OPINION

Balancing Act: Best advice for advising grown children? Don't

Pat Snyder
Guest columnist

I wish I could be one and done with learning life lessons.

Granted, some are that way.

Pat Snyder

It only took once to learn not to leave a “doggie bag” full of broccoli in the car overnight. Once to remember to turn off the mixer before I lifted up the beaters. Once to set a timer when I put a can of pop in the freezer to chill.

I wish it was that easy with the more important ones – like learning not to give advice to grown children.

I should know this from personal experience. I once was a grown child with living parents who were generous with advice I rarely asked for and rarely followed.

Cooking? Car repairs? Maybe.

Marriage? Finances? Child-rearing? Never.

Now, with grown children of my own, I can hardly stop myself.

Not that I have not been cautioned. My oldest – and first to experience my well-intended intrusions – was very clear from the get-go.

“When I tell you about a problem,” he said, “I want you to feel my pain. I’m not looking for your advice on how to fix it.”

He probably thought that this sensible, straightforward information would stop me in my tracks and rescue not only himself but also his younger brother and sister from parental lunacy. Not so much.

For a born fixer and problem-solver, this hands-off approach is really hard. No sooner do I hear about a dilemma one of my three is facing than the wheels start turning.

Can’t find toilet paper? I am Googling suppliers as we talk.

“You are Googling, Mom,” my daughter said. “I can hear it.”

Same goes for decisions to drive cross-country or vacation in the Bahamas during a pandemic. I smile sweetly (can they see this over the phone?) and try to limit my comments to “Wow!” and “Wow!” But sooner or later, usually on the eve of departure, I feel compelled to text links to articles about toilet plumes in public restrooms or CDC advisories, along with “Safe travels!” followed by a heart emoji.

All this in spite of the fact that thus far, their success record has been 100% – probably because they are the experts at living their own lives.

From talking with friends, I'm comforted to know I’m not the only one who struggles with not butting in. “I am biting my tongue raw,” one said.

Even a couple of my favorite luminaries have recognized the problem, even though they seem to have come more easily to resolving it. Erma Bombeck famously compared raising children to flying kites, which in the end are meant “fly free and alone.”

Same story with Anne Lamott, another favorite writer, who during a TED Talk commented, “You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them.” I have copied the link so I can continue to hear this command, which is followed by the even more chilling observation, “Help is often toxic, and help is the sunny side of control.” Yikes!

Speaking of sunny, I am looking, as I struggle, for the bright side of all this.

Here’s one thing: I finally have gained empathy for my late parents when I called them from the Poconos to announce an elopement after famously not following their advice. To their credit, they never said “I told you so” during the divorce proceedings years later. I suppose that is the gracious side of advice ignored. 

My mother, toward the end of her life, apparently had turned the corner on parental anxiety – but not advice-giving – when she urged me not to worry so much about my daughter. “You can’t build a fence around her,” she said.

I look forward to coming into such wisdom someday myself. That way, when my younger son starts waxing protective over his soon-to-be-teenage daughter, I’ll know exactly what to say.

Balancing  Act author Pat Snyder is a Beechwold resident and life-balance speaker and coach. Read her work at patsnyderonline.com.