2 Jan 2011

"Helpful advice" can hurt

Posted by paulandrew

I was just reading a fascinating New York Times article about fertility, in which a lady describes her adventures in having kids. Due to medical problems, she couldn’t conceive. So her and her husband found an egg donor, and two gestational carriers in order to create two adorable babies (pictured). Although it’s not the typical way to have kids, they all got comfortable with the arrangment and were fine with it.

Sounds great, right? In many ways it is a triumph of medicine, and also a testament to the goodness of humanity, that these five people could come together in this way.

So what’s the problem? The friends, the bystanders, the hired help were full of advice. Throughout the article, Melanie shares stories of people who–with what I’m sure are the best of intentions–share strong and unwelcome opinions about pretty much everything regarding the process, and even the post-natal care.

Frankly I coudn’t help but thinking how much of a service it would be for a mother in this situation to simply receive the calm presence, acceptance, even curiosity of the people around her.

Yes, pregnancy and babies are a charged topic–which makes it all the more important for us to pay attention to our intensity, and become MORE likely to “simply listen” rather than share our “helpful advice.”

Advice requires exquisite timing and context–advice is tricky to do well. But listening? Listening is much more broadly applicable, much easier to do well. Next time you’re grabbed by the intensity to share advice, consider just listening–and accepting–instead.

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