QUESTION: Is there a kind way to handle unsolicited advice? There is a group of us moms (five of us) who get together for coffee after we take our children to school. We share a lot about what is going on in our lives and our families and one of the moms always responds with, “You should do this,” or “You should do that.” Our conversations really aren’t geared to asking for advice – just sharing and sometimes our sharing is humorous and we laugh together.
The rest of us want to keep our time together light and fun. We want this mom to still join us and we’re concerned that if we ask her to stop giving advice she’ll quit coming.
~ Coffee Klatch Moms
Dear Coffee Klatch Moms,
Have you ever noticed how the writers for television sit-coms always assign peculiar traits to their various characters in order to distinguish them? One show that comes to mind had a group that included the dumb-handsome guy, the clean-freak girl, the nerdy intellectual, the spoiled rich gal, the wise-cracker and the illogical one. Together they made for an interesting ensemble, and they remained together by accepting one-another’s peccadilloes. Others tried to enter the group, but often their unacceptable oddities kept them at arm’s length.
You will have to decide whether this know-it-all klatch attendee is one or the other. I too tire very quickly of self-perceived experts, as they always presume they have education that all their ignorant friends must be summarily taught and they blather on without asking if anyone wants to hear it.
If it were me, I’d take the risk of a private meeting and gently share what you’ve mentioned in your question. It’s a risk and one that may have any of three results: she quits coming, she keeps coming but doesn’t seem to change, or she acts mature and thankful and reserves her counseling instincts from now on. It would be sad if she just left, but then it’s her rather rude behavior that brought this all on, and maybe you would be better off. If her personality is such that her self-worth is wrapped up in her ability to contribute, she may be incapable of changing and you will have to decide whether to accept that or ask her to leave. Sometimes a person is so valuable to you that you choose to overlook the temporary irritation they serve up for the greater cause of continued relationship (as with family members).
The Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Here’s your opportunity to realize this passage. No matter the outcome, some honing will occur, and let’s pray it positively continues within the klatch.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Dear Coffee Klatch Moms,
The kindest way to deal with unsolicited advice is to just smile and nod and then shrug it off and ignore it. The nod merely means, “I understand what you said,” not that you agree. You can add an ambiguous comment like, “interesting” if you want. If it becomes too common or ruins the mood of your gatherings, the story sharer can say something like, “Oh, thanks for thinking of me but I was just venting, not looking for a fix.” If this happens a few times perhaps the advice giver will understand where you are all coming from.
One of you could ask the advice giver if she has experienced a similar situation to see if she has stories of her own to share. Perhaps she just feels the need to make some contribution to the conversations.
I think different people get different things out of social interactions and putting yourself in the other’s position is a good way to figure out what they are expecting in a given situation. Maybe you can find something she wants to talk about other than trying to solve problems that aren’t there.
QUESTION: For months, I had been looking forward to traveling to the east coast to have Thanksgiving with my family. I live alone and don’t cook much anymore so helping my daughter and son-in-law prepare our family feast for 18 family members and guests was a joy.
A couple of cousins who are problem drinkers were there. They had been rivals since they were children. What began as a trivial “discussion” turned into an intense argument after dinner (thank God!). Several family members gathered their children and left. Later, one of our friends called me and said she thought my daughter’s husband should have stopped the argument and sent the guys on their way. I stayed out of the fray, but was very disappointed that the family gathering ended this way.
Some of the family traveled two hours to be with us, and they are the ones who left early. This is the first time we, as a family, have had this experience. The cousins have been together before, but have always kept their distance whenever we got together.
Is there a kind way to diffuse these situations quietly without disrupting everyone else’s good time?
~ Disappointed Matriarch
Dear Disappointed Matriarch,
First of all, know that you are not alone. This may have been a first for your family, but it happens all the time, I’m sorry to say. It even happened in my own family and, as in your case, “Demon Rum” was to blame, or some other alcoholic beverage.
I am not filled with wisdom on this issue, but first I would try to write a blanket letter to all the family members involved and, without naming names, point out that this past Thanksgiving was a painful experience for just about everybody. And you might suggest that too much alcohol was to blame. Again, no need to mention names, but why not suggest that next year there be no alcohol at all, or at least be sure that there is only a certain amount available, and when it’s gone, it’s gone!
If somebody leaves the gathering to go get more booze, that’s the time to end the gathering and tell the liquor-seeker that if he leaves, he’ll probably come back to an empty house.
Again, I am not an oracle on this issue; one drunk will probably blame another drunk for not being able to hold his liquor, and not realize that he himself is just as bad as the guy he’s calling a drunk! There is a reason for the old joke about the alcoholic’s favorite river is “de Nile” (Denial – get it?). A few years back one professional baseball team, maybe the N.Y. Yankees, stopped serving alcohol after the seventh inning in order to cut back on drunken violence late in the game or afterwards in the parking lot. Maybe at your next family gathering you should declare that the “seventh inning” has arrived, and so there will be no more booze served.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman,
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Disappointed Matriarch,
How sad that after your anticipation to gather together with your family, it didn’t turn out as you – and most likely other family members – had wanted it. It would have been good if someone had stepped in and asked the cousins to leave if they could not stop their arguing. Drinking always adds fuel to the fire, particularly if the cousins have long-term issues. At least the problem didn’t escalate until after dinner and you had that enjoyable part together. And what is done, is done. Focusing on the problem only keeps the problem alive. It is time to let your disappointment go.
In the moment, it can be challenging to find the “gift” in an uncomfortable situation. Now that you are away from the circumstances, look for the gift and focus more on that than what happened with the cousins. You and others did get to enjoy some pleasurable family time together for a while, and perhaps it could have been even worse between the cousins. The cousins might even have realized what they did and it could be a wakeup call for them to deal with their drinking and personality issues.
This is an opportunity to step into forgiveness with this situation, for everyone involved. When someone misbehaves, they are really crying out for help because they are coming from a place of fear rather than love. We don’t always know what their history and “baggage” are that caused problems. So pouring as much love as you can into this story will be healing for not only you but for all the family members. Whenever you think of what happened, picture the whole family together and say to yourself, “I bless you, I love you, I’m sorry, I forgive you”. It may be challenging at first, but the more you do it the easy and more natural it becomes. You not only are releasing your negative and disappointed feelings, but you are also surrounding your whole family with love. Many books have been written on the power of forgiveness and you hear stories more and more about how forgiveness has changed people’s lives.
In the future, if there is another family gathering and the cousins are still having issues together, it would be smart to “nip it in the bud” and request that either there be no drinking or that the cousins not engage in any conversations that would cause problems. And visualize all your family together surrounded in love and having a fun joyful time together.