Shut Mouth: Please, Stop Giving Me Your Parenting Advice

Loved-ones and strangers wanting to pet your baby comes with the territory, but please curb the undesired parenting advice, Charlie Capen writes.

How long will I to have to endure listening to unrequested parenting criticism and advice?

This past week someone close to us told us that my son evidently has a “discipline problem.” This information was delivered first to my wife (who almost lost it), after which I called Captain Commentary to see if I could clear up the misunderstanding. The critic launched into a solid hour of armchair quarterbacking. I paraphrase:

Your son, maliciously and premeditatedly, hurled a sippy cup at your wife’s head. On purpose. Following that, he went over to a younger cousin and hit him. Twice. On purpose. He is undisciplined and the sole cause of stress in your life.

This, after only 40 minutes of observation. He was barely 18 months old at the time. My son, not the critic.

You can imagine how shocked I was to hear that my giggling laugh-riot of a son was already on the road to petty larceny and war crimes. The resident toddlerologist is an adult with grown kids of their own. Their observations were unsolicited and completely out of the blue. My son’s maladjustment was just that severe, I guess. They went on to take issue that Finn wasn’t subsequently disciplined after the assault, even played with instead. The f**king horror. You’re right. I probably should have waterboarded him and set some of his toys on fire. I fought every urge in my body to launch my cell phone beyond the stratosphere and hit the satellite linking our phone call. I was a quiet storm inside.

When people make observations about your kids it’s easy to get defensive. A “who the f**k are you to judge my kid” rage can erupt. I made a definite effort to keep my ear canals open so I could look at the statements honestly. I listened. I was diplomatic.


There’s a reason the website I help run is named “” The title might confuse you at first. Parenting how-to’s are everywhere and they’re often just festering tubs of horse dung stinking up the minds of frightened parents. We are trying to satirize them. We didn’t want to tell you how to DO anything. If you need resources, you can find them. I love useful parenting tips or nuggets, but when someone comes at me with a “this is how it must be done” authoritarian attitude, my brow furrows. My fists might also clench. But let’s keep that between us.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a stubborn person. Blame it on my astrological sign, my upbringing or my uncanny good looks. I don’t really care. But that doesn’t make me immune to criticism. I don’t think I’m a perfect parent (as further explained here). Hell, I’ll be the first to say I’m not that great at it. I feel like I’m failing half the time and the other half, well, I’m too tired to even assess my own performance.

But let’s have a frank talk about parenting advice, shall we?

When you have a baby, you expect the doting commentary about their looks and unceasing requests to hold the baby. There’s also the occasional “Ohhh! I’m just going to steal your child!” As time passes, relatives and close friends start laying on the advice pretty thick. Some of it can be helpful but the majority can seem utterly unenlightening or border on insulting condescension. The suggestions can also have a tendency to turn into harsh moral judgments on you in a blink. The saddest part is that they were all probably borne out of some helpful intention, but there’s a particularly poisonous venom when these suck-gestions come from someone really familiar or close to you. Honestly, there should be a statute of limitations on prejudging other parents, or maybe a full-scale embargo on undesired counsel. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Growing up, as undisciplined bohemians, my brother and I were told not say “shut up” to each other. So, we invented a new phrase: “SHUT MOUTH!” It was our way of being clever and rude when we couldn’t say what we wanted to tell each other.

This is where I’m at now. My son is amazing by my own standards and you should hope that people don’t scrutinize you sir, in this life, as hard as you’ve scrutinized my two-year old son.


Originally posted at How To Be a Dad.

—Photo Charlie Capen

About Charlie Capen

Charlie is a colorblind actor/musician/ writer/dad living near the outskirts of Los Angeles. Raised in captivity atop the hills of San Francisco as the son of a roaming radio DJ father and executive power mom, he knew as a child that children were more important than adults. Though he has played many roles as an actor, his biggest part and hardest gig will be to pass himself off as a decent father. Charlie blogs at


  1. The Bad Man says:

    I have a good story on this one. I was at a theme park with my twins who were 4 or 5 at the time. One of them started have a tantrum while we were in line for a ride so I took her out of line and waited and watched as the other went on the ride. I put her in the double stroller and held her wrists to stop her from flailing. Some lady walks up to me and tells me “I’m a nurse and you should let go of her because I can tell she’s in distress”. So I let go and my daughter hits me in the face, my glasses go flying and she pushes herself backwords in the stroller away from the ride and into the crowd. So then I tell Mzzz Nurse, “so what’s your expert advice now?”. She was silent and walked away, then I collected my children and left the park. Thanks for ruining my day you misandrist scumbag.

  2. Wirblewind says:

    Hitting people is not acceptable, do not defend your child when it’s doing that. Teach your children how to behave, escpecially in public- you may put up with a lot of crap out of love, but do not expect other people to do so when they are, for example, being bitten by your kid. Or at least hang your head and listen a bit to their (probably 100% correct) advice.

  3. Great post, and something that needed to be said. Being a stay-home dad, I am inundated with so much unsolicited advice on raising my kids, you’d think I just found them in a dumpster yesterday. As if being male precludes the possibility of knowing which end the food goes in and which one the poop comes out.

