If You Don't Have Kids, Can You Give Parents Advice?

Filed under: Opinions


After a long day at Disneyland, Ann's brother and sister-in-law put their 5- and 6-year-olds to bed and let their "very, very cranky 8-year-old hang out and torture us with his crankiness," recalls Ann (not her real name, for reasons that will become obvious):

"I suggested they put the boy to bed as well, to put him -- and all of us -- out of his misery. My brother went off on me with, 'Sis, until you have kids do not tell me how to raise mine! You have no idea of the politics that exist with bedtimes and older versus younger children!' I said, 'If it's about politics, aren't you the President in this house?'"

The conversation did not grow more cordial. As for Ann, "Suffice to say, I never offered a parenting suggestion again."

Good. Sort of. See the problem is this: Parents, like most humans, hate hearing advice, especially when it comes to childrearing. But they especially hate to hear it from someone who doesn't have kids.

That's probably because, secretly, we worry we're not doing the greatest job. (I know I do. ) But when we're second-guessed by the child-free, at least we have an excuse for our anger: "You just CAN NOT understand!" Sometimes I wonder if it's just an easy way of stabbing back at someone who has stabbed them. Because that's what advice often feels like. Criticism.

The real question is: Can people without children offer any worthwhile insights into parenting?

Of course! Pretty much anyone who has been around kids, as a teacher, coach or even babysitter -- especially babysitter -- has gleaned some insights beyond, "You're spoiling your kids rotten."

Before she had kids, New Hampshire artist Luann Udell was a pre-K teacher. At one conference, a mom and dad were complaining that their daughter never obeyed. At that moment, the girl wandered in and the teacher told her to sit in the corner or leave quietly. She left, obedient as a show dog. The parents were amazed.

The teacher explained a little to them about modeling good behavior and this and that, and the parents left, truly enlightened.

But then there are the times when a nonparent really may NOT get it. Before she had children, recalls Gigi Cohen, a Chicago businesswoman, "I was visiting my friend who had a 5-year-old and she had to give him medicine and then she gave him candy afterwards and I thought, 'Oh please! He should just learn how to take the medicine. It's part of life!'"

A few years later, Gigi became a mom herself. "Sure enough, when my kids had to take bad medicine, I gave them candy, too, because it just makes life a little easier. So I think people without children judging people with children probably don't have the whole perspective."

It's the "Walk a mile in someone else's moccasins," thing. Except that, whether or not a person has kids, all of us have been kids and had parents, making us all somewhat wise about childrearing.

It should also make us wise enough to shut up. Parent or not, most of us don't like to be second-guessed. When we're flailing and failing, the best thing anyone give is not advice -- it's a helping hand.

And you don't need to be a parent to have two of those.

Related:
Sleeping Men Can't Hear Babies -- Sleeping Women Can

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.