Recently I had a friend say to me, “You’re going to hate what I’ve done.” Would I? Should I? Do I have the right to hate any decision she made?
Steph has a sixteen-year-old daughter who is behaving like many teenagers – rebellious one minute, gooey-goodness the next. Good decisions, bad decisions. She began to let her grades slip and then the pandemic hit. She was having to do her schoolwork at home and was NOT motivated. My friend would wake her up every morning, sit next to her and watch her do her homework. Steph would ask the teacher’s questions, learn the material. While my friend was not doing all the work, she was doing a lot of it. I teased her about having to pass chemistry a second time.
The daughter begged to take PE/Health online during the summer. That’s a common choice and allows the student to take a different elective. It’s a three-week course and it’s dang easy. The daughter tells Steph she’d done all the work. Then Steph gets an email from the teacher. The daughter had done some of the work. Not all. Not enough. The daughter would get a bad grade, her GPA would go down, her ability to get a Hope Scholarship would be jeopardized.
The daughter is a rising junior. If she would buckle down and make some A’s, she’d overcome this little crisis.
Instead of letting her daughter face the consequences, my friend did the work for her. She actually opened the computer, pretended to be the student. Guess what, she made an A! Shocking!?
My friend was right – I hated that. I started to lob questions:
Soon, thankfully, I caught myself. I was being a judgmental asshole. First of all, it’s none of my business. Second, I don’t know the entire situation at their home. And, seriously, how many times did I rescue my kids from their stupid decisions? Who am I to give any advice at all?
You know what makes this worse is that Steph never once asked for my opinion. We’d been discussing the situation with her daughter for weeks. I’d been giving my I-know-everything advice. Did she even want it? Was I too busy being the know-it-all to see she just wanted me to listen? Did my attitude make her feel worse instead of better? Did I make her feel judged?
Of course, she felt judged. I was, after all, judging her. I was wrong. Very very wrong.
The very day my friend told me I’d hate her decision, I read this:
Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is Empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. ~ Bill Bullard
I want to add to the quote – Giving an unwanted opinion is the highest form of conceit. Giving an unwanted opinion is about the giver’s ego. Who was I to think I knew better? Do I have my friend’s daughter’s best interest in my heart? Maybe, but not as much as her mother does. Who am I to act as if I understand the dynamics of an intimate family relationship? Who am I to pretend I know any damn thing?
If I had my friend’s best interest at heart – instead of my own damn ego – I would have listened and told her of all the struggles I had with my own kids. And, let me tell you, my kids had some struggles!
I have made a sincere apology to my friend and have asked her to tell me to ‘shut up and listen’ when I start to give advice.
The dilemma, of course, is that sometimes I do have good advice. I’ve raised my kids and they turned out fine. I do have some lessons from battle that would make the war easier. How do I impart my wisdom without being that judgmental jerk?
First, ask. Before I say anything now, I ask this – “I have some experience with this. Would you like me to share or would it be better for you right this moment if I’m just a shoulder?” I’m careful to mean the question – being a shoulder is often the best idea.
If permission is granted, then I give my advice with an attitude of I don’t know everything. Instead I say: “This is what worked for me … This is what didn’t work for me …”. I don’t pretend to have all the answers because all I have is what worked in my little world.
Advice should be an interaction not an instruction. Instead of saying ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’, I try to offer ideas and listen as my friend thinks through the idea for her situation. After all, she knows what her kids need, how they might react, what support she may or may not have.
Be creative and laugh. Once we walk through some ideas and she settles on an idea to try (she settles, not me!), I start to get silly creative. I suggest the most ridiculous idea and we play out the reactions. By the time we are done, my friend has a workable idea she feels good about and we’ve begun to laugh instead of cry.
Lastly, I follow-up with another offer of a shoulder and not an offer of more advice – unless she asks!
Now my friend can come to me and get what she needs and not what I need.
I have reached the highest form of knowledge: Empathy.
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