I tend to be a magnet for advice. I don’t know if it’s because I’m approachable, (or appear to be very messed up), but people tend to offer me all types of unsolicited advice just because I exist.
For instance – when I was pregnant with my firstborn, there was a wonderful Chinese woman who truly believed that if I raised my hands over my head, I would strangle my unborn child. She would follow me into the office supplies room and make sure I wouldn’t reach up to grab anything. She would get it for me.
I had another gal at that same job that monitored every bite of food I put into my body. After I had miscarried my first child she caught me drinking a Coca Cola. She insisted I miscarried because of Coca Cola, despite the fact that I hadn’t had a sip while I was pregnant.
When my eldest child was about 2 years old, I had a man follow me around Farmer Jack’s concerned that my child wasn’t wearing socks. I had learned from previous trips to NEVER allow that child to wear shoes or socks in a grocery store as I would be looking for them for hours. She was a little Houdini when it came to hiding her socks and shoes in various aisles and to avoid being stuck in the store looking for said shoes and socks, it was easier for me to just keep them in my pocket for the duration of my shopping. He approached me a few times on different shopping trips (he was a bagger at the store) about my lack of care for my daughter because of her bare feet. It took everything I had in me to just smile and tell him that yes, she is well cared for and look here – her socks and shoes are right here with us. She’ll be fine and thanks for your concern.
My favorite piece of advice I’ve gotten is from the young man at Wendy’s when I was pregnant with my first child. I was 9 months pregnant, ready to pop and unable to wear my wedding ring. I also probably looked like I was about 12 years old. He kindly (he really was kind) asked me if I were embarrassed to be pregnant and not married and I should consider marriage before getting pregnant. Little did he know I WAS married and not only was I married, I had been married for four years to a Family Practice intern who was just finishing up his internship at a local hospital. The reason why my rings were off was because I was so swollen, not because I was a teenage pregnant mom. (I was 27 at the time!)
I can go on and on. Somehow people think that I need their unsolicited advice.
Don’t get me wrong – some of that advice has been very helpful! A former co-worker gave me the best advice I could ask for – “Whatever you do, Michelle, don’t ever EVER wake a sleeping baby. If she needs to sleep, let her SLEEP and whether or not you’re tired, take a nap with her. You won’t regret it.” She was so right.
Or that time I was at the mall and I couldn’t get the stroller to unfold in the pouring rain. A woman driving by jumped out of her car and flipped it closed for me. I don’t remember the method she used, but the trick she taught me to get that puppy folded down in no time was very helpful.
And the advice from an internet friend about dealing with teenage attitudes has been priceless. Her advice to have children “practice” slamming doors has proved to be very effective in eliminating any door slamming, sighing or whining in this house. If it starts, we immediately make the child “practice” the foul behavior over and over until we are all howling with laughter.
Since I was diagnosed with NMO, you can imagine all of the advice I’ve gotten from well meaning, but very ignorant people. “Drink this vitamin shake and your symptoms will go away.” “If you ate aloe, you’d feel much better.” “You should do yoga, since I started yoga, I feel great.” “I can’t believe your doctor put you on those medications. I’m on (name that drug) and this works for me.” “Do you know the reason why you are sick is because you clean with ‘this’ chemical?” “It’s all in your head, you know that right?” “Have you ever thought if you’d lose weight you’d feel better?” And my personal favorite: “You just need a better attitude! Suck it up and move on. You’re not sick. You certainly don’t look sick.” I could go on and on.
Normally when I get advice like that I smile. I know these people mean well and I bite my tongue and smile like I did with the bagger at Farmer Jack’s. I truly believe that people want what’s best for you and they want to help you, but they don’t know what to say, so the most ignorant dumb things come out of their mouths. Their intentions are pure, so it’s hard for me to criticize them.
It does wear me out though.
My husband is a doctor and a darn good one. I wouldn’t say he’s “brilliant” but his patients do. He’s got a wonderful bedside manner and he’s a calm and very rational person. I’m proud of his accomplishments. I’m proud that once he sets a course, he doesn’t deviate from it. He’s a good man and a great friend. He’s a great husband as well and a very wise man. He’s a fantastic father with wise and thought out intentions. I am very blessed to be his wife and very blessed for him to be the father of our kids. He is compassionate.
When I was first diagnosed with NMO it was a terrifying scene. It was a disease that neither one of us had heard of. It was a disease that my neurologist wasn’t all that familiar with. In fact, I was his first diagnosis of NMO. It was unknown territory for all of us. The question on how we were to discuss this with our children weighed heavily on our hearts.
We decided that we would not raise our children in a bubble. This was our new reality now. The kids knew mom was sick for years anyway – now this condition had a name and we explained what NMO was to the kids in very kid friendly and kid APPROPRIATE terms.
It’s been exactly a year since that diagnosis. The kids understand that NMO gives me good days and bad days. They know that when those bad days happen, there is nothing to be afraid of, but that mom needs her rest. They know that NMO is a very bad disease, but Mom’s doctors are taking great care of her and the kids SEE and experience that Mom is doing better. I am able to do things with the kids that I haven’t been able to do in 10 years. The kids are witnessing this and they know it’s because of the excellent care I am under. I believe this diagnosis has made our family stronger. No longer is mom missing events because of some unknown thing – it’s NMO rearing it’s ugly head and the kids get that. It has turned ALL of us into more compassionate people.
Still people think it’s their duty to give me advice.
Yesterday I received more unsolicited parenting advice, but this time it was directed toward how I manage my disease and how I expose it to my children. It inferred that I (an intelligent and caring parent) had not thought properly on how to discuss my disease with my children and this person took it upon herself to tell me so. Rather than gather all of the facts of how I communicate with my children, she chose to give me unneeded and unsolicited advice I should “consider.” She has no idea of how much time we spent with my children discussing this disease, how it may affect me, and how differently it affects others. She doesn’t know that my kids know that mom is doing GREAT and although other people that have NMO aren’t doing well, the disease affects EACH PERSON differently. She doesn’t know (or care to remember), that both my husband and I are educated people who clearly must have thought things through LAST YEAR with the diagnosis of this horrible disease and how we would let our children know about it. She doesn’t know all of the resources, articles, HOURS I have spent researching the disease and discussing it with other people with NMO on how to talk with my children about it. She doesn’t know that I’ve discussed it with a psychologist who gave us the thumbs up on how to deal with this disease and our children. She doesn’t know that we have a very open and loving relationship with our children and that we have teachers at school on “alert” if there are any issues popping up with our kids because of my disease. She doesn’t know that we have chosen to raise our children in the reality they live in and not a bubble world free of pain.
She doesn’t know all of that. So I’ll forgive her inappropriate comments like I forgave the Wendy’s employee and the bagger at Farmer Jack’s and the sweet Chinese lady who meant so well, but was so far off base when it came to advice.
When this unsolicited advice came through, it was hard for me to not laugh in a “I can’t believe she said this” type of way. However, my husband wasn’t so lighthearted. He’s not used to unsolicited advice from people unaware of the whole of our situation, so he’s still trying to calm himself down. Me? I pray for them – for understanding, for wisdom, for compassion and the willingness to see that there is always more to the story. I have to admit, the thought of “telling her off” did cross my mind a couple of times.
My hope that if you’ve read this post (and made it this far – I’m sorry I’m so wordy), that the next time YOU give someone unsolicited advice you try to see the whole picture before giving it. Chances are you’re only seeing a tiny fraction of what’s really going on in that person’s life and your advice, though well meaning, can be very hurtful, condescending and inappropriate.