The joys of unsolicited advice

I’ve never understood what compels people to try and offer life advice to complete strangers. I’m quite happy to just watch people make stupid decisions, because well it’s funny, but more importantly because it’s none of my business why they do what they do.

For example, our building has a gym, and I make an effort to get there three times a week in the morning. Every time I go, I see the same woman in there on the same cross-trainer doing the exact same 40 minute workout. Very slowly. Boring doesn’t come close to describing it. I could tell her that she would be much better off just going for a walk outside – for both her physical and mental health – or mixing it up by climbing on a bike every now and again. But I don’t do that, because even though I might have good intentions, good intentions are thoroughly annoying – and about as useful as trying to wipe off a curry with a sole square of single-ply toilet paper. Really, good intentions are too often just an excuse people use when they want to control other people, or feel validated about their own choices.

In my brief stint to date as a primary caregiver, I have come to empathise (yes I found the spot in my brain that has been storing it) with first time mothers who have to suffer from a barrage of unsolicited advice. My increased exposure to mums has made me realise how much self-doubt many of them have about how they are raising their children. They worry they’re doing it wrong. All the time.

I don’t.

I think, generally, I’m just too lazy to worry. It requires a lot of mental effort. The first couple of times when people came up to me and made a comment on how I should be handling Hurricane and Chaos, I just kind of looked at them a bit bemused and carried on. Meh, couldn’t care. But then I heard someone make a comment to one of the playgroup mums about how tired she looked and that her daughter probably wasn’t sleeping because she was too stimulated, or not eating enough protein, and needed a strict routine. The mum looked utterly defeated. She didn’t even respond. That comment, at that moment, was the last thing she needed.

There are two main types of people who offer unsolicited parenting advice – those who genuinely think their advice is helpful, and those who are annoyed that you’re not parenting the right way (ie their way) because you’re either inexperienced or stupid and so need to be appropriately directed. I seem to attract the latter. I presume it’s because I have a penis and that means I don’t know anything about children. Which is partially true. I know what mine look like, which is really the only fundamental you need as it ensures you feed the right little mouths and don’t take someone else’s kids home.

I tolerated the little words of advice to start with, but I’ve changed tack since. Every time these incessant interferers get a civil response, they just feel empowered to keep doing it. So what happens if you push back? Well I’ll tell you.

They do not like it.

Take the 50-something woman in the supermarket, who recommended I get a trolley to put Hurricane and Chaos in so they couldn’t run ‘amok’. I couldn’t help but laugh. It made it sound like they were tearing the shelves down when they were just yelling at me to tell them what species of fish were on display today. I responded and said: “No thank you. If I wanted a trolley I would have got one at the entrance.” Her eyes went all buggy. Poor woman.

Then there was the woman who actually walked across the playground to ask me if I was watching my children (I’m not their shadow, unlike many other parents here) because Chaos was swinging on an overhead bar and could fall. I politely told her she was welcome to go helicopter her own kids, or anyone else’s, but mine were fine. That did not go down well. I think she took a picture of me on her phone.

Chaos swinging away, oblivious to the conflict she has created

Some bloke also warned me not to let Hurricane and Chaos walk ahead of me on the footpath down dog poo alley because apparently some people drive really fast around there. That just made me confused. Do they drive fast on the footpath? No, on the road he said. So he was telling me not to let my kids walk on the road. I think my face kind of gave it away that I thought he was an idiot. Words were not required.

There is a common saying, it takes a village to raise a child. Unfortunately in the modern world that has changed to: it takes a village to tell you how to raise a child. Spray and walk away. I can’t be bothered with it. And I can’t be bothered being polite about it either.

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