Has there ever been someone in your life who would (or does) frequently give you advice? In most cases it’s a parent whose duty it is to offer advice- solicited or unsolicited, or maybe a revered grandparent whose sage advice you trust because of his or her age. Sometimes it’s an older sibling who doesn’t want to see you make the same mistakes he just recently made. Regardless of who gives you the advice you didn’t ask for, most teenagers and young adults, I would venture to say, don’t heed this advice. It’s not that they flat out reject it, they just absorb the advice and then do their own thing. At that age, people are headstrong, know more than everyone else (or so they think) and are convinced that things won’t turn out “that” way for them. I attribute it to the fact that the human brain is not fully developed until age 25. (source: Mental Health Daily) Until that point (and for some people even longer), teens and young adults have issues with impulse behavior, making decisions, and are still susceptible to peer pressure. It appears normal, then, for parents and grandparents to step in and give advice to us at that age because they are being protective of us and want to fill in the gaps for us while our prefrontal cortex is finishing its development.
For me, that purveyor of advice was my father. If you’ve been reading my posts since 2015, you already know that my dad lived several lifetimes within the one he was given. He saw more heartache in 82 years than anyone else I know. And as a result he had somewhat of a gift to almost predict what was going to happen in his children’s lives. When he was doling out this advice to me, I didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t even want it sometimes, and I rarely, if ever, followed it. It’s not that I did not think my dad was smart-because he was the smartest man I knew. It’s not that I didn’t trust him-there was nobody on earth I trusted more. And it’s not because I doubted where his heart was-I knew he wanted me to avoid mistakes he had made. It was simply because I thought I knew all the answers.
When I was in my twenties, I told my parents I wanted to get married- to someone from another country. My mom didn’t oppose it very much but my father did. He ticked off a list of reasons the marriage wouldn’t work, stating, “Marriage is hard enough when you have similar backgrounds, but when you try to merge two totally different cultures, you are asking for problems.” I respected his opinion but I got married anyway. And accurate to the last detail of what he had foreseen as problems in an intercultural marriage, my dad’s advice was spot on. Yet, I had ignored it. When I made my decision to get a divorce, it was telling my dad that I dreaded the most. He was not happy about it- and I waited for him to tell me “I told you so.” But he never did. Instead, I told him I was sorry for not having followed his advice. And in discussing this with him, in my mind a slide show of sorts played, of every big piece of good advice he gave me-and I ignored. Advice, that, had I followed it, would have spared me a lot of heartache and emotional upheaval and wasted time with friends I should never have let get close to me, with certain career choices I made or didn’t make, and with relationships with guys he said weren’t right for me. But I had to find out the hard way, because I never took that advice and never appreciated it until after the situations blew up in my face.
And so, on the day I told my dad I was getting a divorce and admitted to him that the issues he foresaw were the very ones that drove my ex-husband and me apart, I also told him that I was sorry I had dismissed all of his other advice that he tried to give me. He said he wasn’t offended, and that kids always think they know more than parents. I assured him that wasn’t the reason, but that I just thought I could make the result different if I did it myself. “How did that turn out for you?” he said. “Well, of about 8 pieces of major advice you gave me over the years, that I did not follow, you were correct on 8 of them.” My dad didn’t think he had a record that good, so I read off a list of these 8 items and how he was right and I was wrong. He smiled at me and said “I always tell you what I feel is best for you. You have the option not to follow what I advise. That’s part of growing up.” “Yeah, but Daddy,” I remember saying, “you’re batting 1000. I’ll never go against your advice again. Who gets it right that many times?” He thought about it for a second and said “Someone who has messed up that many times and more because HE thought he could change the result his own way.”
A cycle of messing up? A generation or two of stubborn Italians? Or a daughter who just didn’t appreciate the prescience of her father’s words and chose to fumble her way through adulthood? Call it what you will, but I never rejected a piece of advice my father gave me after that. Now that my own child is in that young adult phase, I find her balking at my advice and I wish I could have her see into the future, or at least be able to watch the past and see what I did wrong so she can choose avoid the same pain if she wants to. In lieu of all of that, maybe a this photo of a girl’s brain- blue representing areas that are mature- teens still have a way to go and even at 20 it’s not completely mature.
The option, of course, would be to just follow Harry S. Truman’s advice: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”