Parenting Advice From Non-Parents – What Do You Think?

I popped by Motherlode this morning, and immediately came to Lisa Belkin’s article, Three Word Parenting Lessons, which addresses the issue of parenting advice.

Specifically, she asks her readers what they think of non-parents who give advice – and she notes some interesting changes that occurred in non-parent professionals, once they themselves became mothers and fathers.

My stance?

Recently, I made no bones about concerns I have with those who position themselves as experts without the qualifications to back up their claims. We assume they come from positions of study, professional practice, and ideally – more than book learning. Who doesn’t prefer to talk with someone who has “been there-done that?” Isn’t there added value in bringing to bear the compassion that comes from similar experience, and hopefully – having dealt with the challenges we face, and done so successfully?

So what do you think? Can a non-parent offer quality advice on parenting? What about those who give advice on relationships, marriage, business, education, or any other field?

Must personal experience be part of every scenario in which we provide professional services or counseling?

The Advice Industry

I’m all for advice – I certainly solicit it, and I’ve been known to offer advice of my own – including marital advice – positioned as my opinion, the result of my experience.

As for taking advice, I do my due diligence – asking trusted sources, and seeking out accredited professionals, well-researched books, and individuals I trust.

Naturally there is an agenda in any sort of counsel. There are elements of self-promotion (not necessarily a bad thing), profit motive (a realistic “must”), and viewpoint (we all have one). And I see nothing wrong in any of this, as long as we – the target audience or client – are neither naive nor manipulated.

But that’s the dilemma. Many of us are naive. We want to buy the happy ending, the easy path, the inclination that suits our nature and possibly our present circumstances. Besides, there is generally no “one right way” to get from Point A to Point B in any scenario, whether it’s to do with business or people, professional or personal.

Business Advice, Life Advice, Love Advice

Let’s look at the explosion of business and life coaching for a moment. Once the domain of corporate consultancy and organizational behaviors, individuals now make careers of engaging with other individuals, and offering advice. A study by Price Waterhouse Coopers (2007), conducted for the International Coach Federation, estimated global spending on coaching services at $1.5 billion. What must that figure be now?

Woman with Good CounselAnd of course, that doesn’t explicitly address relationship counseling, marital advice, the (dare I say it) self-help industry, or many other products and services on which we hang our hats and our hopes, when it comes to improving our lives.

To me, the burgeoning advice biz is a small indicator of the extent to which we are all looking for assistance in complicated times. We need help making sense of the complexities in our economy, our educational system, and our family structures. And that brings us back to children and to a fervent desire to parent wisely and well. I see no problem with seeking advice in any arena; we are increasingly willing to pay for the emergence of personal and professional skills development, where once we may simply have sought the sage suggestions of a few friends, colleagues, or mentors.

For those who are legitimately trained and credentialed, or who offer cut-through-the-BS real world experience – I believe there is great value to be provided by these specialized services.

Common Sense, Special Cases, and Parenting

If the kindly pediatrician who has been in practice for thirty years suggests a course of action for your child, do you listen? Do you look at her experience and not concern yourself with whether or not she has ever herself been a parent?

The friend who has no kids of her own but was raised in a family of seven – doesn’t she have valid input, if she grew up surrounded by so many siblings?

Are we more vigilant in some areas, and rightfully so – because of cost or consequences?

  • When it comes to matters that are legal, financial, or medical – I do my best to verify the qualifications of whomever I’m dealing with, and that includes personal references.
  • When it comes to relationship advice (and yes, I’ve taken plenty) – I purposely solicit perspectives that may be different from my own. I want to expand my viewpoint, not confirm what I already think. Among other things, I would hope to better understand the  perspective of the opposite sex.
  • When it comes to parenting, I heed my own counsel and also, on occasion, have sought the assistance of professionals. Some have been non-parents, but with decades of experience under their belts. When it comes to friends, I admit that I dismiss most words from those who haven’t lived what I’ve lived.

More importantly in my situation, there is the issue of solo or single parenthood versus raising children in a two parent family. And I am far more likely to listen to the words of a widowed mother over one who has co-parented with an ex-spouse. Our situations will have more in common.

All of the above assumes we are seeking the advice in question – not being subjected to it by the busybody, the know-it-all, or other unsolicited sources.

So what’s your take? All advice after due diligence? Expertise through experience? Whatever “feels” right?


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  1. says

    Because everyone has been a child and had parents (or parental figures), everyone tends to think he or she is an expert.

    This is analogous to people spouting opinions on teaching and learning and education: because (nearly) everyone has gone to school, everyone tends to think he or she is an expert.

    It’s exhausting. And annoying.

    Just because I’ve been sick and have been to the doctor does not mean I’d tell a doctor how to run her practice.

    But that doesn’t seem to stop some others.

  2. Linda says

    You raise interesting questions. When my daughter was a newborn I took her to the pediatrician’s office. This pediatrician told me all the things a new mother needs to hear, how often to feed, how they should sleep, etc. This pediatrician was not a mother, she strictly was going on her studies and experience at the hospital. Being a new mother I tried to do all that she wanted, but I eventually had to find the “groove” for me and my child. When I returned to her office, she was displeased that I hadn’t taken all her suggestions. A few years later, when I returned with my second newborn, she apologized, saying that she was a new mother herself and while she was a doctor and thought she new everything regarding children, once she had her own, she found her own “groove.”

