Thanks but no thanks
"What is crucial is that we come to identify our shortcomings ourselves" … Chrissie Swan. Photo: Julian Kingma
I ask for advice all the time. My main sounding board is my fella, who gives great, no-nonsense and harshly concise advice that often contains an expletive. I like it that way, because more often than not in the lead-up to actually asking for said advice I've spent countless hours umming and aahing and writing lists of pros and cons. By the time I get around to asking his opinion I'm usually so confused I need a verbal smackdown.
For example, when I was making a huge decision to leave a job for another I endured most of the indecisive torment on my own. Until I'd come to an impasse. I broached the topic with him and here's how it went:
This week I have received no fewer than three pieces of unsolicited advice and, as a result, I have experienced unprecedented levels of huffiness
"So ... what should I do?"
"You like hanging out with your kids. Take a job that makes that happen. And if it doesn't work out, then do something else. I'm going to the shed."
And so the decision was made.
I seek counsel on matters of couches, throws and rugs from my friend Jane. She's earned her stripes through her passionate hatred of orange. Anyone who feels so strongly about a colour must know all there is to know about interiors. She also multitasks as an adviser on parenting – her daughter is spirited, polite and artistic and maybe I want one just like that.
I'm constantly asking for advice and eagerly await responses from my crack team of clever friends. But what about advice that is given when you didn't ask for it?
This week I have received no fewer than three pieces of unsolicited advice and, as a result, I have experienced unprecedented levels of huffiness.
First, a no-brainer. Someone emailed me with advice on weight loss. It didn't have the subject "Lose that jelly belly NOW!" – I have a spam filter for those. It was from, I think, a nutrition student and probably made a lot of sense, had I read it all. But I didn't ask for help or advice from this person and it annoyed me. It doesn't take a genius to know I am overweight but is it anyone's right to assume I need advice on the matter, or indeed that I want to change, or am not already seeking advice elsewhere?
The next day I received an email from someone instructing me on the dos and don'ts of writing a column. I thank you, by the way, and I hope I'm doing an all-right job. I love writing these pieces but I am under no illusion I am the next Proust. I have in the past solicited writing advice from people I admire, but the difference is I asked for it. The notes in the email I received were handy. But insulting. As I was reading it, all I could hear was my internal dialogue saying, "Clearly I'm bad at this and I didn't even know it."
Which brings me to the last bit of unsolicited advice I got in my inbox. This one happened yesterday. And it involved the P word. Parenting. And there is no more sensitive topic. The person who sent the email thought I'd be "interested in attending a parenting workshop". Hold on ... as a participant? Yes - as a participant, as someone who wasn't "enjoying their children as much as they should" and could work on being a "confident and calm" parent.
It's not often I talk to my iPad. Apart from the occasional "Yes!" after nabbing a set of old school lockers or a Toy Story 3 'Zurg' figurine on eBay, our relationship is generally a mute one. But on this occasion I looked at its screen, cosy in a case my mother-in-law gave me for my birthday, and said, "Oh. My. God."
Parenting workshops are a great idea and provide support and ideas for people who need them. FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT THEM OR NEED THEM. I'm not saying I'm a perfect parent, but how you raise your kids, along with every other thing you do in your life, is up to you. If we identify parts of our lives that are causing us concern, then we have the right to seek advice. What is crucial, though, is that we come to identify our problems and shortcomings ourselves, not have them brought to light by people who are making bold assumptions based on, well, nothing at all.
We can almost cope with unsolicited advice from people within our lives, but when it comes from those you've never met - who've never seen your home/what you eat/how you cope with your kids in the midst of a supermarket meltdown - then "helpful pointers" are not only ridiculous, they're hurtful. And they only fuel the insecurities that threaten to slow us down when we're all just doing the best we can.
Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally. She's also on Twitter.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.