If you give advice, read this


Yesterday, I was tired of the constant fight of nagging kids to pick up, fixing four meals a day, and fielding never-ending laundry. So instead, I watched TV, something I can’t remember doing in 2010.

Now I see four pop cans on the windowsill, a doll’s wig on the globe, and a rubber chicken beside a plant stand. I’ve made my point. One day without Mama, and the house looks like a federal disaster zone.

After I send this to my editor, I’ll crank LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” and clean up—but not until I take pictures to show everybody when ungratefulness strikes again.

When I commiserated with others, I got lots of advice. Funny, I would never advise people with other professions. When Vanessa Eitel of Gaia in Schererville says her feet are sore, I don’t recommend she soak them in Epsom salts. It’s her job to alleviate pain.

I try never to give advice in person or say I’m busy to moms with more kids than I, kids with disabilities, or—well, any moms. I apologize if I have, and if I’ve offended you.

Deborah Tannen, the famous Georgetown University linguist, says women seek connection in conversation, whereas men engage in competition. Maybe that’s why I see advice as a putdown, an implicit suggestion of incompetence.

But because people are mothers or had mothers, they consider themselves experts. So if you’ll forgive my giving advice—see my resume for credentials—here are phrases I recommend we moms not repeat. If you do, pause for answers about why your advice won’t work. Some advice-givers never do. They just barge on, shoring up their self-importance.

*You should…—Trust me, the mom you’re talking to has tried your advice. If it’s a big enough problem for her to complain about, it’s a big enough problem that she’s already to fix many ways.

*My mom always did X or Y. I’m not your mom. Her situation was different than mine, and you can’t understand my situation unless you live under my roof.

*Make time for yourself. I wish I could. But I have no friends or family to help me do this. If I don’t do work, it doesn’t happen—and I need every minute.

*If I were you, I would…—Thank you for offering! Come to my house, do my work, and solve my problem. If you’re willing to offer your wisdom so graciously, I’m sure you’re willing to show me why your advice is perfect.

*Don’t discuss women’s weight at all unless it’s clear the woman lost 50 pounds. I would never say to a relative, “You’re looking really old and frumpy. Why not try Prevage?” Just tell people, “You look great!”

Now, if you’re surrounded by serial advice-givers, I suggest you politely say, for example, “I feel hurt when I hear messages about my weight because it implies my looks are more important than anything else in my life.”

But most of you have already tried that. So, print up a bunch of little fliers that read, “That won’t work because…I’ve tried that/I don’t have the resources or support/The answer’s not that simple.” When somebody gives you advice about any topic, just give them a flier, and say, “I get that a lot.”

If you’re a serial advice giver, please, hold the advice unless it’s requested. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with “Can I help?” “Hang in there!” Or, “You can do it!”


About Rebecca Bailey

* Columnist, The Times of Northwest Indiana, for three years. * Professor for twelve years. * Mom of four teeny kids. * Voted "Most Dramatic," Castle Junior High School eighth grade, 1984. * Failed to diaper her first child before he projectile-pooped on the curtains. * Accidentally splattered her white Jack Russell Terrier with her red hair dye, which did not come out.

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