3.05.2009

Advice-Giving Relatives


My sister wrote me an email reply that really pissed me off. I didn't talk to her for a few days, even. I was that angry. You know what happened: I thought about it and realized she was right. Not exactly right, but pretty close. If I piss you off when I write about this, wait a few days. You'll see I'm not completely wrong. My sister's hardly ever wrong.

This all started with an email. Between Charlie and me, we have eight kids/step-kids/step-step-kids, so there's always something going on with one of them. There's enough to keep us awake at night worrying if our own issues don't fulfill that function.

The email concerned unwanted advice from an older relative, directed to one of our kids. The kid, an adult herself, didn't ask for advice. The kid doesn't particularly have a relationship with this older advice-giving relative. The advice-giving relative, or AGR, has a relationship with me. I was the one who told the AGR about the kid's issues. I was trying to help the kid find solutions.

The kid wasn't excited to get this unsolicited piece of advice from someone she hardly knew about something very personal she hadn't shared. The kid forwarded the advice email to me. She wasn't angry at me for talking about her issues, which she was within her rights. I'd probably have been annoyed if my Mom/Step-Mom shared my private life with relatives. The kid simply asked, "How do I respond?" She doesn't know this AGR well enough to begin to discuss the email of the discussion of her private matters.

I didn't know what to say. It was pretty bold of the AGR to give unsolicited advice to someone she doesn't know well. That's crossing boundaries in my Rulebook of the Way of the World.

My sister has a better Rulebook. I'm quite conscious of this because she's had more success in the world than anyone I know. The way she thinks must be more correct than the way I think, right? It can't be worse. I don't know crap about the world. I particularly don't know crap about how to deal with an AGR. That, for sure, I've proven over and over again.

"Do you see why my kids don't have much of a relationship with the AGR?" I wrote when I forwarded the forwarded email to my sister. I thought the AGR's email spoke for itself. I thought it looked pretty straightforward. In essence the AGR wrote, do this, not that, don't think about doing something else. I'll pray for you. Love, the AGR.

I'm looking forward to doing some smug sister-bonding, dishing on the AGR. Instead she writes, "I tell my kids that no matter how annoying it becomes, your elders have been around the block a few times. You can learn a thing or two from them, so listen."

She couldn't see the reality-show drama between the lines of the AGR's email? She wasn't going to humor me? Send me some compassion? Oh no, no, no. She's above it. Her Rulebook of the Way of the World must have a page saying, see the good in people or some non-reality show crap like that. She continues her email with, "It looks pretty harmless to me. I expect to get advise from the AGR. I told my kids that that's what Grandparents are supposed to do as their elders."

I had to review my Rulebook to see if truly she was the monster sister I suspected after reading her email. In my view, with eight kids, step-kids, and step-step-kids, if you don't work on first having a great relationship with each of them, there's no way any one of them will to listen to you. I wouldn't. I don't take advice from a few relatives I do have a relationship with, even. These relatives have clearly proven they don't have my interests in mind when spouting off advice about what I should do.

My Rulebook seems a little extreme, I decide after a few days. It could use a little editing. I don't need laws. I don't need to be so black and white. I'll think more in terms of rules, of general guidelines, rather than drama-filled reality-show reactions. I don't need to be so judgmental. Being judgmental is worse than giving unsolicited advice, especially when you write you'll say a little prayer at the end.

Oddly, the AGR wrote me another email saying she was sorry about the miss-communication. Good think I updated my Rulebook.

Back to the kid. I called her a few times and tried to do what I would want someone to do if she were me. What I need when I'm upset is a couple of ears. Not a mouth, giving advice, especially after all this. Just someone to listen: avoid being an AGR myself. I can calm down pretty easily when I feel like someone cares enough to listen. Doesn't everyone?

After a while, I told the kid a few things she seemed like she wanted to hear. I told her things I'd want to hear. Things anyone likes to hear even when they aren't geting unsolicited advice. Things like it's going to be okay, you're a good person, you'll make the right decision when the time comes, stuff like that. The trick is to say it so it doesn't sound like that's what you're saying. Say it like you're listening. Listen first.

Listen without judging. If you can do that everyday for the rest of your life, especially with relatives, you're going to have to share your secret. I can't even do it on email.