Once upon a time a hurt, tearful and frustrated friend of mine recounted a story. Her sister was pregnant with her first child and my friend was wishing her the “worst behaved little child ever born”. The reason for this comment was because her sister had always given my friend feedback and advice on how to raise her 3-year old monozygotic girls. This feedback was offered under the guise of “advice” and often went something along these lines: “You should be stricter. They are out of control.” “You are too soft with them. You let them get away with murder.” “If they were my children, things would be different!” “If they were my children, they would be sleeping through the night by now.” An alternative to the last comment is,“…they would be toilet trained by now!” Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Over the years, many parents of multiples have expressed anger, frustration and guilt as a result of “advice” meted out to them from well-meaning family and friends, who, I might add, were also NOT parents of or raising multiples. Several mentioned that the feedback began even while they were pregnant, “You’re not resting enough… eating properly… how come so many doctor’s visits?…” The main gist of the “advice” was judgmental and negative, leaving the distinct impression that, given the same circumstances, the unsolicited advisor would be making far superior decisions and is the much wiser parent.
One of my own experiences came in the form of a neighbour blessed with a 4-year old and a newborn while I merely juggled two 18-month olds and their sister, nearly three. On the surface, her words were benign enough, “You have no idea how busy I am!”, but that was not how I received them. In a split second I was on a downhill slide and felt defensive, angry, a failure, ridiculous and ready to kill! I find that these helpful folks usually fall into one of three categories, a) childless; b) have singletons either many months or even years apart; or c) are family members and as such, feel completely justified in providing feedback in the name of Love. The majority of ‘Ann Landers Wannabes’ tend to fall into the latter category, i.e. family members who are long on “advice” and short on empathy or practical experience.
There are some suggested plans of action for handling this situation:
Plan A – Kill the Offender(s) – NOT RECOMMENDED!
You will notice where Plan A appears on the list but this Plan needs to be scrapped about as quickly as it develops in your mind. Although very tempting, implementing it will drastically reduce your “hands on” approach and availability for parenting. Plan A is legally and morally unacceptable and while it may appear to have its satisfying side, is neither recommended nor endorsed.
Plan B – Ignore the Advisor
This Plan, while on the surface, may sound appropriate and even doable; there are some drawbacks. When the Advisor is met with silence, even a stony one, they don’t always “get it” and could interpret silence as 1) agreement with their advice; or 2) you want (need?) to hear more advice. With many witnesses in attendance, ignoring the Advisor may work in the short term. Be prepared, however, to have to implement another Plan in the future in case the Advisor feels your silence is a result of your agreement with their “advice.”
Plan C – Humour
This is an excellent Plan and can alleviate feelings of rancor, bitterness and resentment in one well-expressed and well-timed retort! You may need some practice or some run through scenarios in front of the mirror beforehand, as you rehearse your responses. Here are some samples for specific occasions:
Comment: “If they were my children, they wouldn’t act that way.”
Response: “Show me the adoption papers! ”
Or: with an added a tinge of sarcasm to your response: “Thank you, for that very helpful advice.”
Comment: “Better you than me!”
Response: “Hey, no contest! I couldn’t agree more!”
Comment: “Boy, do you have your hands full!”
Response: “Yes, and I love every minute of it.”
Comment (to a Dad of triplets): “How many times did you have to do ‘it’ to get triplets?”
Response: I am afraid you are on your own with this one but I have every faith in you to come up with an appropriate response. I never did hear back how Dad responded to this individual who obviously had no background in Biology.
Plan D – Tell it Like It Is
There is no real answer as to how to avoid the inadequacy that others can make us feel as we parent our multiples. While I relied very heavily on Plan C, I didn’t always feel humorous nor have time to practice my deliveries. As a result, my responses were ‘less than I would have hoped for’ as I gave in to my emotions and snapped back a response, broke down in tears or felt genuinely inadequate for long periods of time. In order to cover as many situations as possible and to end up retaining as many of my good feelings about parenting as I could, I also developed a Plan D. I sometimes responded to the Advisor, being sure to make eye contact, “You may not agree with how I am handling my children but I am doing the best that I can, not the worst that I can.” This direct response often humbles the most critical of Advisors, at least for a little while.
I sincerely hope that you will not be humbled, feel inadequate or ‘break down in tears’ to unrequited feedback on your parenting style. Go for ‘The Humor’ and feel very comfortable in educating your well-meaning critic that you are, indeed, feeling very comfortable with your parenting style and would appreciate it if they would ‘hold a baby’ rather than offer unwanted advice.
If you need further proof that you are ‘doing a great parenting job’, be sure and join your local Multiples Support Group. Here you will find compassion, consideration, and lots of excellent advice, no judgements and respect as you all travel the road of living with multiples (and their siblings?). After all, no one knows better exactly what you are going through and feeling than someone else sharing ‘your road.’
Good luck and enjoy your children!