I was reading a series of blogs recently written by a grandmother who had much to share on what she'd learned through her experiences as a grandmother. I don't know exactly how old her grandchildren were, but she seemed to have quite a few and they were old enough for her to go through many experiences where she learned the "hard way" better ways to handle situations. So, she started writing her blog to share these things.
One of the topics she touched on several times was what she had learned about giving advice. She explained that as a grandmother, she is often just itching to give advice and help her daughter as a parent. Yet, she realized that giving out that advice was actually a lot less helpful and more detrimental to her own daughter's confidence as mother in the end. In her own words, "Parents need the freedom to test their theories, make their own mistakes, learn what works and what doesn't work. They need to be allowed to become the experts and feel confident in their own roles as parents." She was sharing this because she found herself too often in a conflict with her daughter over her grandchildren and the majority of the time it was over her helping when her help wasn't asked for. She realized that her "helping" was more often just meddling. So, she made it her rule not to give advice (as much as she could help it) unless it was asked for. Granted, she admitted this was tough because it's hard to watch her children--let alone her blessed little grandchildren--struggle through something that you know about and can easily step in and help. But, she realized that helping without being asked is really just stepping on toes and these were the things she discovered about waiting until advice was asked of her before giving it. She also changed her thought process to understand "Shouldn't you be glad they don't need help? Shouldn't you be glad they are capable enough to figure things out on their own without always coming to you?"
1.) It was MUCH more empowering and actually made her feel better. Because by letting them come to her, she felt wanted, needed, important. The other way around she often felt hurt if they didn't take her advice because she felt like if they said "no thanks" or something to that extent, they were just telling her they didn't care about her wisdom. She discovered this really wasn't the case--it went back to parents needing to "test theories" and explore parenthood on their own which she said is important for all parents. And she really had nobody to blame for her hurt but herself because by just trying to help whether it was needed or not, she opened up more scenarios for her help not being needed and feeling just pushed aside by the parents.
2.) The second thing she realized was that her advice wasn't going to just vanish into thin air if she didn't dish it out whenever she had the itch to. It was still going to be there, filed away in her book of "grandmother wisdom." :) And when her kids had a time of trial and error and DID then come to her asking for help, she was ready to offer what she knew. And whether or not she knew she was right all along was beside the fact because it is perfectly okay for people to try things before asking for help in order to learn.
3.) Finally, she said the hardest part but most important for her to learn was how her "help" was actually more damaging than helpful to her daughter. First she explained both sides this way "In one corner we find the elders, full of knowledge and advice, wanting to be validated and honored for their years of experience, confident that they know what's best for the child. In the other corner, we find the young or new parents, full of book knowledge, research findings, training classes, experience gleaned from close friends, their own personal values, and their unique experience with their child, who need to assert their own way of doing things." And she found that even though she sometimes felt like her daughter was taking a harder road than necessary, when she stepped in to advise or give a tip unasked, she actually was taking over the mother role that was her daughter's to have and leaving her daughter feeling like she was constantly being "watched" and "critiqued." Though that wasn't her intention, she took time to reflect and realized that it was true. If somebody comes to you on a regular basis giving you advice here and there, how is that ultimately going to make the other person feel? Like you have no faith in them; like they need to be told in order to learn or know anything; like you really think you are better at it than they are...and as a grandmother she was relaying (inadvertently) that the child would be better in her care by trying to help so much.
So, now I shared all of this because I wanted to lay the background for what this revealed to me! I discovered there are 2 areas in which I need to apply this knowledge to myself!
1.) As a Parent! My child is only very young and has much of life to start needing to learn things "on his own." But I saw how I was already stepping in where I wasn't needed with him! First, I'd watch him struggle to roll over on the floor. He'd kick his little leg up in the air, throw his arm over, almost make it from his back to his tummy, only at 3/4 of the way there to tumble all the way back to his back. I'd watch him try repeatedly getting frustrated. I knew what his problem was. His arm that was under him was in the wrong place and it was throwing him back. So I'd often go and "show" him where to put his arm. You know what? That was actually less helpful than just letting him work through it. I had noticed that Gordon Lee (smart little guy) would seem to have no trouble going from back to tummy when I laid him down and walked somewhere else. But when I laid him down and tried to watch him, he'd often get upset with the process until I came over there to help him. So, there I was, trying to help but only holding him back in the process.
That is just one small and more trivial example, but it is an eye opener that I need to practice restraint as a parent sometimes no matter how hard it is to see my child taking the long way to get somewhere. Sometimes the long way is better because that is how you learn best.
Of course this grandmother did say sometimes stepping in is important in a life or death situation--but only then or when help is asked for. I am logging this away in my memory bank.
2.) As a teacher
I've found that this time when I'm not teaching is a great way to reflect on teaching so that I can make improvements when I do go back to it.
In graduate school, we often discussed "learned helplessness" and "enabling" as things teachers inadvertently did to students. More students were asking for help before even trying to figure something out and more teachers were seeing it as laziness. In fact, it was only traced back to too many teachers helping too much. In the early years when kids needed to work out a problem to find the solution, the well meaning teacher stepped in to share what she learned, and the student then started learning there was no sense in working something out if somebody else could just do it for you.
As a teacher, you have gone to college, spent time discovering things that you so desperately want to impart to your students. Then you get in the classroom and they don't want to hear what you have to tell them--even if you know better. I've found many times students come to me later saying "you were right." And I keep watching in frustration as they think something relatively easy is "hard" or they think getting out of school and on their own will solve all of their problems. But truthfully, this way of thinking is part of them just trying to figure things out and really learning in the end.
So, when students do or don't take my way of doing something, that's okay. And another thing I have to realize is that perhaps my way isn't THE way. Sometimes, I have a great way of doing something, but it might not be best for the student. And that is something I need to accept too.
I guess the most important thing I learned from this grandmother's wisdom was--helping (no matter what the intentions are) in the wrong way at the wrong time ends up hindering.