On Seeking Advice

April 18, 2023


As the parent of adult children, one of the disciplines I’ve tried to stick to has been refraining from giving advice.  Without doubt I’ve fallen short of that aspiration at times. 


I have shared with my son, daughter, and their respective spouses that one of the greatest gifts they can give is the act of asking for advice.  On those occasions where advice is sought interestingly, my responses are often rhetorical, where the first comment is to ask of them, “what do you think you should do?” 


I also aim to say, “thank you for asking for my opinion.”  To be viewed as a sage of wise counsel and thought is one of the highest regards to me. 


Years ago, I worked for a Mayor in a small community, he holding elective office.  There was another office holder in a somewhat complementary agency who was garnering a reputation as being outspoken, surly, and often rude.  It was vital that the two officials enjoy a compatible working relationship for the sake of not only their respective jurisdictions, but in serving the public.


The mayor shared his story.


“I invited him to lunch.  Once seated, as expected he went through a laundry list of things that he found disagreeable:  road and bridge issues, law enforcement, and intergovernmental relations.  His complaints could be wearisome, but again I was accustomed to his laments.  In the midst of his soap box, came a sigh and a pause.  He hesitated, turned towards me and asked why he was not achieving the successes he had not only campaigned on, but wanted.”


He then asked, “What do you believe people think of me?”


The two men exchanged a tense eye contact.  The mayor replied, “do you really want to know?,” to which the response was “yes.”  The mayor proceeded to say, “then ask me again.” 


Again, “Tell me what you think people think of me.”  Now with permission to speak freely the mayor then shared that although his colleague demonstrated a high level of zest, energy, and passion for his role, he had basically isolated himself.”  The mayor added that as a result, people were hesitant to approach him, thus compromising his effectiveness.  In summary, the mayor said to him, “I believe you are angry.”   A short time later both men declined seeking reelection. 


The Legacy Project launched nearly 20 years ago in an effort to collect practical advice for living from many of us who have “been around for a while.”  The advice ranges from how to be happy on a day-to-day basis, secrets to a successful marriage, and tips on raising children and enjoying a fulfilling career.  The act of giving advice found an audience.

One man offered, “I think to a certain extent your offspring are always children.  One always wants one’s children to be happy, and I suppose the most disturbing thing for parents is when they can’t see happiness in their adult children’s lives or their children’s relationships or in their marriages.  You worry about aspects of their interaction with their partners and when you can see that the way they’re interacting is not productive, you worry about your children.”

Another writer shared,

“I think giving advice requires great subtlety.  Well, your adult children sometimes ask you for advice, and sometimes it becomes clear that they are not looking for advice, they’re simply looking for understanding of their points of view.  So I think it’s easy for children to misinterpret your real feelings about them, and feel more pressure than one thinks they should be feeling.  It’s up to the parent to be subtle enough to be able to refrain from expressing attitudes, so that the child does not feel intruded upon, or judged.” 



“With our kids now, there’s a good feeling, good relationship.  You keep your mouth shut.  We made our mistakes, we let them make their mistakes.  But I don’t give advice unless they really ask for it.  I feel I can say most anything I want, except I would not interfere with them, even though I see something that I think should be handled differently.” 


To my son, son-in-law, and other men now parenting young sons consider these words by Sheri Mann:


I’m just a little boy who wants to play

And I’m growing up with each passing day

You are my role model so I look up to you

Be patient with me daddy, and we’ll get through

Hold my hand and walk with me

One day you’ll have to set me free

There’s so much that I will learn from you

So come down here and play with me too

Listen to me when I have something to say

And please daddy don’t tell me to go away

Remember I’m watching everything that you do

Because I just want to be like you

“I’ll Always Love You Daddy.

The Seed Sower