Guest Post: Advice is not Assistance

By “Anonymousewife”

People’s situations are so radically different that the idea that household organization advice for mothers from strangers on the internet can help is part of the problem.

Every mother reading mommyblogs on the internet has the following things in common: we can read English, we have internet access. That’s it. You’ve got a group of women with very, very different situations and needs. Any single piece of advice you can write is either going to be to be obvious – make you sure you feed your kids and dress them appropriately for the weather! – or be inapplicable and even dangerous to some people, even while it’s very helpful to others.

Take “get kids outside every day.” That seems like a great piece of scheduling advice that everyone can use, right? Unless… you live in Plano during one half of the year or Fargo during the other half and have one car, which your husband uses to get to work. There are quite a lot of conservative SAHMs who are literally stuck at home with small children and cannot go outside for months out of the year because the weather is unsafe for very tiny children. The tenor of “get your kids outside” advice flattens the distinction between “uncomfortable” and “unsafe” and it’s being read by young women who didn’t grow up in the region they’ve found themselves in and don’t necessarily know the difference themselves.*

But maybe our imaginary advice reader lives in a walkable neighborhood in a city, and maybe what she’s reading is “seek out likeminded company.” So she ignores the library and community center available to her in preference to taking long busrides to a suburban megachurch (yes people actually do this).

Sibling dynamics, chronotypes, husband likes and dislikes, the floorplan of your house – all of these things make general advice aimed at a woman in a situation where she is the only one responsible for all the childcare, all the housework, and very often the education of the older children impossible. In the decade of mommy-internetting, and in the decades of dead tree mommy-advice that preceded it, the response to people pointing this out has frequently been “well obviously women should use their common sense.”

But young mothers don’t have any common sense! They’re scared and alone and vulnerable, sleep deprived and desperately looking for older women to tell them that they’re doing it right. Advising this group is not like advising other people. Simply sounding confident and being older means that young mothers are likely to believe what you say and that they should apply it.

*I can’t emphasize this point enough – if you didn’t grow up with inclement weather, you don’t know how to handle it. Someone whose husband’s job takes her from California to Minnesota can really use direct handson supervision in getting kids ready for the snow. Someone who grew up in Oregon and now lives in Arizona can really use an older woman reminding her that it really is worth insisting the 5yo keep that hat on. And someone who grew up in a place where it never gets colder than 45 or hotter than 80 can REALLY USE someone telling them the difference between “uncomfortable” and “unsafe,” because it all feels the same to us.

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Advice is not Assistance”

  1. This is so true, I have all these “rules” that I follow naturally. I don’t let little children play outside for more than 15 minutes in the snow, I don’t let them play outside when it’s over 100 degrees.

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  2. I agree with the overall idea of what anonymouswife has written here. I think this post raises a very good wake up call to those giving advice to remember that they are speaking to a diverse audience and hopefully will be more specific in what they say. For example, “It is good for children to get fresh air everyday, however, if you live in an area where you have seasons of extreme hot or cold temperatures, it may not be possible. ” However, I know that despite all the “too general” advice, the internet has taught me a lot of wonderful things that my own mom couldn’t teach me. Many times the internet was the only place I could go for advice. We have a lot of problems to solve in our society but if and until we are able to get more support for SAHMs from the community, we have to work with what we have to make it better. A good post to older, advice-giving mommy bloggers would be to keep their internet advice-giving more specific and to remember their broad audience but also make them aware that if they want to really help SAHMs, then they need to get out in their own communities to provide real face to face help, when and if they can.

    –“But young mothers don’t have any common sense! They’re scared and alone and vulnerable, sleep deprived and desperately looking for older women to tell them that they’re doing it right.”–

    The fact is, there are all types of young mothers and although being a SAHM these days is largely unsupported by society so therefore more difficult to pull off, it doesn’t mean none of them have common sense. Some take to mothering more naturally and some need a lot of support and guidance. Some are mature beyond their years and others have a lot of growing up to do. They are all mostly under-supported and overworked. Frankly, if I had read “young mothers don’t have any common sense” when I was a young mom, I would have been insulted. Despite feeling alone and sleep deprived, I did have a brain and often could judge if advice would work in my former “no family support, one-car/one income” situation or not. If I wasn’t 100% sure about advice, I knew I could try it and see.

    Now having said that, there are a segment of young moms who are so alone and lack maturity and common sense that would fit into that statement. We’ve all seen the moms carrying babies in below freezing weather with nothing on their feet but a thin pair of cotton socks. In this case, specific advise about taking the kids out every day could be detrimental and unsafe.

    One last thing regarding advice that is obvious commonsense. I received a post in my email today from the Art of Manliness site. It provided a writing from the ancient Stoic philosopher, Seneca on the Value of “Obvious” Advice.

    Among other things it said,

    “People say: “What good does it do to point out the obvious?” A great deal of good; for we sometimes know facts without paying attention to them.”

    “Hence, you must be continually brought to remember these facts; for they should not be in storage, but ready for use. And whatever is wholesome should be often discussed and often brought before the mind, so that it may be not only familiar to us, but also ready at hand. And remember, too, that in this way what is clear often becomes clearer.

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