Are the Childfree Qualified to Give Parents Advice?

Laura Carroll, Childfree Choice

Earlier this year parentdish did a piece on a childfree/parent contested topic: if you don’t have kids can you give parents advice?

Well, out of the blocks I have to say that I operate from the principle on advice in general–don’t give it unless it’s asked for!

But when it comes to parent advice, what did the parentdish survey report?  Out of about 29,000 voters… When asked: Should childless people give parents advice?

 41% said: No. They don’t understand what is like to be a parent.
34% said: Maybe, but only if they have spent a lot of time with children.
25% said: Yes, people without kids have an objective viewpoint.

Since the survey was on parentdish I have to assume that most respondents were parents.

I wonder how the percentages would differ if only the childfree were asked the question.

If I was asked this question I would say Yes! Why? Because I was once a kid myself. I had parents. I have had a parent/child experience–one that can’t get any closer to home.

My parent friends have generally not asked me for advice. That is not to say that they don’t talk to  me about their kids, and challenges they are having with them. They do.

And sometimes a lot.

I have dear friends with whom I have talked at length with, especially when their kids are in their teens.  I was there for them as a friend, listened, let them vent, and helped them come to their own decision on how to handle certain situations with their kids.

Also as their friend, they have come to me because I know them, their buttons, etc. and can help them see where “their” issue might be in the challenge they are having with their kid.

So rather than advice giving, I see it as being there as a friend, who is having an issue with their role as parent.  Not being a parent does not mean I can’t be there for my friend who happens to be one…

Childfree, what do you think?  What has been your experience?

16 thoughts on “Are the Childfree Qualified to Give Parents Advice?

  1. I would, but only for the ages/stages that I can remember fairly well. Say, age 4 or 5 and up.

    There are many different ways to raise a kid. As long as the child isn’t being abused or neglected I don’t really see it as my place to say anything if advice wasn’t solicited (unless I knew the child and parent(s) very well.)

    This can be a touchy subject for a lot of people. I tend to err on the side of minding my own business except for these exceptions.

    The best analogy I can think of to explain why I feel this way is all of the weird advice I’ve received about my relationship (especially after we got married) Some people have _very_ strong opinions about gender roles, the division of labor in a household, etc.

    It can be hard to realize that what works best for (the general) you and your relationship may be the absolute worst thing someone else could do with their significant other. There is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach to these things!

    It seems to me that parenting is sort of like this. I’ll never know for sure, of course, but I try not to tell other people what to do unless or until they ask (again, barring extreme circumstances. 🙂 )

  2. Honestly, if the childed are allowed to insist that I want children now, or will want them in the future, and to opine on how sad they are for me that I am childfree – or how happy they know my life will be, how much better my marriage – if I have children – et c. et c. – then I am absolutely qualified to tell them whether or not I think they are handling their child’s meltdown in public appropriately.

  3. Laura, like you, I’m not a fan of unsolicited advice on any topic. In particular, I cannot imagine myself giving child-rearing advice to a parent unless it was someone extremely close to me or I thought a child’s welfare was in immediate jeopardy.

    I must admit, though, that I often offer indirect advice by recounting my own experiences as a child. Not too long ago, a parent-friend of mine was telling a story about something she said to her little girl that I found extremely condescending. I blurted out, “When I was kid, I HATED it when adults said that kind of crap to me!” On the other hand, I have another friend who is a dear and wonderful mother but often jokes (worries?) about how she is performing. I love to support her with, “Oh, my mom did X or Y to me, and I turned out just fine. Your kids are going to be OK.”

    Obviously their children’s results may differ from my own, but it’s awfully difficult to dismiss someone’s personal experience.

  4. I think the childfree are more than qualified of giving advice, if they do it with the right intentions, with the aim to help give another point of view rather than trying to overrun the parent and make them feel like the childfree thinks she’d be doing better job at it. I too base my advice on the fact that I was a kid once, and I’m one of the rare people who have very vivid memories from childhood. I remember the good and the bad, and I can trace cause-effect pairs very efficiently from my own experience. I also understand that kids are different and one approach doesn’t apply to all, but I do think I’m emphatic enough to be able to imagine quite clearly what it is like to be a parent, what worries and joys go with it. Just because some parents seem to be completely oblivious to the hardships involved before they go into it themselves, doesn’t mean that nobody has the gift of foresight and ability to imagine situations with great realism even if they had never experienced it themselves. Also, the assumption that you have to be a parent to understand relies to everyone’s experience being EXACTLY the same. If you don’t think people can put themselves into your shoes without experiencing things first hand, you can’t expect other parents to understand your experience either, because we’re talking about a different family and different kids.

  5. Generally I also follow the rule of not offering unsolicited advice, be it on child care, pet care etc. The main exception would be when a child is in my home and I do not believe the parent is adequately supervising their child(ren), in that case “My house = my rules” and I will comment on behaviour I think is inappropriate.
    I also find it a bit rich for people to say just because I don’t have children do not have the right to comment on such matters for several reasons:
    1) New parents don’t automatically receive parenting knowledge the instant a child is born, so any claims to instant expertise are taken with a hefty grain of salt.
    2) I was raised well by my own parents and can certainly tell the difference between good behaviour and bad; I don’t need to be a parent to make that distinction.
    3) We are constantly told “It take a village to raise a child”, well if you want me to adjust my world for your child you had better expect me to have some input into how that child integrates into my world. Two way street.

  6. I agree with Laura’s perspective on this matter in that most of us grew up with parents and we were all children not that long ago. We can remember what worked for us when we were young and what didn’t. Many of my friends with children like to talk to me about issues they’re having, and as a psychologist, I routinely discuss parenting issues with patients.