    Reason #423 why I’m glad we’re not close to my in-laws…

  4. Ooh, I hate the unsolicited parenting advice, too. The worst I got was from my anti-breastfeeding family members. Suffice it to say, there’s more than one right way to do something, lots more than one way to do it so that no one will lose an eye, and keeping the peace is more important than being a walking infomercial for your own particular brand of parenting. Do we do this for each other’s marriages, too? Not if we want our friends to answer our phone calls.

  5. Alexander says:

    Okay, so can anyone explain to me WHY it’s wrong to question ones’ parenting/child’s behaviour/etc? I’ve seen a lot of “Man, it pisses me off” but not really why. I’m not saying it isn’t wrong, I’m just looking for on what grounds.

    • Have you ever had a stranger give you unsolicited advice for how to drive your car better than what you were just observed doing? If so, was that a conversation you would love to have more often?

      • Alexander says:

        if the advice would get me to my destination faster and was safer, then I’d gladly accept it, see if it’s valid, and if it is I would apply it. You wouldn’t?

        • Well, stretch your mind out for more parallels to be found in your every day life of things you enjoy doing on a semi-public basis that you don’t need to be stopped and corrected for. And should you be unable to think of an example to empathize with, then I can only conclude you should stay away from airports where much religious proselytizing goes on, because you will be the sort who ends up joining several along the way to catching your flight, if you even make it in time after giving so much of your attention to random strangers with messages to spread.

          • Alexander says:

            How about “I appreciate your effort and advice, but I have my way of doing things”

            You can be respectful (even when they aren’t) and maintain your integrity. If you seriously think you know the best way of doing everything you do, you’re either divine, or being ignorant and egotistical.

            • Marcus Williams says:

              Alexander, I think you left out a comma after “about” in the first sentence, as well as a period inside the closing quote to end the sentence. In the second paragraph, I think dashes would have been more effective than the parentheses you chose. Furthermore, I can see how being the best at everything might make one divine, but I don’t see how thinking that’s the case is a characteristic of divinity. You could have skipped the “divine” part and just called it ignorant and egotistical, which was your main point.

              Other than that, I think your comment was well-written. I’d be happy to provide you with links or suggestions to style guides if you’re interested in continuing to improve your writing.

              Glad I could help.

              • Clapping.

                • One of my favourite quotes is this: “If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance” -Book 6, line 21 of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Unsolicited advice and unsolicited psychoanalysis of your child are totally out of line. But, I think if your kid does something in public that bothers someone, that person has a right to say that he/she is bothered. They don’t have a right to label your kid or tell you what to do, but they do have a right to make a request or let you know what the effect of the behavior is. Then, you have the right to tell that annoying stranger to eff off.

    By the way, you said you listened to an *hour* of this ranting advice? What’s up with that?

  7. I agree in part with this post, and as a non-parent, I do my best not to judge (or stare at) parents whose children are screaming and misbehaving in public spaces. However, I must play devil’s advocate here. There are situations in which the “not my child” attitude has led to dangerous and deadly behavior. I’m not saying this is what Charlie is saying at all in his post; I’m just cautioning that sometimes parents really do need to heed warnings. I think it’s all about a balance. Most of the time, people need to just mind their own business. But Charlie did the right thing by trying to have an “open ear” before getting upset. Good for you, Charlie.

    • Hey Mika, great point.

      It is about balance. The biggest thing I’ve learned, too, is that my son’s demeanor sometimes doesn’t directly stem from my parenting. Just as my mood may or may not be influenced by the people around me. I self-generate lots and lots of feeling, and especially reactions, to the stimuli I receive.

      It was a big lesson for me to stop being judgmental or at least cut some slack to parents whose kids are acting like nut cases. People, typically, are trying their best.

      But, in the end, I agree. Parenting blindspots do exist. They do cause harm. They do result in bad behavior allowed…

  8. While I agree that, at 18 months, a child is going to be as a child is – chaotic and childlike – but I am more than willing to speak up when the child is subjected to parenting that is hazardous. When a friend of mine was pregnant recently, she was eating little else but burgers and chocolate.. She is a grown adult, and if she wants to eat junk and wreak havoc on her body, that’s her will. My issue is that the child doesn’t have a choice, and it’s harming the child. Likewise if a parent is allowing their kid to watch television all day long, parents need to be parented in why this is a bad thing.

    Nearly all bad behaviour in children will go away as they grow up, but I worry about the morals we pass on especially regarding health, be it physical, mental, etc.

    • Hazardous parenting is a very subjective subject.

      Let’s take neurotic people. Sometimes, they don’t know the depth of neurosis and therefore find EVERYTHING a child does maddening. So, right there, if there is no actual danger but rather a preference on how things are handled, why wouldn’t grant the space to the parents to deal with their children?

      As I stated, I think it’s important that we allow parents to parent before we lob advice grenades. But if they are in your house or your guests, of course you have a right to mention something.

