finding peace with ‘unsolicited advice’

*** Rant Alert ***

As a new mom, I like all other mums attract an insane amount of well-meaning but basically unsolicited advice. Here’s what I’d like to say: ‘if you want to help, support me in finding out what I want to do, what will work best for our family’. Advice is just a way of telling me what worked for them (or friends of theirs or whatever) and then projecting it all over my life as if it is also going to be what works best for us. It ain’t necessarily so.

And isn’t advice a form of judgement? It implies that what I am doing is not okay and they can help me, with their counsel, do something better. Maybe I don’t want this individual to solve my problems (especially if I don’t even see them as problems)… maybe I just want them to listen, to be understanding and compassionate and, if anything, to help me be more me (not more like them). Is that such an unfair request?

Then again I might ask for and welcome their wisdom. We learn so much from others… but usually not when they are trying to be helpful.

In truth, I come from a long line of advice-givers myself and I know that given a chance I too can run that way, however, I watch this tendency and find that it is waning as I become more mindful and respectful of people’s individual journeys, remembering everybody is doing the best they can with the information, energy and consciousness they have and that they will learn in their own way in their own time, just like I did (and continue doing). I trust that the Universe knows what it is doing and remind myself that a rose is still a rose, whether in bud form or fully bloomed. I am here for people as they need me… if they need me. And I will certainly share my knowledge if that appears to be helpful and wanted but, to paraphrase (and decontextualise) Krishnamurti: “I give people what they want, until they want what I can give them”.

What is more, I think I am extremely accepting of other ways of being and living. Okay, I grant you I have learned to not judge (or even I am learning). This doesn’t always come naturally. The first instinct can often be to judge that which is new and unfamiliar but as I learn about what people do and why they do it, I let go and re-find a familiar comfort in ‘living and letting live’.

And so, with parenting, I understand that some people breastfeed until their kids are five and some people just don’t want to breastfeed, at all… and that works for them. Some families chose to put their kids in a crib in a separate room, some share a ‘family bed’. Some mums are all in favour of sleep training and letting their kids cry it out; others co-sleep and feed on demand (including through the night). I can see how each couple (or single parent) is really doing the best they can given their individual circumstances and beliefs. And ultimately all kids are likely to come out just fine – it is just that some parenting biases more towards some values (like attachment parenting places more importance on bonding, self-esteem and trust whereas cry-it-out is all about independence, achievement and self-reliance, it seems to me). The point is that one way is not ‘better’; it will just lead to different outcomes.

And I guess that is my view, that there isn’t just one way, there is a rainbow of positive possibilities out there and we are all finding the tones that suits us best. There is no need to judge or fight over it. There are many ways to get it right.

I can find room in my heart for all these approaches, I wonder whether those giving advice can somehow find space for my way? I don’t judge them, must they judge me?!… Ahh, if only karma worked like that! I am reminded of the story of the man who when pursued down a field by a bull shouts “But I am a vegetarian!”. Yes, indeed…

So here’s the rub, though this started as a rant, in which I fantasised about a better world filled with understanding, compassionate, empathic people who didn’t so much ‘give advice’ as share their experience knowing it worked in their case but might not be aligned with my current values, needs and expectations… I find now that I am called, instead to accept what is. There are advice givers out there. The easiest way to deal with them is probably to do what my grandpa recommended, say ‘Thank you’. Then the exchange is complete and you owe them nothing more, at all.

And so I find, reluctantly at first, perhaps, that there is space in my heart even for that, people who judge me.

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