When I was engaged to be married, twenty years ago, my sweet daddy took me aside to give me a bit of advice. I've remembered it, and think of it often. His sage nugget of fatherly wisdom?
"Don't take advice."
He could have just stopped there, I suppose, and I could have ended up even more fiercely independent than I am now. I would have fought my way through every new situation, ignoring the catcalls and garish opinions of neighbors and grocery store clerks, intent on making my own path, doing it my way.
But he didn't stop there. Instead, he lovingly taught me that I needed to check the credentials of the advice-giver, and not accept every bit of information blindly. I should see if the advice had turned out well for the adviser, and if it had truly made their lives better, easier, more full of joy.
I'm so glad I learned this lesson, or I would have missed out on the richness of experience. There are so many mothers around who know infinitely more than I do. I've never had to deal with croup or RSV. I don't know what I'm doing raising a girl. I don't know how to send a child off to college. I struggle with not feeling martyr-ish. But other mothers have been around these blocks. They know how it worked for them. They could show me the ropes, tell me their stories, and give me some guidance. I could learn an awful lot from them.
Some of the stories, true, are verbal exercises in one-up-man-ship, or are maternal horror stories. To these, I can insert a mental eye-roll or a quiet chuckle. Some of the stories are downright outrageous. Life may actually be like that sometimes. Some of the stories, unfortunately, are just plain mean. I know how to recognize and ignore mean. But to all of them, I can be gracious to the advice-giver, give them the benefit of the doubt, sip up the wisdom, and discretely discard anything that doesn't work for me.
So the next time I'm in a grocery store and a random lady looks at my children, clucks her tongue, and asks, "Are these ALL yours? Didn't you know how to prevent that?" (true story) I can smile and not feel a sting. Or when the mother at the playground starts telling me how to manage my dirt-thrower, I can smile, say thank you, and take care of my little rug rat. And when the gal at church asks, "Your little guy isn't talking much, is he? Why at that age, my daughter..." I can smile and listen to the story she wants to tell. I don't have to get angry, feel slighted, become hurt, or feel put-down. Any offense was likely not intended. If it was, all the more silly of me to let it get to me!
And when I can, I will sit at the feet of a seasoned mother, bask in her wisdom, and learn as much as I can. I'm not a perfect mother, but there's a lot I can glean from the advice of other mothers. Let's learn and laugh and love together, we mothers. Together we can raise the best children the world has ever known.