    • You’re upset because your pregnant friend was eating burgers and chocolate? Oh my word…

      Here’s a news flash: While perhaps not the healthiest foodstuffs on the planet, burgers and chocolate have not been proven to have any teratogenic effects on developing human fetuses (i.e., they do not cause any known birth defects).

      It’s one thing to look rather disapprovingly on women who smoke, drink or use drugs while pregnant (even if they are adults and can do as they choose), because they’re definitely causing potential harm to their babies, but eating burgers and chocolate? Sheesh.

      If people like you have your way, eventually we’ll be arresting and jailing pregnant women not only for drinking/smoking/drug use, but failing to eat what is determined to be an optimally healthy diet for fetal development. Then they’ll be strapped to gurneys and fed optimal IV nutrients until they’re ready to give birth. They will be released only after their babies are born. Sounds like a lovely world.

      As for the clueless folks who think an 18-month-old is a future juvenile delinquent just because he’s throwing things and acting like a little hellion, they obviously never read anything about child development. Should you be careful when you take a child that age out in public, recognizing that his ability to regulate his behavior is still limited and you’re going to have to be watchful and take control as necessary? Yes. But to expect him to be a model of self-control and obedience at that age, and accuse his parents of poor parenting if he’s not, is just ridiculous.

      Now, if they bring said 18-month-old into a public place and let him throw things, run around like a nut and scream to the point of other people’s distraction because “he’s exploring his world” and “it’s part of his development process,” that’s a problem. Part of parenting is recognizing that it’s not fair to subject everyone else in the world to your child’s “stages,” and that at some ages, kids can only be well behaved for so long. After that, you have to stop taxing both their abilities to behave well and the ability of others to endure their natural inclinations.

      • Read again: She ate little else but burgers and chocolate. Moderation is key, and you CANNOT tell me that a diet based around high saturated fats and refined sugar is good for you. Your reductio ad absurdum is insane; I feel the most important thing for a pregnant woman to have is a lack of stress. This applies both psychologically and physiologically.

  9. Wrong, wrong, wrong. If your child is misbehaving in a public space, you have earned all the unsolicited parenting advice you get. Why? Because you’re clearly not doing much parenting!

    Your screaming, violent toddler is neither “amazing” nor “laugh-a-minute.” He’s annoying. And if you can’t control him in public, you need to go to parenting school.

    • Charlie, this is why I’m only tempted to charge offenders a day of free child care instead of actually doing so. Yes, the experience would be educational for them, but do I really want someone with that kind of attitude alone with my child? 😉

    • Wow. You’re a parent, right? Your opener tells me what I need to know about your manners.

      The simplicity of it is, there are few parents who “enjoy” their child acting out. My son isn’t violent or a screamer per se, but like all of us, has his moments.

      What gives you the right to think we want your help? Especially in the very tone you present here. Do you think I’m going to LISTEN to your advice when you come at me with blame and armchair-quarterbacking?

      Walk a mile in my shoes.

      • Yes, I am. And my son, with all his faults and virtues, knows how to behave in public.

        Because it was MY job to teach him that violence is always inappropriate and will never be acceptable. Letting your toddler hit people is no different from letting your dog bite people–it shows that you, the responsible adult, are not doing your job.

        • I’m sorry, but are we talking about an 18-month-old here? Do I have that right?

          Young toddlers frequently hit, kick, throw or bite. When you take your toddler of this age to the pediatrician for the 1.5 year check-up, he or she routinely asks the parent some version of, “any slapping, kicking, biting or throwing?” I just looked that up in my daughter’s baby book and in my journal, and I re-read an article I wrote on the topic not long ago, right here:

          These behaviors are not “violent.” They are not fun either, but they are developmentally “normal,” as in typical of the age group. Children are not dogs. And you can no more inhibit a toddler’s impulses *for* him than you can eat for him or sleep for him. Frontal cortex development will be such that by age 3 or 4, this behavior extinguishes, and greater self-regulation begins.

          Yes, you should let your child know not to hit or bite, etc., because that is good parenting and over time has a positive effect. But please, let’s employ some basic common sense here, even if we do not all have child psych degrees. An 18-month-old having a tantrum or lashing out physically because he or she does not yet have effective spoken language or emotional control when dealing with frustration is what toddlerhood is all about!

  10. Oh my. This is an awesome post. I really don’t have anything to add. 🙂

  11. I once asked all my friends who don’t have their own kids to kindly stop making unsolicited parenting advice. It’s amazing how upset people can get at such a request (incidentally, all of them non-parents, as the parents are all nodding in agreement). I haven’t said “non-parents, you don’t understand children”, and in fact I’ll ask anyone for parenting advice when I’m in need, even if they don’t have children of their own. But to dare suggest that their unsolicited judgements are not pure gold… Perhaps I should start charging them a day of free child care per piece of advice. Their lips would fall silent and fast!

    • Totally agree! It’s not even that people who don’t have kids or had kids back in the Triassic Period don’t know what they’re talking about. The problem is they asked if we wanted to know. I get being concerned and wanting to help, but frankly, even among people who have oodles of young kids, opinions vary so much that disagreements can break out over any minute detail.

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