Life Notes: Good Advice
How I learned that less can be more
By Sally Friedman

“Advice.” It’s such a benign word. Such a generous concept. That is, unless you have full-grown, ornery adult kids who know not just more than you do, but everything.

Case in point is my recent conversation with Amy, our spirited middle daughter who lives life so fully that she barely has time to breathe in and out.

During that phone conversation – Amy on her cell, of course, I on the kitchen phone that we proudly call our walk-around because it’s cordless – the subject of vitamins was broached.

I suggested that Amy might want to take a multivitamin. I thought that such an addition to her daily life would keep her healthy. You might think I’d told her to have triple bypass surgery.

Amy instantly shot back that I must think she’s not looking well. Or possibly that she needed a better, healthier diet. Or that what I was really saying was that I disapproved of her lifestyle. All of this transpired in no more than 3 minutes following my simple and well-meaning advice.

Amy always has been our tempestuous daughter – all the more beloved because of her fiery temperament and spunk most of the time, but sometimes it’s downright dangerous. Amy, and advice, do not go well together. I should have remembered that and been less direct on my mama mission.

But then, I wouldn’t define this as a mama mission.

My own mother, small but mighty, never hesitated to offer advice about anything and everything. And of course I bristled, resisted, often lost my cool. But I also actually listened. And Mom was right most of the time.

My 3 daughters would tell you that I offer them much too much “wisdom” – or “meddling” as they regard it.

I have plenty of opinions about how they live their lives that they’ve never ever heard, and probably never will. I do have some sense. But when it comes to the grandkids, I’m a bit bolder.

I can remember the bygone days when each daughter actually sought my advice – fancy that! That was back when they were trembling new mothers suddenly realizing this was a job about which their resumes were blank.

I recall desperate calls, often late at night and on weekends, when the responsibilities seemed more overwhelming. Jill or Amy or Nancy would couch their desperate questions in terms like “Did I ever refuse to eat any food that wasn’t white?” or “How long did you let me cry at bedtime when I was a year old?”

Those years spoiled me. I figured I’d become indispensable, even in my off-site, emeritus position. But babies grow up, and adult children soon regain their confidence and their footing.

I was “retired” from my Dr. Spock role and replaced by wiser heads – and the internet. In the intervening years, I quickly learned that a good way to phrase things was never to be direct. “Have you ever considered…” I might begin, and then I’d slowly unravel my observation of the moment, but posed gently, disguised as a question. Sure, I’d sometimes slip.

“Put a sweater on that child,” I would demand on brisk seashore nights when we were about to walk on the boardwalk against a stiff breeze with a small person whose teeth were already chattering.

The issue of meals, food and nutrition were always hot potatoes, if you’ll forgive the wordplay. They still are.

So against all instinct, I lock my lips so that no words can escape about why Jonah really might be better off not devouring 2 sandwiches an hour before dinner, or why a pint of strawberries might really be too much for Zay to eat in 1 sitting.

Yes, I’ve come to understand the advice from good and trusted friends about advice itself. Less is more. Back off.

I try. Sometimes I almost succeed.

Read more Life Notes here

March 2021
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