Several months ago my husband and I were visiting with another couple when the wife mentioned she was eager to turn her daughter’s car seat to face forward once she turned one year old. This statement concerned me because I’m familiar with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that babies remain rear-facing in their car seats for a minimum of two years. Additionally, the law in the state where we lived at the time mandated that children remain rear-facing until age two.
Despite my concerns, I was very hesitant to say something. I knew my friend was a wonderful mother who took excellent care of her children; she would never willfully do something to jeopardize their safety. I did not want to voice my concerns and have her believe that I was being a “sanctimommy.” (A sanctimommy is a know-it-all mom who looks down on the parenting decisions made by other moms.)
This isn’t the only time I’ve wondered if I should speak up about a safety issue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of children who were improperly secured in their car seats. I also recall a time when another friend allowed her baby to teethe on a closed stick of lip balm. I was concerned the whole time that the lid would slip off and choke the baby.
In retrospect, my hesitation to gently voice my concerns seems foolish. Was I really more concerned with how I would be perceived than with the safety of these kiddos? Unfortunately, sometimes I was. However, during the conversation described at the beginning of this post, I did speak up about the rear-facing car seat recommendation. My friend was unaware of the recommendation and the law. She later expressed gratitude that she now knew the recommendation and was better equipped to keep her baby safe.
Given how large a role the mommy wars play in our culture, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. What should we do when we see well-meaning moms doing things or allowing activities that could harm their children? How can we gently and respectfully communicate our concerns?
How to humbly offer advice to other moms
- Determine if the advice is genuinely needed. We all have preferences, but we generally shouldn’t impose these upon other moms. Just because I believe it is best to breastfeed and give my baby homemade foods instead of purees from jars doesn’t mean I should speak up and tell another mom that she shouldn’t use formula or feed her baby jars of baby food. Just because I believe it is best to limit my child’s screen time doesn’t mean I should tell another mom that she should change her child’s media viewing habits. These aren’t matters of life and death. Something like the improper use of a car seat, on the other hand, is a genuine safety issue that warrants our concern. A litmus test of sorts to determine if we should really say something is to check our motives (Philippians 2:3-4). Why are we wanting to offer advice? Is it to make a child safe or is it to boast about our own choices and put down another mom’s choices? If it’s the latter, then we should probably remain silent.
- Share the advice privately. Let’s be honest: None of us like to be corrected. This aversion is even greater when the correction is given publically. If we choose to offer advice to other moms, it’s often best to do so privately. Instead of embarrassing them by writing on their Facebook walls or sharing it in front of friends, we can pull them aside and share it quietly or send our concerns in email messages.
- Use a gentle and respectful tone. A harsh statement (e.g., “I can’t believe you don’t know that you’re not supposed to….”) will likely elicit a defensive response, but a kind statement (e.g., “I recently read about the benefits of…”) can lay the groundwork for a constructive conversation (Proverbs 15:1). We should always begin with kind statements and then proceed to share our advice gently and with respect. This is, after all, the approach I would want another mom to use if she were to advise me.
- Share expert resources with other moms. We should scrutinize the advice that others give us about raising our kids. These individuals may have good intentions, but they can share advice that is outdated or that is otherwise unsound. The same is true of us, so we should try to provide other moms with references for the advice we give. This allows them to verify if we’ve provided good advice and provides them with resources that they can use in the future to learn about related topics.
- Be open to the advice of others. One reason we worry that other moms will be upset if we give them advice is because we would be upset if they gave us advice! This is due at least in part to the reality that our relationships with other moms are sometimes characterized by competition, criticism, and judgment. If we make an effort to be receptive to the advice of others, then we won’t automatically view their advice as an attack on our parenting. Additionally, we may actually learn something (Proverbs 19:20)! Being open to advice can help us foster supportive and encouraging relationships. If this happens, then perhaps other moms will not view the advice we give them as an attack on their parenting.
What do you think? Do you speak up when you see other moms do things that could jeopardize their children’s safety? How is this received?