Originally published on July 22, 2018.
I have been thinking about this lately, as it is something I have been talking a lot about with a family I am working with. This post is by way of solidarity from your Speech and Language Therapist. I can't tell you how much time I spend talking to Parents who previously had a plan they were happy with, and have been sent into a tailspin because 'someone' mentioned (insert poorly informed opinion here).
In a spirit of light-heartedness, some common sightings include:
- The Mother or Mother-in-Law intervention
Unsolicited advice from a family member always comes with a side dose of implied 'you are failing at this Parenting thing'.
- The 'in my day' intervention
In the 'good old days', children didn't get diagnoses, we just made them feel bad about themselves. Closely related to the "I have no experience of this so it must in some way be your fault'', and "children don't starve themselves, you know" .
- The 'I have diagnosed your child based on something I read online' intervention
Closely related to the 'do you think he's got......', and the 'my neighbour's Aunty's cousin's child has Autism', so I know all about it' intervention.
- The one who says 'just'
A personal bugbear, there is no 'just' in feeding therapy or working with children with developmental difficulties. That 'just get them drinking milk' that was thrown out in passing in that appointment? 6 months of hard work on your part.
- The Health Professional intervention
Health Professionals are as bad at this as anyone. It is often in the nature of a Health professional to be a 'fixer'. The downside of this can mean that your health professional will try to fix things that they actually don't know anything about. This is a side-effect of sitting in meetings hearing other health professionals talk a lot. You start to pick up a sense that you know their job too.
The problem with this type of unsolicited advice is that people take it very seriously. It is particularly difficult when the health professional involved is a doctor, as anything doctors say instantly become gospel.. even though your Therapist has probably trained for many years in this very specific area of therapy and so are likely to be better informed than them.
- The 'have you tried..' person
This person manages to imply that you will not have thought of any number of entirely sensible and reasonable-sounding things that you have either already tried, or in no way apply to your child.
- 'Your baby will be picking up on your stress, you know'
This may well be true, but I have never seen any statement more likely to increase someone's stress. Except maybe, 'calm down'.
So why do people do it?
- As mentioned in a previous post, the brain likes to make a nice neat narrative out of things. It makes us feel anxious when things don't fit into this narrative, and so we try to make your story fit.
- The medical model is a very prevalent powerful 'story' in our culture. The 'story' goes that illness gets treated and then it is gone. Tell that to the millions of people with lifelong conditions.
- People are uncomfortable with other people's emotions, and try to make them 'go away'. This is actually about making them feel better, not you.
- On some deep subconscious level, humans need to believe that if they just do the right things, then bad things will not happen to them. This is part of a deep human need to feel in control. Sometimes the only way we can maintain this illusion is if we subtly put the blame for things that are happening to you on your shoulders.
And to end, some unsolicited advice from me:
- Often the best thing to do is what you are already doing
The belief that there is a better, quicker and less painful way to get where you are going is a very strong pull. It is very hard to keep doing your best, sticking to your plan, day after day. Do it anyway.
- Make sure you feel firm on why you are doing things, so you don't spiral into self-doubt
Have as many conversations, and ask as many questions of your Speech and Language Therapist as you need, to feel secure on the reasons why you are following a particular goal or style of intervention. This will put you on firmer ground when you get questions and comments.
- Prepare yourself
You will get comments like this, especially if your child has a visible feeding tube. For some reason, they tend to come when you are feeling tired and overwhelmed. It might help to think of some stock phrases to say in advance.
- Sign up to the approach that fits your temperament.
In my experience, you will be most shaken by the unsolicited advice of others if you are following a plan that doesn't quite 'sit right' with you. This might be something like taking an approach that manages feeding issues as a behavioural issue, with strict rules and protocols, when this does not really fit with your temperament. The more secure you feel about the approach you are taking, the more comments are likely to 'bounce off'. There will be times when the only approach available to you is something that 'goes against the grain' . It is important to take the time to explore your feelings about this so that you can commit to whatever approach you are taking.
Here's hoping you have a week free of unsolicited advice, and may I be forgiven for all the times I have probably indulged in giving it myself!