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.