Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Parental Advice: Don't Give It -- By Laura Houston

I don’t know of one human being who enjoys getting unsolicited advice. Yet so many of us give it without thinking. I know I am guilty of this, but thanks to my husband and to a few good friends who have taken my head off for it, I hope I have curbed the habit.

In my mom’s group several of us have a saying: “The mom who gives the most advice usually needs to take it herself.”

The other day we were all enjoying our kids running around screaming while five of us sat on a picnic table in the middle of the playground with our backs to one another so we could watch our kids. Jennifer, one of the mothers whose name has been changed because sometimes she reads this blog, said to me: “Your boys are 18-months old and they’re not talking yet? You need to take them to a speech therapist.”

“I disagree,” I told her. I did not want to go into it with her. Child development can be complicated, and if she really believed that children should be talking by 18 months, then there’s not much I can do for her.

Jennifer proceeded to give all of the women on the table a lecture about speech development, behavior, tantrums and their relationship to one another. Then she left.

Now, if I were to ask any of you readers to guess whose children are the worst behaved in our playgroup, you could probably wager a bet. Did you say Jennifer’s children? Yes. Yes. You would be right. They’re little devils. Bless their hearts.

What I have learned about parents who give advice is that they usually give us the advice they need to hear, or they have no idea what they are talking about, but they have a point to prove based on insecurities. It’s somewhat of a chore not to take it personally, not to get frustrated, and not to tell the other parent to piss off.

Now, I am guilty of giving unsolicited advice in my past. I already admitted that. I admitted it before you thought it, so that makes me less guilty. There was a time in my life when I knew everything about parenting, and I was no different that Jennifer. I could dispense advice readily because I was rude and oblivious. Then I became a parent, and I realized I knew absolutely nothing.

Before becoming a mother to my sons, I was a mother to foster children and a case manager to about 47 at-risk kids. I spent my days taking classes on child development, behavior, parenting, and, of course, first aid and CPR. I read lots of books, did hours of research, and got to practice my technique on my foster children. At the youth center where I worked, we had social workers and nurses come from the state to teach our teenage mothers how to care for and love their babies.

The 15-year-old-mothers-to-be would practice soothing techniques on dolls while gathered in a circle in the basement of our building. The nurses would explain why breast-feeding was healthiest and why letting a baby cry itself to sleep was damaging to a child’s emotional development. After class, the girls would sit around and share the “advice” that other family members/friends had given them about babies, and the nurses and social workers would sit and have to debunk almost every myth.

The girls received some scary advice: such as drink a beer if you’re breast-feeding and it’ll put your baby to sleep. Give the baby Tylenol or cold medicine to make it sleep. Don’t let your baby nap during the day so it will sleep through the night. The advice given these mothers was sad and confusing. And mostly harmful for both the mother and baby. Yet these bits of “wisdom” had been handed down through families and across the coffee table at a friend’s house. And then these myths had to be deconstructed for the girls so they could be better parents. We spent a lot of resources and time undoing bad advice.

And whether the advice comes in the form of an alarmist bit of information like Jennifer dispensed, or whether it comes from Grandma who just wants to everyone to get some rest by having a beer, it’s usually annoying and can sometimes be harmful.

There is an endless amount of information and advice out there, and before giving it we have to check ourselves. We have to ask if it’s relevant based on all of the information we have gathered on the situation. We need to assess whether or not we are proper parental ambassadors for dispensing such nuggets of wisdom. And most importantly, we have to ask ourselves is our advice is wanted. And we can easily figure this one out because we will distinctly hear the words: “Hey, can I ask you for some advice?”

Parenting is a personal, private matter. And what works for you may not work for me and vice versa. The real question here is: where can we go to get good information on parenting beyond the gates of the playground? Fortunately, there are a million resources out there, and it’s a journey to find which ones will work best for the individual parent. As to which resources I like best; I’m not going to tell you. Unless you ask me. I’m taking my own advice on this one.


Blogger Ordinarylife said...

The one thing I have learnt since becoming a parent is that EVERY single child is different, develops at their own speed and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. Also each persons parently style is different. The first bit of adivce I got. As soon as you get the baby home from the hospital put it in the pram at the bottom of the garden. If it cries don't go to it, it will then learn that crying does not work. Yea right - I was going to do that. I realised right then and there that the best advice is the advice ignored!

1:43 AM  
Blogger Cara Meyers said...

Hey Laura...if your boys don't speak by age 2, take them to see a Speech Pathologist! (LOL!)

I love your blogs! But here is a question...if someone starts a dialog with "I just have to vent," and you have caring, accurate, well-thought advice for them, should you offer it or just reply, "I hear you and I understand?" Should you continue to watch them struggle over the same parenting issues or let them find their way by themselves? Sometimes, as parents, you've been in the same shoes as someone else and could offer your "wisdom." Could you say to them, "I've experienced the same situation and have a possible solution. Would you like to hear it?" No one likes to get told what to do. But there is a difference between two friends who share similar situations and a yak at a picnic table that just likes to feel superior. Where do you draw the line? And IS there even a line?

8:46 PM  
Blogger Laura Houston said...

Cara, you bring up a great point. I struggle with those very things. I have a friend who is depressed and has not figured it out, and I don't know how to approach it, but it's getting to be upsetting for me to be around her because she is making such irrational decisions and negative judgments. It's tough. I struggle. I find in conversation with most friends it's easy to insert my experience and what I have learned when they vent, but just to come out and say, "Hey, you need to...." is hard. I must think on what to do. (See, I was not asking for advice there...;-)

Ordinary Life: The advice you got was appalling. I know someone who received and followed that very advice. Which is a form of child neglect. Why would anyone do that? Do they have no idea of a baby's comprehension of life? Ugh. It makes me sick to my stomach. Thanks for sharing. Jeez.

6:10 AM  

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