Advice-giving can trip up the elder parent – adult child relationship and even cause painful divisions between parent and child.
My mother will ask me a question and the answer is fairly straightforward, but then I’ll keep on answering, advising, really. At other times, I offer unsolicited advice about one thing or another. Usually my mother listens, but it’s not uncommon for her to give me the aggravated look that she used when I was five years old and not following her directions. It’s miraculous that my parents, while momentarily irritated with me, are quick to forgive and, yes, even offer me their own advice. We trust one another, and that’s key.
I know that I should be better about offering too much advice, but it’s hard.
A thoughtful article, The Gift of Presence, the Perils of Advice, posted at Krista Tippett’s On Being website, has encouraged me to think about the advice I so effortlessly offer my mom. In his essay, On Being columnist Parker J. Palmer writes that people who need support find it considerably more helpful when we concentrate on listening and asking questions and give advice only when a person insists that we give it. I need to get better at asking questions.
Each time a friend or acquaintance experiences an illness or death in the family, I go through the same thought process. When should I call? What should I offer? Will I intrude?
What it really comes down to is this: I should stop dithering around and just do something — just about anything, really — to demonstrate that I am thinking about my friends. It all comes down to being present for the people who need to know that their friends care.
In a thoughtful January op-ed piece New York Times columnist, David Brooks, wrote about The Art of Presence. All of us, he explains, need to develop the ability to understand how and when and be near people who need our assistance and support, especially during times of great stress or loss. Many of us of are not that adept at responding appropriately when people need our help.
“There are no uniformly right responses,” Brooks writes. He also describes how blogger Catherine Woodiwiss shares her family’s experience with trauma and offers what Brooks calls collective wisdom — how to help others in need and the importance of being present (and maybe it’s just being around) when things go wrong in people’s lives.