    • BigLittleWolf says

      How gracious (and appropriate) of her to apologize, Linda. Yes, with parenting, we do seem to find that “groove.” Now if only the groove were the same for each child, right? Yet another factor in the maternal mix.

  3. says

    Often, the reason we need advice is because we are too close to the situation. Perhaps an outsider who has not had the specific experience has the appropriate amount of distance to see a solution.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for your feedback, Ms. HalfEmpty. Distance from a problem can certainly be a problem for many of us – whatever the arena. This is where I think things get very tricky. We are so emotionally (and even physically) linked to our children, that it can be difficult for others who are not parents to recognize that fact and respect it. They may indeed have excellent counsel to offer, but the way in which it is presented will need to take into account the reality of the parent-child bond. It’s very different from taking financial advice or even relationship advice.

      Sometimes it isn’t what is said, it’s the way it’s said. And that said, other eyes are certainly helpful.

  4. batticus says

    When it comes to financial advice, the key question I use is how will the advisor be paid (after their qualifications are checked). Advice from someone that earns commission from your transactions will often lead to more transactions than you need. This also applies to lawyers, their financial incentive is towards a long drawn out case, treat their “advice” accordingly if that is not what you want.

    The doctor analogies are useful for thinking about this, the non-parent doctor should have given the advice as “I’m not a parent but here are the recommendations …” but admitting their mistake indicates they do care about their patients and that is what you want in a doctor in the end.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Important points, batticus. The nature of the advice, what the adviser has to gain, and a willingness to admit mistakes – all are vital.

  5. says

    I remember Rousseau’s Emile, concerning the ideal education and upbringing of this imagined boy, written by a father who had his wife take each of their children to the foundling home in Paris without ever setting eyes on them. And yet Emile was the family reference for many of those of the “better sort” in that period. Book is interesting but often unrealistic, and more than a bit pompous (at least by today’s standards).

  6. Donna says

    Very valid points. As a certified coach, I would like to clarify something in defense of the coaching industry. A coach who has gone through a training program accredited by the ICF, technically does not give advice. The entire point of the coaching process, is that we elicit answers and solutions from the clients themselves, using a system of empowering, eye opening, and clarifying questions. Coaching is based on the premise that the answers lie within the client, and it is our job to help them see all perspectives, and tap into their own sources of motivation and wisdom, to find the solution that suites that individual best. If you want advice, you would hire a consultant. I will agree, however, that since coaching has become a buzz word, a lot of consultants have relabeled themselves coaches, thus the impression that coaches are just another word for consultants.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for the clarification, Donna – and for joining the conversation. Having experienced a small measure of the coaching experience (on the receiving end), I found it very interactive – and extremely helpful. You’re quite right – it didn’t feel like advice, but rather like being “tapped” and redirected toward my own possibilities – many that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

  7. says

    BLW, absolutely! The non-parent can’t claim to be an expert in parenting matters, but he might have some ideas that the parent hadn’t considered. The delivery method is key, as you said.

    A good idea can come from anywhere. Sometimes you need someone who can think outside the box of the normal “experts.” (Bad ideas can come from anywhere too!)

  8. says

    I believe that when you are trained–especially as a therapist–you have the educational background to back up your claims. At the same time, the best child development/parenting teachers I had were those who had some experience under their belts. They would explain the research then tell a story of how they completely ignored it. Awesome.

    I also think that all advice should be individually considered. I remember a person telling me I should eat only healthy foods when pregnant with Emily–after I had lost like 15 lbs because I couldn’t eat anything–when she heard I subsisted on chips and chocolate. Her advice was well intentioned but not necessarily appropriate for the situation.

    All that said, I am horrible at accepting advice. Horrible. It’s like my natural rebelliousness to balk when people tell me what to do. My personal challenge is to be more graceful at accepting advice. Any advice on how to do that? (Bahahah)

  9. says

    Who makes these changes?
    I shoot to the right and the arrow lands to the left.
    I ride after a deer and find myself
    chased by a hog.
    I plot to get what I want and end up in jail.
    I dig pits to trap others and I fall in.
    I should be suspicious of what I want.


  10. says

    I have two friends who aren’t parents whom I totally listen to before I listen to a couple of friends who are parents. These two friends are particularly tuned in to my situation as a single parent. One, because her sister is also a single parent, and the other, just because she’s an amazing listener, she has such a good sense of who my children are, and who I am. I trust what they have to tell me more than a couple of mothers I know who have very different experiences (married, financially more secure) than I do. Not to say I completely discount what they have to say, but I’m always aware that they’re seeing it from a completely different point of view than I am.

  11. says

    In general, I don’t think people are looking for advice. Most people really have their minds made up about what they are going to do. I think we label it is as “advice”, but really we are seeking validation for the decisions we make.

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