Dear Unsolicited Parenting Advice Giving Acquaintance or as I like to call them UPAGA,
I hope this letter finds you in the pink of health. Oh, are you wondering if this is meant for you? Let me make it easy for you to figure that out – if you have ever felt compelled to tell your new neighbor what she should feed her new born, then yes it is for you; if you have shared your pearls of wisdom regarding parenting with a woman in a mall on how to control her kid’s ‘rage’ issues, then you should read on. If you haven’t done either (yet!) you should still continue reading to not fall into the category at a later stage… because you will.
Ah! Where are my manners… let me introduce myself. I am a work-from-home mother of a 2.5 year old adorable monstrous angel. I am also a victim of unsolicited parenting advice giving acquaintances. This ‘abuse’ (for the lack of a better term) started right when my daughter was born. Here, I was a new mother trying to cope up with the overwhelming and unpredictable responsibility of raising a tiny human being who was dependent on me for her every requirement, be it food, cleaning herself, bathing, even sleeping… and there were these so-called ‘well-wishers’ who would drop in to see her armed with their advices and suggestions. I had my first brush with an UPAGA when this lady who I had never ever met before in my life – an acquaintance of my husband’s – came to my home, stayed for three hours to see the baby who, as is expected of newborns, slept right through the ordeal, and shared her parenting experience (without being asked for, I might add) with me and my mom. She drawled on about how to remove extra facial hair from my two week old baby’s face to how to make her complexion fair-er to how I should make her sleep on a special pillow to make her head rounder! As I said, it was the first time and I was just amused at her total lack of figuring out that my mom and I were silently laughing at her behind her back. However, soon I learnt that her behavior was not the exception, it was the norm. Almost every other person who visited me and the baby had something or the other to share… never mind if they had one kid, ten kids or none, almost all of them had a precious parenting nugget up their sleeve that they absolutely had to share with me - the first-time, sleep-deprived, haggard new mommy.
It’s been two years since that day and yet this parting of unasked for ‘valuable’ parenting ‘suggestions’ still continues.
You must be wondering why after 2.5 years, I have suddenly decided to speak up, that I should be used to it by now. Well, I am… most of the times. I have learnt to arrange my face into an attentive mode while tuning out the words and dreaming about cake! But, a couple of recent incidences have made me realize… that UPAGAs need to be stopped! They need to be told that they are not helping… that we don’t care for their unasked for suggestions!
The incidents in question are –
- A lady I have never met before, who supposedly lives in the flat next to me, met me in the elevator today. After polite hellos, she inquired why I don’t bring my daughter to the play area. When told she sleeps through the evening, she first ‘tch-tch’d, then looked at my daughter as if she has terminal illness and then proceed to enlighten me on the importance of playing. Did I mention that I didn’t even know she was my neighbor till 15 minutes ago?!
- A couple I met at the bus stop for the first time told me how I should make my daughter sleep early as it would be beneficial when she starts big school. Again, relative strangers; unsolicited advice.
To some of you, they must seem like innocent statements that I should not take to heart. I am sure you must be thinking that this woman is making a mountain out of a mole hill, that I should listen from one ear and let it fly out from another. Some of you might argue that these are valid suggestions, kids should go out and play and they should sleep early. However, the validity of these statements is not the point. The fact that they are right or wrong is not the question. The point is that why do people have this urge to pass their wisdom to others? Why do we, as a society, have this need to tell others what to do? Why do we think that our way is the only way? Why can’t we, before suggesting something, stop and think that ‘hey, she has not asked for it. Maybe she might have her reasons for doing what she is doing?’ And the bigger question is why do we give suggestions to people, who have not asked for it, at all. Did I ask these well-wishers for their advice? For their suggestions? No. Also, the fact that these ‘advices’ were coming from complete strangers who don’t know me, my daughter, and our situation completely baffled me.
So, these two seemingly innocent remarks got me thinking and I decided to write down why these UPAGAs irk me so much. So, here goes nothing –
- The fact that you are a total stranger who I have never ever met in my life before is definitely number one.
- I don’t know you, you don’t know me. You don’t know my daughter, you don’t know what is going on in our lives. You don’t know our situations or our struggles. How can you comment on my parenting style without knowing anything about me or my life?
- Having two kids doesn’t make you an expert. Neither does three… Neither does meeting your nieces and nephews every alternate month.
- You have a healthy happy teenager, great! But, you had a kid almost a decade ago! The times were different, the age was different. Have you stopped to think that maybe your parenting style is not applicable now?
- Yes, you have raised kids, now please let me raise mine. Thank you very much.
- Okay, so you don’t have a kid , you have never interacted with a toddler before but it worked for your bhabhi’s sister’s jethani’s friend’s nanad’s masi’s daughter so it will work for my kid too… uhh no, it most probably will not.
- It helped your kid, good for him. I absolutely must try it with my kid? Because a kid is a kid is a kid? Again… uhh, no!
- Nodding in elevators, meeting at the same bus stop, having the same maid, standing in line at the same grocery shop… does not make us friends! So, no I will not discuss my child’s sleeping pattern with you.
If you are an unsolicited parenting advice giver, I have an unsolicited advice for you – Please stop. I know you think you are doing us clueless mommies a favor by sharing your infinite parenting experience, but honestly nobody appreciates it. Let me come to you with a problem, and then maybe you can impart your parenting wisdom and I might listen and actually follow. Till then, please comment on how cute / friendly / naughty my child is and be on your way.
An extremely-bugged Mommy
P.S. - If you think I sound like an ungrateful biatch, let me tell you I am not. I really appreciate all those people who have helped me in my parenting journey and I am sure they will continue to do so… but on the other hand, these UPAGAs really annoy the bujeesus out of me!
P.P.S and no, I don’t know if it’s a word, I am just annoyed… and I like the sound of it - Bujeesus!