A big surprise for many new fathers is the amount of unsolicited “advice” they will get from strangers, friends, family, and even spouses. Unfortunately, this does not go away by the time the kid is out of diapers. Apparently, it is lost on them that dad managed to get this far by doing a few things right.
Depending upon the target parent’s mindset, this criticism’s impact can range from extremely hurtful to utterly forgettable. For the more vulnerable, it can add to their insecurities or issues they’ve carried around for years and may prompt them (to the extreme satisfaction of some critics) to doubt their abilities.
According to one education psychologist, however, this criticism can be a chance for affirmation:
“Recognize that the hurt that comes with being criticized can be re-framed in terms of seeing how much you love and value being a father. If it hurts to be critiqued about fatherhood, it may show how much you care and want to do a good job.”
Dealing with the criticism
Some fathers are very good at politely telling people to mind their own business. Those who feel uncomfortable with this kind of advice or their response to it can consider these tips:
- Consider the messenger: It’s hard to ignore a grandparent, so you may have to address the issue – not in the moment but during a more measured follow-up.
- Do not take the bait: Some will respond immediately without thinking, but it is generally better for the parent and child to avoid open conflict.
- Do not take it personally: They may not know what makes your child tick or the chemistry unique to the two of you, nor do they see the full spectrum of your parenting skills in these moments.
- Address their delivery: Focus on how they said it as well as what they said. The advice may have been helpful (i.e., “It smells like it’s time for a diaper change.”), but the delivery may sound judgmental or accusatory. Separate the message, particularly if the delivery comes from a sleep-deprived mom, and go from there.
- Disarm the critic: One common way to respond to criticism from a stranger is with an abundance of mundane information that usually de-escalates them. A loved one can get a gentle touch on the arm or change the topic until the right time to address the messaging.
No one has all the answers
There is no one way to parent or the best way to parent. There is the best way to parent a child at a given moment on that day. Dads may not always hit it out of the park, but they are often more capable than others give them credit for.