Advice Tyranny

Pregnant Woman SilhouetteFunny, isn’t it, that I should write an observational advice blog on parenting and then give advice on avoiding advice?

Seriously though, advice is a very powerful thing and should be taken carefully and with great forethought. Does it really fit your style and your child’s personality? Is it appropriate for where you are in your child’s development or time of life? Do you trust the advice giver’s credibility or do you just think it’s an interesting idea?

That is totally okay, you know. You can take wisdom or usable techniques where you find them without particularly thinking that the person you have heard it from has done a great job of applying it themselves.

After all, think about all of the mediocre managers you have had in your professional career who somehow managed to impart just one nugget of usable information that helped you do your job more efficiently or to understand a difficult concept more clearly

As I have gone through both professional and parenting careers, I have learned to pan for gold in the most unexpected places.

It starts with pregnancy. Have you ever noticed that once you start to show, everyone you meet who has ever had a child wants to share their birth experience or experiences with you? And maybe it was just me, but it seemed like the more frightening the tale, the greater relish they took in sharing them. I got to the point with Daughter 2 where I would cut the reminiscences off at the pass with an, “Oh that sounds just fascinating and I would love to hear about it sometime soon, but right now that just makes me so queasy…”  🙂 Amazingly effective.

I vowed whenever I had the opportunity to speak to the newly pregnant, I would reassure them, offer them blessings for a happy healthy pregnancy and only answer questions if they asked them. I would keep any potentially scary stuff to myself, because quite frankly, every birth experience is individual. What happened to me has a .001% of happening to you or another expectant mother, other than the “and then the baby was born,” part. To pretend otherwise is pretty silly.

Why do we feel the need to scare each other with birthing horror stories? Is it an atavistic throw back to campfires where we bonded in common fears as a species and a gender? I have no idea, but I think we should avoid participating in it as much as we possibly can. To the experienced Moms out there: Recommend some good books you have read, wish them well and keep them in prayer, for heaven’s sake!

Does unsolicited advice get more difficult with family members? It can. Some family members may feel because you are a first time Mom that you need their input, asked for or not. Some may feel hurt or ignored if you disregard their advice. Some may have very strong feelings or taboos when it comes to sensitive subjects like breastfeeding, letting the baby cry, where the baby sleeps and other hot topics.

You and your husband are the family unit here and this is where your communication becomes paramount. Just as you plan to present a united front to your children when it comes to discipline, you must present the same to your families when it comes to your personal family decisions.

Be kind, respectful, but firm in your mutual decision to raise your children in whatever way you have decided is best for you, but be ready for push back if it is radically different from your families’ traditions and beliefs. 

This can get very tense when it comes to behavior expectations for children as they grow up. I have seen many families become very upset because the parents have opted not to discipline the children a certain way and so their behavior when they are with their grandparents is not at all what the grandparents expect. The adult children feel their disapproval along with the grandchildren, and the grandparents feel that they have failed to raise good parents. Bleah! This results in loads of guilt and disapproval to go around. The answer to this situation is simple, but sometimes very difficult to begin. Talk with each other about the differences in how the families have chosen to raise their children and set expectations of behavior when visiting the grands. Or, you can deal with tension, avoidance and other fun things that will be the result if you don’t .

Back to the Advice Tyrants…There may be at least one at every school, PTA, dance class, or sports team you ever get involved with. He or she will be the alpha parent who seems to feel an obligation to tell you how you should raise, coach, teach or otherwise change your child. The first time it happens you will probably stand there with your mouth open, shocked that anyone would actually say something like that to you, or maybe to someone else in your hearing. Then you will think about it and the more you think about it, the angrier you may get. Don’t bother. Your outrage will roll off them like water off a duck’s feathers. The best strategy for dealing with an Advice Tyrant is this: “Nod and Smile.”

Isn’t that simple? No confrontation, no anger, no agreement. Just nod, smile and go on doing exactly what you are doing or plan to do. The Advice Tyrant will not even notice most of the time because their urge has been satisfied merely by delivering their advice or message. They have no real interest in you, your child or whether you will follow through with their advice; so unless it is something you find useful…don’t.

Every once in a while you may find one with a bit more focus, and you may have to say something like, “That is a really interesting idea. I will have to think about that.” Then unless you want to, don’t. You may have noticed I don’t advocate facing down the Advice Tyrants. This is because it will be a colossal waste of your time. There are so many other constructive things you can be doing for your child and other children in the schools, sports teams, churches and other organizations that they get involved in. Don’t let the negative people drag you down, as they so easily can.

There are great people out there to ask for advice and you will find them. Often your question will form a new friendship and become part of a give and take that will benefit both of you. I think that is the way to weed out the Advice Tyrants from the potential friends. When you ask, do they think, answer sincerely…and then listen? Or do they just keep talking…and directing, assuming that their specific solution will also be yours? Look for those wise parents who use “I” statements and share their experience without obligating you to follow it like directions.

These will be the folks who will not only enrich your parenting experience; they will enrich your life.

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