Nosy Nellies: How to endure unsolicited pregnancy/parenting advice

You know, you really shouldn’t be drinking coffee while you’re pregnant.
— Stranger in line at Starbucks
That baby needs shoes! Why isn’t he wearing shoes?
— Stranger at the mall outside the play area
Any amount of crying actually causes permanent damage to children. I never let my children fuss or even hear the word ‘no.’
— Your mother-in-law, maybe

When you’re pregnant (and even after you give birth), everyone has opinions for you. And for some reason, most of these advice-givers don’t seem able to simply share what worked for them... instead, they all seem convinced that their way is The Right Way and all other ways will inevitably lead to Doom and Gloom for you, your partner (if you have one), and your baby.

Me on Parisian television, receiving parenting advice for all the (French-speaking) world to see.

Me on Parisian television, receiving parenting advice for all the (French-speaking) world to see.

This turns out to be true whether you’re trans or not, so I thought I’d share my tips for surviving Nagging Nancies during pregnancy and early parenthood.

Me with my sweet baby, probably doing something that I’ll get criticized for.

Me with my sweet baby, probably doing something that I’ll get criticized for.

  1. You don’t have to share everything. In fact, I encourage you to keep lots of things to yourself! Especially when it comes to the hottest pregnancy topics, which include your baby’s name (until they’re born), how you plan to feed your baby (the opinions here are usually STRONG and not evidence-based), and where your baby will sleep (again— strong opinions that are often not just strong but occasionally outright dangerous). It’s okay for you to thank them for their interest and let them know you’re keeping that information private. This goes for neighbors, in-laws... and even your own parents. My actual words were: “Oh, thank you so much for your concern! But we are keeping that information private.” I said that over and over again, and 9 times out of 10 it worked and the questioner left us alone.

  2. A friend of mine taught me the phrase, “We will keep that in mind.” This works for all kinds of situations. Sometimes it’s the stranger at the mall suggesting your toddler wear shoes (even though he just ran out of the play area where shoes aren’t allowed). “We will keep that in mind!” Sometimes it’s the lady at the grocery store telling you babies should be worn at all times and not be in the cart. “We will keep that in mind!” Maybe it’s your mother-in-law telling you that kids shouldn’t get Tylenol even when they have a fever. “We will keep that in mind!” I choose to say it in a light, breezy tone that lets them know I’ve heard them and will consider it, but that I’m not interested in discussing it further. You can choose whatever tone works for you.

  3. Stay open-minded and ask parents you respect for advice. If someone’s older kids are particularly polite and that’s something you value, ask how they taught it to their kids. If you’re anxious about SIDS, ask your pediatrician how to best prevent it (it can’t actually be prevented, but there are many steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of a SIDS incident). If you know an awesome teenager, ask them what their parents did right! People love sharing their perspectives and are usually delighted to be asked. 

  4. Look for logic. If someone does give you input on something, don’t just trust your gut. Remember that “intuition” can be influenced by MANY factors, including personal bias and past trauma. You may instinctively feel that it’s better to be able to see your baby while driving— it just feels better to look back and see their little face and be assured they’re still breathing. But we know, after YEARS of research, that it’s actually much safer to have babies in rear-facing car seats. Your intuition is wrong in this situation. Similarly, it might feel hard to watch your baby struggle to do tummy time, or to see your toddler unable to reach a certain toy. But we know that it’s good to allow children the opportunity to problem-solve on their own— it’s how they learn and grow and gain confidence. Montessori school teachers literally sit on their hands to prevent themselves from intervening too quickly when a young person is struggling to complete a task. There will be times when your own desire to be needed or loved may cloud your judgement; your judgement can also be affected by your desire to protect and be near your child. Look for the logic. Is there evidence to support your decision? Are you only seeking out evidence that reinforces what you already want to do, or are you truly open to what is best for your child’s safety, growth, and development? If someone gives you advice, even if that advice is counterintuitive, they might be right! Look for whether their suggestion is logical, has evidence to back it up, and is in alignment with your values. You might actually learn something useful from the nosy neighbor down the street. 

Me at peak pregnancy advice time. Something about being 8 months pregnant just screams, “TELL ME EVERYTHING I’M DOING WRONG!!!”

Me at peak pregnancy advice time. Something about being 8 months pregnant just screams, “TELL ME EVERYTHING I’M DOING WRONG!!!”

5. Give people an opportunity to offer advice on low-stakes questions. For example, I asked my friends on Facebook what baby items we would need for Leo. I got tons of responses, some of which were useful, but most importantly— everyone in my life had an outlet through which to impart their wisdom. They duked it out with each other in the comments section and I didn’t have to field dozens of messages lecturing me about cloth vs disposable, baby-led weaning, the “evils” of formula, the perfect kind of stroller, why baby-wearing is so important, attachment parenting, helicopter parenting, snow plow parenting, etc.

6. Don’t be afraid to change your mind! Whether it’s related to your birthing or feeding plan, your pregnancy experience or parenting in general, it’s okay to realize your idea didn’t match reality and to adjust accordingly. Try to hold lightly to all of your plans. Nature is messy and as a result, birth often doesn’t go according to plan. Babies are individuals with their own personalities, and what worked for your best friend might not work for you. Let pregnancy and birth and parenting unfold organically, and go where it takes you. You didn’t “fail” just because your plan didn’t pan out— you just found something that worked better for you and your family. The more flexible and non-ideological you can be, the better you’ll feel about the whole experience. 

7. Lean on your partner (if you have one, or partners if you have multiple). Hopefully, you picked this person (or people) because you respect them. If someone does give you advice and you’re not sure if it would make sense in your situation, check in with your partner! Chances are they will balance out your ideology so you can come to a middle ground. Our parenting philosophy is pretty much choosing the middle way in everything. We don’t do free-range parenting, but we aren’t helicopter parents either— whatever our kids can do on their own, they do on their own. But we make sure they don’t hurt others (or themselves) in the process. Every kid has to pick up after themselves, but we don’t punish them for making a mess. We don’t have a no-screens house, but we have limits on the amount of time they get to use the tablet. They don’t have to eat everything on their plates, but they do have to make healthy choices. Everything in moderation. If either Biff or I were parenting solo, these rules would be completely different— we pull each other towards the middle place, and it ends up working out pretty well for us and the kids.

Hopefully this was helpful for those of you who are trying to navigate the trickier aspects of being pregnant or raising babies!

Remember that sometimes people are just trying to make themselves feel better about the decisions they made, especially if they have doubts about those decisions or are otherwise insecure about them. But other times people are genuinely trying to be helpful— they just don’t always remember how sensitive one can be while pregnant, and might not know how to positively convey their desire to help without shaming you.

By showing them grace (while maintaining healthy boundaries), you should be able to take in good information, keep out bad information, and work with your partner to find the paths that works for you both.

Have fun and good luck!