Why Moms Give Bad Advice

If you’re like me, you had a mother who was around to help you grow and understand the world around you. If not, I wish we could change that for you. In all honesty, it’s more likely that your dad wasn’t around, but we’ll save that for another day.  

And your mom was probably full of advice, like mine.Mother and Son Smoking

Our mothers play a vital role in shaping us. They teach us how to treat others, how to do laundry, and how to put together meals more complex than just a bowl of breakfast cereal.  They tell us to get outside and play, to discover new things, to do our homework before dinner and to practice our scales so we can play our instrument well.

Mothers spend time with us, kiss our awkward little teenaged faces goodbye in front of our friends, and prepare meals that help us grow strong.

If there’s one thing I learned from my mother that still sticks with me to this day, it’s this:

If you see something that needs to be done, do it.

Sounds like a good idea, right?  Far from it.

For me this meant keeping my eyes open for little things around the house (and now office and elsewhere) that need to be done.

As someone who struggles with OCD, this spelled disaster.  A quick look around any room in my home reveals things that can be done right now.  This very instant.  I’ve spent wasted a lot of time  doing things as they come into view.

  • I’ve picked up stray socks that could have been picked up by the dog instead.  
  • I’ve picked up little pieces of trash as I walked from my car to the office.  
  • You might have even seen me go out of my way to do the dishes that were still in the sink, soaking, because the dishwasher was full.  
  • I’ve rescued kittens from raging storms.  Ok, not really.  But I did all that other stuff.

What a chump!

Seriously!  If I am to be totally honest, this may be the worst piece of advice I’ve ever received from anybody in the whole world.  But maybe I misunderstood my mother’s intentions.

Why this is such bad advice:

Taken at face value, it gives the power over your time and energy over to chance.  It doesn’t require for any planning to take root and drive you to the successful, adventurous life you desire.  The one that you were made for.

I’m not saying my mother was trying to disassemble the universe with her advice.  No, I believe she meant something totally different entirely:

Solve the problems that you see in the world.

There, that’s more like it.  Like you, I see a lot of problems with this world, and I’m committed to solving as many of them as I can.

But here’s the kicker:  you and I can’t accomplish anything worthwhile if we’re setting ourselves against the whims of the natural chaos that surrounds us, though.  We have to be more diligent with our time and energy.

Errant socks can wait.  Hours can be scheduled for litter cleanup in your neighborhood.  And the dishwasher will be finished soon.

My mom didn’t give me bad advice; I just misunderstood.

Thanks, mom, for being so patient with me.

Do something big.  That’s what my mother taught me, and I’m glad I finally figured it out.

So I ask myself (and you):

What problems do you see in the world that you have a unique gift to solve?  What keeps you up at night?

Moms aren’t the only ones who miscommunicate.

  • J.

    Interesting post, Paul. I think you raise a good question: how should one balance life and expectations against the numerous needs that warrant or could benefit from our attention? Ultimately, being of the mindset to be willing to address the obvious which is in front of our face is a great way to view the world, but some direction and planning makes for a more balanced, and possibly efficacious philosophy. Keep it up.

  • http://www.sidwellstudios.com/ Paul Sidwell

    There’s no easy solution, but I think the simplest thing is to learn to communicate better. It’s up to me to listen better and ask questions if I don’t understand. We can all get better at listening.