March 16, 2021 – Unsolicited Advice

Has anyone ever asked you how you were doing when you were having a difficult day? I’ve had it happen more times than I’d care to admit to. And if I was like most people, I would probably respond with ‘alright’ or ‘good’, followed by a ‘how are you?’ But I have a tendency to tell the truth, even when I know it’s going to get me into trouble. If I’m having a crappy day and someone asks me how I’m doing, I’m going to tell them I’m having a crappy day. When this happens, the majority of people will say, “I’m sorry to hear that.” And then, there are the ‘others’, the ‘fixers’. They lean in when I tell them I’m having a lousy day and then they decide I need their advice because they want to make things better. “Why are you having a crappy day?” they might ask. There are a number of reasons I have less-than-optimal days, but usually it’s due to being sad or lonely or just feeling overall disappointment in the human species.

“I’m feeling down,” is how I’ll often respond when someone asks me why I’m having a crappy day. Because I live in a VERY conservative community, almost assuredly that person will say either, “I will pray for you,” or “Have you tried going to church?” Been there, done that, my friends. It worked about as effectively at ‘fixing’ my despondency as someone trying to lasso the moon. Look, I appreciate the prayers but honestly, save them for someone that could really use them, like someone who has cancer or just lost a loved one or someone who has no home or bed to sleep in at night. I get sad or lonely or disappointed now and then, everybody does, it’s part of the human condition. Years ago, when I’d feel down and call my mom (before she had dementia), her unsolicited advice actually made me feel much worse. “Why don’t you paint a picture?” she’d suggest. “The last thing I want to do is paint,” I’d respond. “I always feel better when I take a walk, why don’t you try that?” she’d counter.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel down, all I really want is for someone to listen and not repeatedly try to fix me or the situation. My husband is a ‘fixer’ and it drives him bananas when I’m frustrated or down or unable to resolve something. He usually starts out with, “If it was me, I’d (fill in the blank).” When I used to come home from work and tell him about the woman in accounting that screwed with my head all the time, he would always fire back, “You should have (fill in the blank)!” Ack!! Unsolicited advice, I cannot escape it! It’s one thing to ask for it, but it’s another when someone dumps it in your lap without warning. Ironically enough, that was one of my beefs with the woman at work. She loved to come up to my desk and ask what I was working on and if I ‘took the bait’, which I always did, she would inevitably take the time to educate me on how I could do it better. Dear Lord, that drove me nuts!

“If I were to do it,” was usually how it started, or “When I worked the desk, I did it this way.” In my head, I would be thinking to myself, “Get the hell away from me before I reach across this desk and cut off your oxygen supply.” The thing is, I saw how she did things when she worked as a receptionist and was not impressed, nor was I impressed with her bookkeeping abilities. When it comes to work, I am all about doing things efficiently and effectively, and nothing she did fit into either of those categories. One thing she used to do (when she had nothing better to do) when working the receptionist position was ‘roll coins’. I refused and she wasn’t happy about it. That’s got to be the biggest waste of resources (time and energy) I’ve ever seen. It didn’t happen often, but on occasion I’d include a bag of coins when I turned in the money from the cash drawer at the end of the day. She wanted them ‘rolled’. “Why don’t I just run the change to the bank and use the coin counter? It’ll take under 30 minutes and there’s no charge,” I suggested.

Nope, she wasn’t having it. Apparently, she appreciated my unsolicited advice about as much as I appreciated hers. If you’re a mom, especially a new mom, oh my goodness, it seems like everyone and their brother knows a ‘better way’ to do something (related to parenting) and has no problem sharing their infinite wisdom! Before a baby is even born, unsolicited advice is thrust upon expectant mothers much like sales people at rental car companies try to thrust ‘extra insurance’ onto people using the service. All day, every day, it never seems to end. Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers seem to come out of the woodwork with knowledge to impart. Whether or not an expectant mom asks, I can guarantee that she will be advised on nearly everything that one can imagine. If it’s not about why breastfeeding is better than bottle feeding, it’s about countless other topics.

I think that’s the part about being a mom I dreaded most. When a child is first born, no topic is off limits. I was responsible for three little people and everyone had something to say about it. Would you like to know which is preferable, breastfeeding or bottle feeding? I can tell you. How about with diapers, cloth or disposable? Yep, I’ve heard all about them, too. What about what to do when your baby won’t sleep through the night or whether it’s safe to have them sleep in your bed or what position they should sleep in (to prevent SIDS) or when they cry, how long you should wait before responding? There are people that want to know whether you intend to baptize your child and if you don’t intend to, the reasons why they believe you should. With my first child (a girl), I was told I should have her ears pierced (as an infant) so people knew she was female. Huh? Seriously?! I thought the pink, frilly dress made it pretty obvious but I was clearly mistaken. Bad on me.

New mothers, I empathize with you. If the advice ended once infants became toddlers, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it just gets worse over time. If you thought it was bad when you had a sweet little infant nestled in your arms, wait until that infant gets a bit older and starts throwing temper tantrums in grocery stores. Some people are really nice and understanding and then there are the others. John Q. Public doesn’t generally respond well to having to listen to a 2-year old wail at a high volume for 20+ minutes, especially when it’s not because the toddler is actually injured and the wailing or screaming is for legitimate reasons, it’s because he or she is throwing a fit. Toddlers are like ticking time bombs, you never know what is going to set them off. It can simply be because they were taking a nap in the car and weren’t pleased that their restful sleep was interrupted and replaced with sitting in a cold, rigid shopping cart while mom and dad look for groceries.

Toddlers are self centered, they don’t care about anyone but themselves. When they want or need something, whether it’s sleep or their favorite blanket or dinner or ‘to be held’ or a candy bar at the checkout stand or a toy, if you don’t deliver when the demand is made, they are not only going to let you know, they are going to let ‘everyone’ know that they’re not happy. All of my kids did it; all kids do it. It’s a rite of passage. There was one time when my oldest son was carrying on in the freezer section of the grocery store and rather than get all spun up about it, I sat on the floor beside him and said, “Let me know when you’re done.” A lady walked past and felt it necessary to share some unsolicited advice. “Sometimes you have to let them win,” she said as she strode by. I wanted to say, “Thanks for nothing!” but I didn’t. My face flushed and I felt like a bad parent for a long time after that. Yep, it starts at birth (actually pre-birth) and it never ceases. Someone always has something to say, whether or not you want to hear it.

I have become a bit more candid now that I’m older. When someone says, “Would you like some advice?” I often tell them, “No, I really don’t.” I’ve been getting unsolicited advice for years and I’m over it. When I was a child, I was constantly told what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my life. It was relentless. As I grew older, the advice didn’t stop, it simply changed. When you’re single, you get advice on how to find a partner and when you’re married or in a committed relationship, you get advice on how to ‘spice it up’ or ‘keep it fresh’ or ‘make it last’. Good grief. As I said, if I ask for advice, that’s one thing. If I don’t and I tell you I don’t, however, you still feel compelled to ‘educate me’, keep it to yourself, would you? Don’t make me have to reach across this desk and cut off your oxygen supply. Thanks so much for stopping by! I enjoy the opportunity to share stories about my life and family or to just make simple random observations. If all goes well and I haven’t run you off, I trust you will return tomorrow as will I.

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