Recently, I was troubled by a post I saw on social media from a mom who was fed up with women who aren’t mothers giving her parenting advice. She said, “when you are not a parent yourself and are giving parenting advice, what goes through your head? I mean, I know you mean well, but how would you know?”
Her post was not particularly well-received. Women from all walks of life—those who are mothers, and those who are not—unified to push back against the idea that child-free women have nothing to offer when it comes to parenting advice. And with good reason.
Look, I’m a mom. I’ve all too often been given unsolicited advice from people who aren’t parents on how I’m parenting my kids. Many times, that “advice” has been judgmental, condescending, and incredibly lacking in nuance. In a word, it was annoying. No one likes to be criticized, especially by someone who has never walked in their shoes. And no matter how much experience a person may have with other people’s kids, that is simply not the same as raising your own. The hard decisions, the anxiety over whether you’re doing the right things, the balancing of your own needs with those of your kids, is just incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t been here. Who also gets to go wherever they please, sleep in whenever they want, and have generally all the freedoms that worn out and overwhelmed moms dearly miss. So, I get it why some moms find themselves defensive when their child-free friends offer advice that feels critical or judgmental.
That said, I am deeply uncomfortable with the implication that child-free people cannot offer useful advice and guidance when it comes to raising children. After all, they are former children themselves. They carry their own memories of their childhoods and have a deep, intimate knowledge of the experiences they had with their parents. Some of them, but certainly not all, chose not to become parents because of the trauma they carry from their childhoods—trauma that was put there by parents who made mistakes. Possibly, the very same mistakes they see us making. Even if they cannot relate to what it’s like to be a parent, they can certainly relate to being a child. And, if we would listen carefully, we might gain some very profound insights from them.
Furthermore, it is a mistake to assume that someone who doesn’t have children doesn’t have just as much, if not more, practical tools for raising children than we have. Teachers, for example, who have never had kids of their own but have devoted their lives to the education of children from all walks of life and of all personality types, surely have something useful to offer when it comes to raising our children. Moreover, it isn’t as if child-free people have never been around children themselves. They are aunts, cousins, camp counselors, and more. In their experiences with children who are different from our own, they have gained tools and resources that we may not have uncovered yet. Why would we turn those down?
Of course, we will always respond negatively to feedback that feels judgmental. And feedback that is delivered that way doesn’t necessarily deserve our attention. That said, we benefit no one when we stubbornly ignore advice from child-free people simply because they don’t have children of their own. We are insulting to our friends who may have been sincerely interested in helping us, we prevent ourselves from learning something potentially new and useful, and we allow our kids to miss out on being the recipients of those learnings, too.
For everyone involved, we must set down our egos and listen to our child-free friends. They have tangible value to offer, if only we could open our minds.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.