Unasked for Advice (Not)

Parenting. The perfect means by which the universe can attempt to keep one humble. It’s a tough freaking gig. I find myself fairly often wanting to share my thoughts with my kids, but instead keeping my yearning-to-be-bestowed-brilliance to myself. (They may laugh out loud at this revelation, but they aren’t privy to the substantial contents of my brain that DON’T exit through my mouth.) My “life lessons” are a running joke around here, prompting one of my spawn to dedicate this image to me via Facebook:

life lesson

My youngest child is 16. We’re far beyond the days requiring constant adult supervision. With the exception of my baby, my children ARE all legal adults. I see my role more as friend and supporter than rule-maker, and it’s been that way for some time. It’s a goal of mine to never offer unasked-for advice. I’ve far too often been at the receiving end of that. I consider it rude and an overstepping of boundaries, thus my desire to refrain from doing it myself. I think I *mostly* accomplish this goal, but when it comes to my kids it’s a little tricky.

There’s a lot of pressure inherent in my role as mom. That includes societal opinions, which can be brutal when it comes to judging parental choices. But I’m referring more here to the expectations I place on myself. I bring to parenting my years-in-the-making lens on the world, but I sometimes struggle to balance that with my role as protector. Where is the line between the safeguarding of my kids and the usurping of their autonomy? I readily admit to living at the permissive end of this spectrum. But heavily influencing that very cognizant choice is the fact that I dwelt at the authoritarian end for a good part of my parenting career.

This highlights one of my mom-ing dilemmas. It is HARD to watch your kids struggle, in fact it’s downright excruciating at times. Those are moments when I wish I could somehow download my 50 years of experience directly to their brain. I suppose it’s a good thing it doesn’t work that way. After all, I am who I am because of all the hard-fought battles of my life. When I find myself thinking “You’d be much better off if you’d just listen to me and do *this*,” I need to remember how it is I arrived at that conclusion—via my own history full of trial and error.

It’s interesting to me to consider the difference between advice I’d have offered (if asked, of course) my progeny several years ago, compared to now. Back then, I was a born again Christian who considered the bible the only reliable source of guidance. My critical thinking skills were not fully functioning at that point, and even when I did use them, I considered all things bible-related as off limits scrutiny-wise. Fast-forwarding to today, I no longer have even a shred of reverence for the bible. I’m much happier to rely on reason and empathy as guides for life.

Here’s the weird part: back then, I was absolutely, confidently, 100% certain I had it right. Sure, working out all the details of that life involved learning and growth, but I rejected any line of thought that didn’t proceed directly from the bible as ultimate authority. The position I find myself in now, having embraced my life as it is, with all its messy bits—is one where I readily admit I don’t have it all figured out. Brings to mind that Bertrand Russell quote:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

I wouldn’t have necessarily called myself a fool back then. But I was a bit of a fanatic and quite smug in my certainty. Now, I’d agree that wisdom should be marked by an attitude of doubt. As Robert Anton Wilson posited,

“Belief is the death of intelligence.”

Anytime we take a “belief” and place it on an unassailable pedestal, we necessarily move a little further away from utilizing our full intelligence. If I’m going to fully embrace a position, I want to have looked at it from every angle, and then continue doing that in the case that new information comes to light. I rarely see issues in terms of black and white these days. Navigating the “gray” is hard work, but essential to a life led by reason and empathy, as I mentioned above.

So it’s from this position—of realizing that I’ll never know it all, that it’s important and healthy to let my kids make choices and mistakes, and that life is all sorts of shades of gray—that I function as mom, to support my kids as best I can while they make their own way. Most of the time that means just attempting to quietly stand by, ready to help when they ask me to. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes not so much.

This blog entry was prompted in part by a specific interaction one of my daughters had online this week. She has a kind heart and has always stood against any sort of bullying she witnesses. A cruel meme came across her feed and she decided to comment on the page of the boy who posted it. (Not a friend of hers.) One quick look made it clear that his online presence is despicable. I don’t have to tell you that her reasoned pleas to treat people decently were ridiculed. Then he followed by snagging a picture of hers, posting it on the thread, and spewing more vileness. Thankfully, following that, she blocked him.

Now. I am a lover of humans. I’m constantly saying, and reminding myself, that nobody is all bad. But I’ll tell you what. It was all I could do to keep from making my presence known on that twerp’s wall and tearing him a new asshole. These are the kind of people who would casually bully a teen into suicide and not appear to give it a second thought. However, I knew that feeding the trolls would do absolutely zero good. So I moved on, thankful that my daughter had blocked him and written it off without seeming to be badly affected.

I refrained from furiously lashing out at the kid, but the incident stirred up a whole passel of thoughts. Magnificent thoughts (naturally), that were screaming to be utilized as one of Mom’s Life Lessons. However, I *mostly* kept them to myself, just checking in with her to make sure she was okay and suggesting that she avoid contact with that variety of person again.

But the remainder of those magnificent thoughts—they were insistent. They demanded to be given voice. So we agreed on a compromise. In lieu of a lengthy Mom’s Life Lesson offered up to my kids as unasked for advice, a blog post. I get to contemplate significant bits of stuff, and said kids can choose to read it or not.

So here, should they elect to take a look, are some things that I wish my children could acquire osmosis-style, rather than through the sometimes arduous lessons life serves up:

  • Never ever assume that you’ve got it all figured out, whatever the “it” happens to be. Even—and perhaps especially so—the beliefs that you cling to most fiercely. Hold them with an open hand, always willing to examine them with new eyes. If it’s a worthy position, it’ll stand up to scrutiny. Don’t be afraid to shine a light on it and make sure it still passes muster.
  • About that, your closely held beliefs—realize that the events of your life thus far have informed those beliefs. Realize that others have lived experiences that you have not. Seek them out, listen to them, learn from them. Go places you’ve never been, places that take you out of your comfort zone. Welcome challenges to your lens on the world.
  • The view through your lens will shift over time. How you move through the world is more important than the view at any given moment. Train yourself to think critically. Cultivate sources that earn your trust, both people and media-wise. There are a plethora of voices clamoring for your attention, and the bulk of them aren’t worthy of it. Combine that critical thinking with active empathy, and you’ll be a powerful force for good in this world.
  • Trust yourself. That sounds like trite advice, but start nurturing this sooner rather than later. You have everything you need inside of you to rise to any challenge life offers. Pleasing other people will get you exactly nowhere. No matter what choice you make, you’ll have critics. Ignore them. Eagerly explore everything you’re interested in, and feed what inspires you most.
  • Be gentle with yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. We all do. Always treat yourself as kindly as you would your closest friend.
  • Pick your battles. Don’t waste your energy trying to reason with unreasonable people. Some folks aren’t meant to be in your orbit at this time. Try to err on the side of love when you can, even when it’s difficult to find a shred of human decency within some humans. But ultimately, set the boundaries you need to for your own sanity and safety.
  • If all else fails (and maybe prior to that point), consider asking mom for advice. I might not be able to help, but you can be assured that I will always and forever be on your side.