Non-Advice For My Daughter


I’ve seen a bunch of blog posts and articles over the past few months from parents giving advice to their children of various ages. The posts are usually insightful, witty and full of lots of good bits of “do as I say, not as I do—or did.” In other words, they’re well-meaning…and flavored with a pinch of futility.

Why futility? Because the authors seem to remember that when they were younger, they too had been on the receiving end of similar “I know better than you” platitudes.

And they didn’t listen to a word of them.

So, my darling daughter, instead of dropping my gunny sack of guidance at your feet, I want to explain why I’m going to pass on this particular parental obligation.

Advice, as you know, is “guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative,” according to the dictionary definition.

In other words, advice is lessons older people share with you (after learning them on their own the hard way) because they don’t want you to make the same mistakes they did. Remember all the great advice you got in your Coming of Age program at our church? Yeah, that. That’s what I’m talking about.

It all sounds well-meaning, doesn’t it? Parents hate the idea of their children suffering and most will do anything to make sure it doesn’t happen. And since we know we can’t physically make you do what we want, especially when you’re suddenly the same size as or larger than us, we try our damnedest to do it with our words.

But here’s the thing, my girl: Mistakes shape people. They learn by tripping over their feet, and it’s usually the most effective method of education.

Remember that time when you were about three or four and we were out for dinner? You were misbehaving, although I can’t remember in what way. Your daddy and I told you what would happen if you didn’t do (or stop doing) what we asked you to—you wouldn’t get any ice cream for dessert. “We give dessert to little girls who behave,” we said. That was our advice to you about how to keep your dessert privileges.

Remember what happened? You chose not to take our advice, and so daddy and I ordered dessert and ate it in front of you. And if I’m remembering correctly, I believe we made sure you saw how much we enjoyed it.

And guess what happened? That was the last time you misbehaved at dinner.

What daddy and I have learned through parenting you over these past thirteen years is that you don’t make a change until you feel the full pain of your choices and actions. And while I only have half a master’s degree in mental health counseling, I think it’s fair to say that it’s the same for adults. It’s suffering the consequences of our actions that gives us the boot to the butt we need to do it differently next time.

Here’s the other thing: Advice is never unconditional. It’s expected that the receiver will take the wisdom being proffered and implement it. And when that doesn’t happen (nearly always) the giver is hurt and disappointed that their advice wasn’t taken, and the receiver feels guilty for not taking it.

After serving their suggestions to you, they send you on your way with a doggy bag of “I told you so” they know you’ll get to eventually, even if they’re not there to see you choke it down.

So my darling daughter, I hereby promise not to give you any advice unless you ask for it.

And I’ll stand a few steps behind you ready to help you rise from the mucky floor of reality when you don’t listen to a word of it.

So, what about you? What bits of proffered wisdom have you woefully ignored? What go-to advice do you like to share with others? How do you feel when it’s ignored?

4 thoughts on “Non-Advice For My Daughter

  1. I like your approach, Kelly. 🙂 By letting your daughter know that you won’t give her advice unless she asks for it, it shows that you love her and care about her well-being but don’t want to hover over her. I think she’ll appreciate that, especially as she gets older. Btw, when I compare her school picture with your profile photo side by side, I can totally tell she’s your daughter! She’s got your smile.

    I can’t really think of any advice I regret ignoring. I was a bit of a goodie-two-shoes as a teen, so I frequently did whatever Mom and Dad thought was best for me. Though I didn’t like how some of the advice was worded or presented to me sometimes. Hearing “you should” or “you shouldn’t” or being told in a tone that implies you HAVE to follow it or else… It turns the wisdom into an order or command, as if the giver is trying to protect you from making mistakes and ensure you’re always doing what’s “safe.” How can a child or receiver grow if they’re not allowed to learn the lessons of their errors? And, wouldn’t the giver be fearful that constantly offering advice in an authoritative way could breed resentment from the child / receiver later in life?
    Sara L. recently posted…Recent Reads: “Magic Study” by Maria V. SnyderMy Profile

    1. Thanks for reading, Sara! And thanks for your comment on the photo…I think she actually looks more like my husband, to which he always says, “Poor girl.”

      Our daughter set the stage early with the “instructions” we’d provide to her. She told us that she didn’t mind doing what we asked (most of the time) but she just needed to know why. She said if she understood why, it’d be easier to go along with it. We told her that if we didn’t have a rational explanation for what we were asking of her, then maybe we shouldn’t be asking.

      You said it perfectly: How can one be expected to grow if she’s not allowed to fail?

      As much as I’m against giving unsolicited advice, I really do hope she continues to ask my opinion. It’s heartwarming to know that she thinks enough of my experience and the lessons I’ve learned to ask what I would do if I was in her shoes.

  2. There is one excellent way to give advice even when it’s not asked for or might not be listened to, is to tell the person a little truthful story about what happened to you, yourself, when such an occassion arose in your life. Good or bad, it must be the truth.

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