What is the problem with unsolicited advice anyway?
Would you rather live in a vacuum of constant praise so that your ego never takes a hit, or would you rather be a person who is so in integrity with who she/he is that nothing someone else says or do can define you but rather only be an opportunity for growth and your own personal expansion? Is unsolicited advice perhaps the Universe delivering free coaching from the mouth of a human disguised as your enemy? Don’t people we dislike with passion help us grow the most?
I am a New York mom of 2 very active and smart boys (ages 5.5 and almost 3) and have been running my own life coaching business for the past 6 years. I breastfed my kiddos for the total of 3 years (the first one for 2 years and the younger one for a year) and I didn’t send them into kindergarten until they were solid toddlers, able to walk and communicate the essence of how they were feeling. I used to think I was raising my kids alone with my husband because hiring a nanny cost me just as much as it would cost me to go out and work more, but the truth is, I think early childhood years set the stage for the life that follows so I wanted to make sure I gave it my everything.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those moms who think they get it all right. I remember coming home from a hospital with my son in my arms and praying to God he latches on when it’s time to feed him. We were living in my mom’s apartment temporarily while we were looking for our new home and my mom wasn’t there. My aunt, who helped my mom raise me never breastfed so I really had nobody I felt I could look up to or ask for a solid advice. Given I was coming from a different culture, inside of which I didn’t live more than 20 years, I was a little lost trying to figure it all out and make it all work. As an overachiever, I always liked to muscle things and move through them fast. Having a child, birth by a C-section, I had no choice but to slow down.
I admit, I hated “unsolicited advice” – defined as recommendations about parenting by people who I didn’t ask for their view. I expected people to respond to my needs and nothing more or less. In fact, part of why I felt so lonely was because early on, I started sorting out people who I can talk to and people I didn’t want to be around depending on the amount of advice they gave me. I googled everything and did research, from circumcision, vaccinations, breastfeeding, colic, hic ups, sleep training etc. I often thought: how in the world people raised children before internet existed. All in all, I had a fair share of opinions coming my way and I didn’t like any of them.
My dislike of opinions didn’t faze me until I got to be comfortable in my own skin, got some mileage as a mother and birthed my second son, this time with VBAC (vaginal birth after a C-section). Advice giving didn’t stop, I just got more immune to it. From time to time, if it was coming from my mother, I’d honestly hate it, but 9 out of 10 times it was not because of what she said was unsolicited or wrong but because she was spot on and I had to step it up to admit it. My being bothered by advice became directly proportional with my ability to reframe the “unsolicited advice” as a thing on a menu that I may or may not choose to order and eat. Thinking about it this way gave me enormous freedom and also made people in my life who were trying to help, my allies and not enemies.
As a life coach for more than dozens of years now, I am invested in understanding how human beings work. From my graduate studies in which I binged on psychology classes given my focus on film and writing stories, to my years behind the bar in New York City making friends with people who came to confess perhaps more than to grab a drink, to years of studying spirituality, meditation and mastering my own mind and leadership programs in which we looked what inspired people’s growth, I have grown to understand that we can’t STOP REACTING to things. Maybe some enlightened gurus that meditate 10 hours a day Vipassana style or alike can learn to let things go the instant they appear, but most of us, mortals are not able to prevent the reaction. I realized, then, the second best choice is to own our reaction and move passed it.
I don’t try to pretend I ever like anyone telling me how I should do something different or correcting me in any way, but even when it happens, I choose to minimize the gap between me hating it and being able to reframe it into: “they mean well, take what works and drop the rest.” In my most enlightened moments, which I do have when I am really in a zone, I even see what other people say as my own subconscious on a loud speaker, so I don’t try to destroy what I hear, instead, I embrace the message it carries.
I know, and have felt it on my own skin, that social media platforms are becoming battlefields of opinions on everything from parenting to politics and even fashion tastes. I sometimes comment to people’s posts to share an opposing view because I do take a stand that I have something powerful and useful to say. Of course, most people won’t know I am actually qualified for that, but I honestly can say, I do think twice before I post a comment to something. I noticed very quickly, that while I had some people agree with me and appreciate my courage of sharing a different view, that most others were quite hostile to what I had to say.
I’d reflect back, sometimes, I’d try to take it down a notch, see their point of view and release the charge that they are spewing at me, but most of the time, I would resort into deleting my comment in its entirety and feeling a bit beaten up about it. I’d share it with my husband, he’d shrug off his shoulder while asking: “does this really matter,” and I would just go back into my little mental hole, trying to digest: “why can’t I just have a different view” and “am I really this mean that people are ready to attack me” (in some cases, go to my personal page and find things to discredit me with).
When I was finally settled to grow my own business and my own listeners out there as my kids were a bit older, I was doing most of it on my own, organically, feeling that there was a value in going slow and steady and learning this new social media marketing craft. I made no short cuts, I used my own pictures, wisdom, messages or posted inspirational quotes. I didn’t have a large amount of followers, but the number of people acknowledging my work was increasing.
Recently, however, I was engaging with a person on Instagram who intrigued me with her views on royal fashion. It is something I am fascinated by, what famous people wear, from royals to red carpet and everything in between. It was extra comforting to see that the woman who owns this account was a mom of 2 boys and a writer, journalist in fact. I often had an opposing view, but for as long as that was about style alone, I was able to shortly let it go. I even deleted my DMs to her expressing appreciation for her doing the work and moving on with my life. Until recently.
