bad advice: there's a better way to say that

Here's the problem with advice:
It only works if you've been there.
And I promise
you have never been there.

If you had a baby on the same day (you didn't)
and you lived next door (you didn't)
and you bought the same crib (you didn't)
and your babies got the same illnesses at the same time (they didn't)
and they both slept or didn't sleep the same way (they didn't)
you would still have no idea
where that parent is right now.

Here's the problem with advice:
Mostly, all we hear is:
"I see you're having a problem.
I'm not interested in whether you're okay,
or what you're thinking about.
I just want to make sure you know
that I know
better than you do
how to do you.
Clearly, you are not handling this well."

I'm not talking about rude advice. I'm not talking about the time an elderly Seahawks fan helpfully diagnosed my son with ADHD, or the time Buster pushed a door and accidentally pinched another mom's finger in a door, and she put her palm in my face and said, "could you... just... control him, please?"

I'm talking about friend-to-friend advice, sincere, I-care-about-you, I-think-I-can-help-with-this advice.

A lot of it... still sucks.

Moms tackle our friends' problems with the same fiercely practical, short-handed love with which we teach our children how to pick a good apple out of the bin:

you want a firm apple
with no bruises
not that one
that one has a bruise
put it down
okay so no bruises
no cuts or blemishes on the skin
that one has a big split in the skin
you don't want that one
take this one
this is a good one

We just want them to have a good apple. But we end up railroading them, and the whole lesson on apple-selection turns into kind of a condescending farce when after explaining how the child can recognize the elements of a good apple, you just end up picking the apple that you think is best.

At the end of the day we cannot forget that it's not our apple to eat, right? It's not our child, our family, or our choice.

Our advice has to be an optional byproduct of our friendship, empathy, and support, not a band-aid we slap on the wrong finger, without consent.

Here are some of the most well-meaning but ultimately bad pieces of advice I've heard, and here are the better ways to say that.

Just give him some formula.

What You Meant: You seem really worried about breastfeeding, and I'm worried about you. Buy yourself some breathing room for the price of a can of Similac. Cut yourself some slack. You will master this skill, I promise, and until you do, you will not let your baby go hungry. Breastfeeding is not worth your sanity. Just give him some formula.

What I Heard: You are clearly not handling this well. You're limping. You need a crutch. Maybe breastfeeding is too hard for you. You're probably not going to master this skill, and I'm worried that the baby is going to go hungry. Just give him some formula.

The Better Way: Breastfeeding is so hard. For me, it was the hardest part of new parenthood. I remember feeling like it was such a heavy personal responsibility, like it was urgent that I not fail. I know you will nourish your baby, no matter what. Listen, I have a half a can of formula that we're done with. It was like my security blanket formula. Just having it in the pantry made me feel a little bit more relaxed and like I could just take the time to learn my way around breastfeeding without worrying whether the baby was hungry. I'd be happy to drop it off if you want? With some muffins?

Oh, you don't have to worry about that.

What You Meant: Everything is going to be okay.

What I Heard: You're naive. And clearly not handling this well.

The Better Way: Oh, I remember reading about that! It was really scary. Luckily, that's not something that happens very often. Here. Have a muffin. Are you concerned about your baby?

Chill out. We all survived, right?

What You Meant: I see you fretting over insignificant parenting details that our parents never worried about. It seems like a waste of energy to me, and I want to reassure you that you're doing fine and your child is safe.

What I Heard: You're hysterically overreacting. Also, clearly not handling this well. Also, you've been watching too much local news.

The Better Way: You are such a thoughtful parent. Let's grab a muffin so you can tell me why you're worried about that.

Take care of yourself.

What You Meant: I love you. I want to take care of you.

What I Heard: You look like shit. You are clearly not handling this well.

The Better Way: When can we go get muffins and pedicures?

Don't forget to eat breakfast, okay?

What You Meant: I worry that you're working so hard and running on empty.

What I Heard: Let me add another thing to your to-do list that you won't be able to cross off without sacrificing something else from the to-do list. Also, in case you're wondering, you're still not handling this well. 

The Better Way: I'm dropping off some muffins and yogurt today, okay?

These are all variations on a trend: 

Bad Advice: A mandate, comprised of worthwhile advice, but laid out without full understanding of the parent's state of mind or point of view. 

What You Meant: I love you and want to help, quickly and efficiently.

What I Heard: You are a mess and clearly not handling this well. 

The Better Way: An attempt to relate to the parent's feelings; a genuine sharing of the experience; a sincere question to seek understanding; concrete gestures of support; muffins.

The better way starts with "I understand." If you don't understand, then the better way starts with, "tell me more."

The better way tells your friend that you trust her judgment. 

The better way shows your friend that you are on her team.

The better way always, ALWAYS ends with muffins.



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