THE BLOG
02/04/2012 08:12 am ET | Updated May 16, 2012

Advice to Grandparents: Hold the Advice

"Keep your wallet open and your mouth shut." unknown
"Bite your tongue until it bleeds." unknown
"Grandparents who want to be truly helpful will do well to keep their mouths shut and their opinions to themselves until these are requested." T. Berry Brazelton, pediatrician and author
"I have found that the best way to give advice to my children is to find out what they want to do and advise them to do it." Harry S. Truman, former President of the United States.

For generations the first two quotes above have been passed orally from experienced grandparents to the newly initiated. I studied under T. Berry Brazelton at Harvard. He was a god to me, but with the quote above he has broken my heart. The quote from Harry S. Truman is plastered on tee shirts for sale wherever senior citizens reside.

Since the day my first and (so far) only granddaughter, Kyla, was born, I have been the beneficiary of much redundant wit and wisdom about keeping my mouth shut. Multiple friends, many of whom learned from bitter experience, have shared their hard-learned lessons on the subject of unsolicited input regarding parenting.

You'd think, with advice coming at me from all sides, I should know better than to offer mine without being asked. What no one tells you however...not your friends, not the pediatrician-to-the-stars, and not Give 'em Hell Harry, is just how difficult it is to restrain yourself.

There is a great irony about parenting. Just when all your trial and error, all your hands-on efforts, all your consultations with the experts, and your sleepless nights, and your impassioned phone calls, and your relentless reminders about homework and civility and open-mindedness, merge into one great, polished mass of parental perspicacity, you are coached to keep everything you learned to yourself. What's up with that?

I try. I do. I tell myself parenting is a dynamic venture, always in a state of flux. The 21st century gadgets are science fiction to me. My granddaughter's stroller is also a car seat, an infant carrier, and a shopping cart. My son and daughter-in-law can watch the baby sleep in her bedroom from the television in their den. My babies slept on their tummies. Today's babies are put to sleep on their backs. I am not up on state-of-the-art practices or equipment. I have become a relic, and that wasn't supposed to happen to baby boomers.

We are double the age of the people we weren't supposed to trust. Yet we expect our sons and daughters to trust our advice. I tested the waters a few weeks ago by proffering a pearl of wisdom about feeding. My kids would never be so rude as to tell me to mind my own business, but the suggestion was met with, (Oh No!) the same indifference I showed my own mother when she made what I judged to be lame or outdated recommendations. I chastised myself for a week and once again took a vow of silence.

Why oh why, I wondered doesn't one generation hang on every word of the generation that came before? No one expects to become a doctor without first studying under a seasoned pro.
Why is there no apprenticeship period in parenting? It is one of the only endeavors one undertakes without prior knowledge or practice, yet we often disdain the well-intended advice of those who earned their parenting stripes with distinction.

My friend Laura, whom I hate for being smarter than me, once said when I complained about the toll menopause has taken on my body, "You had your turn to be young." I thought of those words recently when shopping for jeans in a size I never expected to see, and it brought on an epiphany. I had my turn to be young and svelte, and I had my turn to be a parent. My turn is now over. I did my very best, I gave it all I had, and I am proud of the adults my children have become. It is their turn now, their journey, and as much as it may hurt, they deserve the opportunity to parent their way without interference from me.

My husband and I will always be available to listen. We will be happy to help them talk through the conundrums that are bound to arise. We can ask questions they can ponder as they forge ahead. But none of this falls under the category of advice.

Taking turns isn't always fun, but it is one of the first lessons I taught my children when they became old enough to understand. First it's my turn and then it's yours.

Roll the dice, kids. Keep moving forward and enjoy your turn, because before you know it, it will be Kyla's turn and you will have to let her take it.