One morning as I was checking if she updated the story of the most recent royal event, I noticed that she published an article in the New York Times about Andy Cohen being dad shamed. She received so much praise for this and her account was filled with comments of congratulations. One mom expressed a relief for the writer calling people on the unsolicited advice because she felt that because he is a public figure, the stakes were that much higher for him. I got triggered. In fact, I couldn’t help not commenting that public figure or not, parents should parent as if someone is always watching. I mean this in all sincerity and not because I think or expect perfection of any mom or dad out there, but because I truly believe we ought to be accountable. She responded, kindly, that she wouldn’t want people judging her for keeping her kids in PJs all weekend, forgetting their gloves the other day, or having her dishes in sink for 2 days. I got her point of view and realized, none of those things were worthy of judgement anyway, what I had to say was beyond that.
After so much reflection back and forth and trying to craft the perfect comment, that won’t sound like shame to people who think that everything that is in disagreement is shaming, and trying to avoid being shamed for it myself, I realized, if I had something to say, perhaps I shouldn’t throw myself under the bus (or this person’s account comment section) but should tell my view and my story in a way that as many people as are willing to listen will hear it.
I believe, as was assured of this in one of the Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Miracles lectures, as in many literature pieces and conversations with other parents who understand, as Khalil Gibran put it: “Our children are not our children, they are the children of God.” What I mean is this: today most of us parent alone, we are closed in our homes or in the distance between work and home and think being a parenting is somehow a lonely act, so we hold on tight and parent from fear of shit breaking loose and things getting out of control. The older the children the worse it gets, we try to control them not parent them and we try our best to keep “unsolicited advice” at bay.
This is not how parenting happened centuries ago. People lived in larger families and tribes and each person was accountable for something and children were not just one couple or person’s obsession and job. They were everyone’s work, and in my opinion, this had the pressure of parenting be a lot less than it is today. Today, parents have to juggle work and home and raising children and support is available but hefty at price so we try to do our best alone. People walk by a screaming child trying to tune out versus being interested or helpful. We roll our eyes when another kid is screaming because it is inconvenient while we are jamming our wireless headphones into our ears. We are connected via social media, but we are profoundly alone.
As a mom, I get the initial annoyance of being given the advice you don’t ask for, but still think that we can’t be so sensitive to another person’s input. We don’t have to do as advised but it is helpful and appreciated to consider someone else’s view, especially if that someone is a teacher or another parent. Most of the time when I am compelled to say something to someone, it is because I have been there, not because I am judging. It saddens me that we are trying to create a world in which different opinions or advice isn’t welcomed and has to be shushed instead of considered and refiled as useless if that is what it truly is.
I am writing this with so much humility because my family has recently been through a thorough Child Protective Service investigation and at no fault of our own. My husband has reached out to a hot line service to see if he can get advice on dealing with his frustrations of parenting but he wrote in the chat something that was taken of the context and resulted in CPS at our door less than an hour later. While we did talk about it in length, I was still unaware that we was chatting, let alone that he gave a stranger our address, so what transpired was shocking to say the least.
The social workers had 60 days to investigate us and everyone involved in our children’s lives, schools, daycare, my mom, a nanny that only occasionally spends time with them and all of our neighbors. This was a devastating event for me and I admit, I was initially so mad at my husband for putting us through this. I thought: “oh, how stupid and Canadian of him thinking he can open up with a complete stranger to talk about his thoughts and alike” (which are extremely transparent given all the transformational work on himself he has done and that people who haven’t done were not really used to).
Over time and those scary 60 days, I have learned that children don’t have a voice except the one we give them. In other words, I empowered this investigation because deep inside, as inconvenient and expensive as this was for us, I wanted to move out of the way for the sake of my children. I never, for a second, doubted that I was a good mom and my husband was a good dad, that we were perfect for them and enough, but I got out of the way so that the state of New York can see it too and send me a paper confirming it.
Given our kids were 5 and 2 at the time, we naturally didn’t share this event with them nor did we fill their heads with fear. It took everything to hold this pain I was feeling and still be an excellent mom but I learned that everything happened for a reason and as shitty as this event was for us, on the receiving end (and especially knowing that there are kids whose rights really need to be protected in this way), I learned to be humble. I learned that I don’t own my children and that my job is to have them in my care and if there is a view on the outside on how to do that better, I would be all ears to hear it.
I am not saying: open yourself up to other people’s criticism and to let it pierce through the essence of who you are. Don’t do that! But know this, you are not defined by other people’s opinions, so instead of getting on a train of shaming one another to no end in sight, take what you get and consider it a powerful lesson for how you can expand in your life. This will make you a better parent and a better human being overall.
As for Andy Cohen or any other celebrity parent out there, if you choose to parade with your kid on social media and want us all to see, allow for criticism and be humbled by it. Andy has never done this before. None of us did until we actually did it, so instead of defending the assumption that he is doing nothing wrong, let’s not defend that he isn’t , because we really don’t know what is happening behind the closed doors. We are all being put through the test as parents, and he can learn a lot from other seasoned moms out there. Consider it is an expression of love and not the “unsolicited advice” or perhaps, the devil’s advocate helping the voiceless child.