Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Should You Give Advice to Your Adult Children?

If therapists rarely discuss or debate the issue, the reason is that they generally agree that they should not be doling out advice and guidance. Their bailiwick is insight, understanding and awareness. They want you to rearrange your mental furniture and so that when you go out into the world, you will be flailing insightfully.

They assume, as an article of faith, that once you understand why you got it wrong, you will know how to get it right. No evidence exists to demonstrate or refute this proposal, but therapists believe it anyway.

More importantly, when a therapist does not give any advice, he need not feel any sense of responsibility for the actions that his patient undertakes.

Unfortunately, when Robbie Shell chooses to disparage all the advice that she gives to her grown children, she misses the point.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal (via Maggie's Farm.) Shell tells of how she has tried to make use of her life experience to provide guidance to her adult children. Surely, we have no problem with that, but we must offer a caveat: if your own experience is the basis for your advice, we are dealing with the anecdotal. I do not want to dismiss all advice about renting apartments, but if your only real reference is how you did it thirty years ago, no one should take your advice seriously.

Besides, if you suggest that a child take a good offer on a condo he is selling, the value of your advice does not merely depend on whether or not another better offer comes rolling in next week. It also depends on the future market, the Fed interest rate policy etc.

As for whether or not you should try to renegotiate a job offer, it depends-- on the job market, on your track record, and on the nature of the job itself.

Shell recommends that her daughter try to renegotiate a job offer and then excoriates herself for not knowing that today’s job market is more forgiving than when she was young.

Of course, this does not tell us that we never learn from experience. It does not tell us to ignore our mother’s advice. It does tell us that when we are looking for advice we should consider the source and should not limit ourselves to a single source.

It also tells us, as Shell reminds us, that she is a woman and thus is more averse to risk. Intrinsically, this is neither good nor bad. It does tell us, however, that you should always consider the source of your advice. Dare I say, your mother is always more cautious than others.

I cannot fail to mention Shell’ strange idea that she should hold off on the advice-giving because the world has changed. What worked yesterday might not work as well in today’s new woke workplace.

For example, she writes:

Giving advice to friends, former colleagues and especially adult children comes with minefields that weren’t there when I was younger. What I thought were the benefits that age and experience bring can turn out to be just the opposite.

When my older son received a sought-after job offer earlier this year, I advised him to accept it without trying to negotiate better terms. When my daughter-in-law was looking for a new company to join, I advised her to stay in her current position while looking for a new one.

I should have kept quiet. In my generation, job offers were often nonnegotiable, and being without a job while looking for a new one raised red flags for a typical hiring manager. Employment practices today are radically different, and my advice was out of sync with a labor market I am no longer part of.

Of course, this assumes that the labor market has changed definitively. The same applies to the real estate market.

Besides, a parent who engages with her children regarding major life decisions is also showing that she cares about her children. The notion that children ought to be allowed to make their own mistakes, a major tenet of therapy, seems not to be very much of a consolation when your child has just jumped into an empty swimming pool.

What would you think of the child who is waking up from his coma and who looks at his mother, and says: "Thanks for not warning me, Mom. It all feels better now that I know you don’t care."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Every older adult understands this problem. This is a simple problem with and incredibly simple solution that would be incredibly beneficial but has the little problem that it doesn't work. Put another way most young people badly need good advice. Most older people can offer some really good advice. But it is the nature of man (can I say "man"?) to put pleasure before accepting advice that defers pleasure. I could give any 18 YO really good advice that would make their entire life better for them and their children. I would happily do it for free. The problem is they don't want it, won't pay any attention to it if you give it anyway and sadly will only understand when they are grandparents that good advice at 18 YO would have saved them a lifetime of problems.