  7. Right on SandiSpecs! If a parent wants “help” from the village, then that parents needs to at least listen to the advice of everyone in the village.

    I’m a teacher who’s worked with children longer than some of the parents I work with have been parents. I also have actually learned about child development and some information on brain development. So I think I’m qualified to give advice (if solicited).

  8. I make every effort to listen and recount what I have done as a “step” parent (I dated a couple of guys with kids who were too busy being good time/fun time dad to parent their children). Basically, I took a free class online on how to parent, have taken child psychology courses and was a substitute teacher. If I am asked for advice, and sometimes I am, I advise concerning the act not the child.

  9. When it comes to babies and the development years, apart from logic – baby is hungry, baby is cold etc, I think that it could be dangerous for a person who has not been trained or had a baby themselves to give advice. But at the moment I am in an interesting position where three people very close to me have had children at the same time. One of the mothers is my sister in law and is of Chinese background. She understands little english and western child rearing ways. Another is my sister, who is proactive and organised, and one is my friend, who is very unconfident, disorganised, and became a mother later in life. My sister is the only one who interacts on a social basis with other mothers, has the money for anything she needs and has read all the books. Two of her three children are autistic. I have never given her advice about the children, but I do have opinions. One is that I think she is feeding them the wrong kind of food (high in salt, sugars and fats). I have carefully tried to suggest this, but she just says it’s easier to give them what she does. I do ask her about certain things that I then pass on to my Chinese sister in law and friend, both who have little interaction with other mothers. I am the messenger only though. My sister in law often takes my advice and when her first baby was born I gave her a basket with all the new mum stuff she needed and explained what they all did (nipple cream!!!!) To my friend I am the shoulder to cry on, but again never give any advice apart from recounting things my sister has done, but only when it comes to basic things such as clothing, toys etc.

  10. I am a parent and the thing that irks me to no end is that those people who defend the “parent club” also have a tendency to not see their kids as people first. They are often blinded by the innate manipulativeness of these small beings, and pass off tantrums and crappy behaviour as a “phase” or “just being kids”. I don’t care what age you are, if you are being a shite then you need to pipe down. If you are rubbing peanut butter on the couch, then it had better be the couch at home and not someone else’s. Tyranny is a no-no at any age, and it is a parent’s responsibility to curb that ego/will tyranny. That leads me to the advice thing, which we all know is dangerous regardless of the subject.

    Advice on how to raise a human being to act compassionately and humanely can come from any direction – regardless of parent status or not. Christine H and others here are right (IMO). To throw out considered opinion because you think that giving birth is a qualification means you ain’t listening to well. If I took advice from some of the parents that are in my immediate area then my 5year old kid would be eating endless cheetos and watching adult videos while I was off rubbing my two-pack a day habit and ignoring any responsibility that might be attached to raising a person.

    If you are going to take advice at all then take advice from people you trust; regardless if they have purple hair or not, or whether they have kids or not. Advice is intended to augment your own decision making process, not supplant it entirely.

  11. Well, being child-free has not kept Oprah from trying to tell parents what they should be doing, has it?

    On one hand, unless you have either had kids, or taken care of little brothers or sisters, I don’t think you have a lot of street cred on the subject of giving parents advice.

    That said, childless or not, we have all been kids, and have gone through the trials and tribulations of growing up.

    my favorite aunt, who really went through the wringer because she realized that was gay in the late 50’s early sixties, has given me a lot of what NOT to do advice with kids based on her experiences growing up and not being accepted for being gay, or allowed to do what she really wanted to do because she was a girl(Young women could not do shop class back then, but could take home economics).

    God knows I see lot’s of parents on the #5 and #14 bus who have no business either having kids, nor giving any advice. I think a good idea is a good idea irregardless on if you have had kids or not.

  12. Great post, SandiSpecs!

    One doesn’t need to be a parenting expert to know you don’t leave your kid inside a locked car in the middle of the summer, yet I have read plenty of stories about stupid parents who have done that while they went into a bar to have some drinks (to ease the daily aggravation from their bratty kids, of course!)

    These stupid parents would be the first ones to tell us childfree to MYOB simply because we have no kids. They would also be the first ones to tell us childfree to shut up and pay our school taxes to support their kids (“it takes a village”) even though we have no kids.

  13. Further to this topic, I was talking to a mother on the weekend about private school education and children today. I related to her my own experiences and personal opinions and I could see her listening intently. She then asked where my son went to school and I told her I had no kids. She looked at me like I was some kind of idiot before the conversation came to a halt. Perhaps I should have preempted that I had no kids before I began, however I have found in social situations some parents tend to go all weird or quiet if they know you haven’t got kids. Up to this point I hadn’t actually realised how ingrained it has become in me to go along with parents and the children talk just to fit in at an event (and not have that “..oh you are so better off” conversation). I don’t mean to digress, but perhaps this could be a topic for discussion?

    1. I think you were right on to not tell her you do not have kids beforehand…what a great example of how people think we don’t know squat just because we don’t have kids of our own. You have a good idea for discussion–it would be interesting to talk more about what we find ourselves doing to “fit in” in conversations at social events, especially when the topic turns to kids. Watch for a post on this!

  14. I agree with Sebastyne, anyone with a bit of brain in their head and some empathy might be able to give some advice. sometimes a parent needs a more objective opinion on what they are doing. Certainly having kids does not magically endow you with wisdome or knowledge does it? on the other hand in Australia you receive a baby bonus for the mere act of giving birth to a child. Since i contributed some of that money maybe I do have a say. I would personally prefer that money to be redirected to schools and provide things the kids really need. But yes the childfree must be good for something surely!

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