Here is a story of how unsolicited advice from a friend leaves me speechless. I don’t know how to respond to this situation.
“Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.” That is what my brother likes to say. I think he read that in a book.
Recently an acquaintance of mine, Richard (not his real name), asks me where my husband is from. I tell him my husband is Palestinian. “That is an interesting problem”, Richard responds without missing a beat. “While I have sympathy for the poor Palestinian people, they must realize that their terrorism will lead to no-where” Richard continues to tell me about his advice for the Palestinian people. “Israel must defend itself against terrorists, otherwise if they give in it will be their end”. I node my head and smile politely while saying nothing. I have nothing to say to this unsolicited advice from a friend. After about 20 minutes, Richard takes a breather and asks me “So what do you think?”. I tell him that it has been my policy not to discuss politics for the last two years. Richard looks annoyed; he really wants to know what I think now. After a moment of uncomfortable silence he proceeds to tell me what he thinks about allowing gay marriages, his opinions on both subjects are equally enlightened. Richard knows exactly what the Palestinians should do and exactly how homosexuals should behave. He is a smart guy.
I remember about 10 years ago, I had very definite opinions on parenting. I had this image of the perfect mother I would become. All the mistakes I would never make. I would never yell at my children, always treat them with patience, there would be an abundance of understanding and love all round. In that fantasy, there were no tantrums, no dirty diapers and I was never tired or cranky. I was full of advice for other parents, until I had my own children. If only I had the wisdom to listen. I gained a whole new appreciation of my own mom and dad. Suddenly, as if by magic, I gained a sense of forgiveness for the few mistakes they made. I certainly don’t dare give any parent my advice on parenting. When somebody tells me about a hardship they are facing with their children, I listen and try to offer a similar story from my own experience. I tell them about things that worked and things that failed in my experience. Then there is my friend Tim (not his real name), who likes to tell me how I should raise my children. “You must give them enough independence”, “Make sure they are eating enough fruits and vegetables”, “You must encourage them to explore things and think for themselves”, “Reading a book every night is very important” are just a few of his tidbits of wisdom on parenting. Tim can go on for an hour telling me about proper parenting methods, the only problem is that Tim doesn’t have any children. I node my head and smile patiently at him. The reason I don’t tell him to shut up and mind his own business is because, in him I recognize the naïve, idealistic, well meaning, self righteous, pompous idiot I used to be. What can I say to Tim to describe what parenting is all about. How can I describe the pain of guilt when you know you made a mistake as a parent. The sinking feeling in my stomach when one of my kids is sick or the heart piercing joy when one of my kids says “Mommy I want to kiss you”. I can’t describe parenting to Tim, he can only discover it on his own. However, I know enough to completely ignore everything Tim has to say about the subject. I sure hope people ignored my advice on parenting in the past. One day, Tim might decide to face the truth with parenting and take a few sips from that bitter sweat cup. On that day, we will be able to have a meaningful dialog about parenting, until then, I will node my head, smile patiently and wish Tim all the best.
Dear Richard might one day decide to go visit a refugee camp or hang around Gaza for a couple of weeks. Watch settlers harass a helpless Palestinian farmer. See the look in a child’s eye while his or her father is being humiliated by a soldier. See a bulldozer run over an unarmed peace activist. See for himself what 36 years of military occupation really means. I wonder if he would tell people he meets there that they are an “Interesting problem”. One day Richard might decide to face the truth about his opinions, until then what can I say? What can I tell him? Maybe my silence will create curiosity about a reality not endorsed by CNN.
Yes, I got an opinion too, but I learned to shit in private. Only babies get to do it in their diapers. You probably guessed it by now; I am toilet training my youngest and all the happy accidents are starting to wear me out. That is what this article is really about. Toilet Training.
Have you found a good way to respond to unsolicited advice from a friend? If yes please share in the comment section.