I know just what’s wrong with your baby

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Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Last fall I was blessed with the opportunity to teach (and learn!) at a ladies’ retreat in Pennsylvania. One of my favorite times was spending a few hours with the whole group of women—divided up into younger woman and older women. A lovely friend and I were on the borderline of the suggested age between young and old (we are both mid-forties), so we opted to sit with the younger group before the entire group spoke together (not without a bit of teasing!). I learned so much about my role as an older woman by listening to these young women: hearing what was helpful, hearing what was hurtful, hearing what was needed, hearing what they desired most. One thing I know, just having been a young woman once doesn’t mean that I understand all the feelings other women face, we are all individuals and we can’t always know what others need unless we communicate openly. I can guess, I can teach, but unless I am asked or observe a clear need, I don’t always know what others need. No matter the situation, careful speech is critical. This should be a given.  If you haven’t ever done a detailed study on the power of words, please consider reading through this blog post: Sweet to the soul and healthy to the bones.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

I know just what’s wrong with your baby was a comment spoken to a young mom, struggling to overcome some issues with her newborn. This young mom shared this in tears while trying to articulate why hearing it was so discouraging to her and how it could have been handled differently. She understood that the motive was to help, but also acknowledged that the comment wasn’t helpful. While that idea sparked my blog post, many things I’ve seen and heard since have prompted me to finally take the plunge. Present blog included, there is no shortage of advice on just about any topic you want to study. For every opinion and conclusion drawn on one blog, one might find another vehemently disagreeing and promoting an entirely different perspective. No matter how successful you deem your parenting, someone disagrees with you and sees you as a supreme failure. On the other hand, no matter how badly you may be parenting, you will find validation aplenty! Everyone has an opinion and is free to share it. Everyone else is free to rake them across the coals for holding it and sharing it.

He that has no children brings them up well. ~Unknown

We give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.~ William Alger

I know just what’s wrong with your baby could easily be: I know just what’s wrong with your: toddler, child, teenager, adult offspring, husband, wife, parents. It is a presumptuous statement, full of assumptions and lacking in humility. I may have breastfeed six children over a period of about twelve years, but that doesn’t mean that I can fix every issue related to breastfeeding. I may have homeschooled six children, but that doesn’t make me an expert with all the homeschooling answers. You may be a doctor, but you can’t answer all the health questions a mother will have over the course of one child’s life. You may have raised a handful of children well, but that doesn’t make you an expert on all children. You may have dealt with marital difficulties, but that won’t give you all the answers to a failing marriage. You may have a happy marriage, but that won’t mean that you can make every marriage happy. You may be godly wife, but you won’t have the ability to make all wives godly. Only God has all the answers. Only His word gives perfect advice. Schooling, degrees, experience – there is not always an expert with an answer and to assume that we know what is wrong with limited information is arrogant indeed.

Titus 2:3-5 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

While the older women are absolutely commanded to teach the younger to love their husbands, love their children and be discreet keepers at home, they are absolutely expected to use wisdom and discretion themselves. This wisdom should be God’s wisdom, taken from His word. Of course, mothers and wives are not cookie-cutter-creations and will take different approaches and viewpoints. When older women are teaching younger women, they simply must differentiate between God’s wisdom and their own experience-derived wisdom (even when they fully believe their conclusions are based on Biblical principles). The idea that there is ONE correct way to raise children is wrought with issues. It is prideful and it is presumptuous. God is the only perfect parent. We all pale in comparison to Him and we all succeed by His grace.

How do we fulfill our command to teach while remaining humble and open to our own infallibility? There is one thing that is universally agreed upon except by a few offenders: it is generally unwise to approach a young woman that you do not know well and assume that you know what is happening in her life, offering unsolicited advice based on your assumptions. Far too many step in with a rebuke or admonishment, having jumped to an entirely wrong conclusion.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. ~Alexander Pope

Without a relationship, many judgments will be inaccurate and unwise. In the very least, one will be guilty of errors in judgment, often one may actually be guilty of evil surmising. Except in obvious cases (I don’t think I have to spell out all of the obvious issues), it should be understood that a glimpse on social networking doesn’t give you nearly as much insight into the heart and soul of another as you think it does. Should you be moved to approach a situation with someone you do not know, perhaps it would be wise to first build a relationship and then begin to teach.

Proverbs 29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Proverbs 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Why not just crusade to address every issue you see in your daily social network feed or every young lady who crosses your path? The key to this entire situation in which older will influence younger is: RELATIONSHIP. If you struggle with relationship building, here is a study I taught that covers a great deal about forming and nurturing relationships: Friendship is a very comforting thing.  Opening our homes, our lives, and our hearts and getting to know one another is where it begins. While relationship building may not guarantee that our influences in one another’s lives will be real and meaningful, our impact will be greater when we have a strong foundation. Meeting at a building three times a week doesn’t build relationships. Relationships are built by investments of time and energy, they don’t happen by accident. It’s all about the love.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Consider your own life: where do you go when you need counsel? When I am looking for advice, I go to godly women – I choose those I respect and love. I don’t go to strangers or acquaintances. Why? With friends and loved ones, there is a comfort level, there is the knowledge that this person knows and understands and even respects me. There is trust. There is love. There is the knowledge that my friends know all about me and love me anyway. Without those things, deep and soulful communication is distinctly lacking.

Proverbs 27:9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

Proverbs 13:14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

Before I give unsolicited advice, I usually try to determine if I have any influence at all with the hearer. I try to determine if I were in her shoes how I might react to someone with a similar relationship approaching me. I ask myself what I really know about her and her situation. Am I seeing things clearly? Would my stepping in be a help or a hindrance?

Proverbs 31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

The key to stepping in unsolicited when you feel conscientiously compelled is to be certain that you understand the situation. Seek first to understand. Of course, you must ask direct questions in order to be certain that you have correct information. You simply cannot dive in based on glimpses on social networking or gossip and assume that you are familiar with a situation. There is little to gain and much to lose.

Herein is another thing that is universally agreed upon except by a few offenders: it is generally unwise to assume that you know exactly what is wrong in a situation and exactly what the solution is to the situation. With obvious exceptions, few difficult situations are easy to see from afar and cut and dry enough for a stranger to step in and remedy. I have personally seen strangers give advice based on their ill-conceived perceptions and do more harm than good. Of course, when one doesn’t have all the details, it is highly unlikely that one will have all the answers. I have been flabbergasted by the faulty conclusions reached by those who are willing to make judgments about others, whom they know virtually nothing about.

Proverbs 2:10-11 For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.

Proverbs 8:12-13 I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.

Not much causes more stress than presumptuous, albeit well-intended, unsolicited advice. Wisdom, discretion and discernment are critical. Instead of assuming, breaking down, pre-judging and offering unsolicited advice try building up, refreshing souls, and edifying one another. When you spend time building relationships and trust, those who know you will be eager to receive your wise counsel.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Philemon 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Category: Musings
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