you ask if I’m open to advice on ___ before sharing your thoughts, stories or making comments.”
  • “I’ve noticed I’m more defensive when you bring up issues while I’m in the middle of dealing with them. I want to be able to listen and understand your advice. Can we be sure to discuss those things when the kids aren’t around?”

Share your rationale.

Show that you’ve put thought into your decisions by explaining why you’re doing things a certain way.

  • “Our pediatrician says ___”
  • “Recent research recommends ___”
  • “___ aligns best with our style of parenting.”
  • If all of the above doesn’t work, or if you know it’s best to avoid these conversations entirely, you may choose not to engage and to change the subject if it comes up. (If you don’t want advice on an issue, don’t bring the issue up with your parents at all or you’ll be sending mixed messages.)
Greg Groenjes (Papa) show’s a nest that had fallen out of the bush to his grandson, Kellan.

NANA: While attending a recent baby shower, I heard a new mom describe the challenge she was having with her mother, specifically around having no toys or blankets in the baby’s crib. Although she’d described the latest research and recommendations from her pediatrician to her mother, her mom’s discounting reply was, “Well, we put toys and blankets in the crib with you, and you turned out OK.”

It sounded like Grandma’s advice was to ignore the latest research and just do what she did: Use a blanket and put toys in the crib. Unfortunately the crib — and what went in it — had become a battleground for the mother and daughter.

So here’s the deal, fellow grandparents: We’ve had our turn and raised our kids to the best of our abilities with the knowledge we had at the time. Now it’s our kids’ turn. They and their partners get to call the shots with their kids, taking in the latest research and guidelines about child rearing.

Our smart, capable children are learning — sometimes by trial and error — just like we did. Mistakes will be made, consults and confessions with close friends who are also parents will be shared and numerous child-rearing problems will be solved, with and without our input. It’s all part of the parenting journey.

Yes, we grandparents care deeply about our grandchildren and yes, we know a few things about kids and parenting. Yet the safest, most respectful strategy is to assume that unless our kids ask, they probably don’t want our advice.

And when there’s a strategy or parenting tip we’re dying to share, we can inquire: “Are you open to my advice on XYZ?”

If they say no, we zip it. If they say yes, we can share, knowing they may take, tweak or totally reject our suggestion.

Giving parenting advice to our adult kids is a slippery slope. Keep the peace by respecting and honoring their parenting choices. And trust that they’ll ask for advice when they need and want it. It just might not be us they ask.

Mary Rose Remington, a baby boomer and new grandmother, lives in Minneapolis. Her daughter, Laura Groenjes Mitchell — a millennial first-time mom — lives in Denver. They are documenting their generational differences with this occasional series in both Good Age and its sister publication, Minnesota Parent