I've been thinking about how interesting it is that when we go through something, so often we think that makes us experts on it. And how terribly hurtful that can be sometimes. Many years ago when we were new parents, having all the expertise of about a full 2 years with one child, we caused some great tension in a relationship with some very dear friends. We were judging their parenting, based on our 'book learning', a popular (within our circles) parenting class, and our own very limited experience at parenting. It wasn't pretty. I look back on that time and absolutely cringe at our pridefulness...thinking parenting was so cut-and-dry, and if you just did the right formula you would obviously get the perfect, well-behaved child. (Thankfully, God heals relationships and our friends are forgiving people who were able to love us in spite of ourselves.)
Well, several years and 3 more children down the road, I'm pretty sure there's a whole lot less we know for sure. One thing I DO know for sure is that we are not experts. And that every child is different. And that every experience and situation is different. And another thing I have learned is to offer advice...preferably limited to "when asked"...or at least in a non-condescending, "I'm the expert" kind of way, but rather in a way that says "This was my experience..." and let the other person decide whether or not they'd like to glean anything more. Another thing I am trying to make a point of doing is focusing on and affirm areas that people are really doing well in. If someone is having trouble with a picky eater, the last thing they probably want to hear is how you've refused to EVER make a second dinner option for little Mr. Finicky and your children are all wonderful eaters who gratefully gobble up anything set before them. Let's just say...been there (as the receiver of advice). Wasn't helpful. In fact, I took that stance myself (and obnoxiously passed along that 'rule') until Bryce was practically vomiting on the table as a little guy and decided I needed - for his health, family peace and frankly, my own sanity - to find a way to deal with this that worked for us. Judgmental advice from folks who had no idea what it was like to deal with a child like this made me want to run for the hills; people who really knew what it was like generally just smiled, told me to hang in there and trust that God would give us wisdom in knowing the right thing to do for our child.
The other thought that I've been thinking of, is how silly it is that we each hold our experience up as 'the norm'. I've been extremely frustrated, of late, as I heard many people offer my dear, very pregnant and overdue friend, a ton of advice, every single bit from their own experience or 'knowledge'. The worst wasn't actually said to her, thankfully, but prompted a Facebook post commenting vehemently against epidurals. The funniest part...this young lady has yet to give birth herself, though she is currently expecting. Boy, have I had to pray hard about my attitude on this one every time I think about it...including now...because deep down, in the still-really-needs-to-be-renewed part of my sinful self, I really want to wish a horrible labor on this poor girl just to give her a wake up call about standing in judgment about things you know not of! (Even now, I find myself grinding my teeth trying to keep my own attitude in check...good gracious!) But she's not the only one...we all do this in one way or another. We become 'experts' and wield our experience (or lack thereof!) around as the norm, and it really can make others feel belittled or condemned. Anyone's norm is the norm for them, but may be totally opposite of someone else's situation - which is for them 'normal'. Did that make any sense?? I think you know what I mean.
I guess I've rambled a lot. All in all, what I'm trying to say, is that I'm really trying to learn to be sensitive, and give 'advice' sparingly. My childbirth, nursing, potty training, schooling, and disciplining experiences are all different from everyone else's (and we haven't really even hit the teen years full force yet!). If someone asks me, I'm more than happy to share what my journey has been, or the things that worked for me. But I'm really trying to grow in not dolling out advice unsolicited, in a way that will make others feel like I've got a corner on the market of whatever.
Funny, compared to 10 years ago, I've got a lot more experience. And what has it taught me? Apparently, that I know a LOT less than I thought I did then!! :o)