Are you an expert? Is there something you do probably better than most? Do others seek your opinion and advice on a particular subject?
We all have expertise and skills in various areas whether it’s an occupation, a hobby, or just a talent we’ve developed over time. And in those areas of expertise, we are asked our advice. People come to us for our opinions. They seek out our unique services to fill a need.
Yet even experts need to know when the best thing to say is nothing.
Especially when it comes to dealing with members of our own family. Because often those areas of expertise take a back seat to the role we have in our family unit.
The wisest thing we can do is to remember which role needs to dominate and when.
How Do You Know Which Role to Assume?
I’m a mental health counselor, but in my own family I’m a wife and a mom and a sister and those roles trump my counseling skills almost every time. Why? Because I’m part of the dynamic of whatever is going on in my family at the time. I’m not the objective third party.
My friend, Michael Scott, is a talented and artistic interior designer. He recently shared something with me and it illustrates the wisdom of knowing when to be the expert and when to simply be the dad.
Here is his story…
Even When You Know You Could Do It Better
Designing store windows, creating interiors and doing something-or-other creative came naturally to me at a very early age. So by my mid twenties I was designing and setting the stage for personal appearances for the likes of Cher, Paloma Picasso, Elizabeth Taylor, and others.
More important than my design background, I’m also the proud father of two sons, now grown young men. When Kyle, our eldest son, reached the age of 20, we had a father-son talk although it’s not what you’re thinking. It was more or less me setting out “the rules” of what his future wedding would look like. Never mind there was no bride in sight. I was a celebrity designer and already worrying about being critiqued on the details of this event by every family member, client, and designer.
I made him promise that any girl he decided to marry would give me the opportunity to set the stage for the vows, and at the very least give me a yes or no on every decision of the future event.
Several years went by and Kyle turned 25, 27, 30, with no real possibilities in sight. Girls came and went. Thankfully. I remember meeting one who appeared in a tulle ballgown for dinner at a casual local restaurant. And another, a girl with purple, green and orange hair, who was followed by a young woman who liked to party all night, every night.
So just when we were about to start really worrying about his next possibility, we were introduced to Kim, the love of Kyle’s life. A beautiful girl inside and out. What a joy!
Excitedly, Kim immediately began planning the wedding. The dress. The flowers. The cake. Of course Kyle conveniently and wisely forgot the promise he made to me all those years ago. At the time I didn’t realize just how intuitively smart he was, especially when it came to his future bride and planning their wedding.
“Oh God!” I thought rather dramatically. “How can this be happening to me? After all, I’m a designer of some taste and experience! Is this the time to lay out the rules and voice my (many) opinions? Do I possibly wait until she screws it up and sweep in to save the day?”
And then a calmer, less dramatic, and wiser thought. “Maybe the future relationship with this new family member is more important than anything my creative brain might conjure.”
I realized that even though Father Knows Best, sometimes it’s best for a father . . . and especially a future father-in-law . . . to know when to keep his opinions to himself.
Which is exactly what I did.
Kyle and Kim’s wedding was beautifully innovative, set in the hills of Sonoma. Every detail reflected their taste and style. Not mine.
Most important of all? My son found the perfect mate from a wonderful and supportive family.
There is a place for my opinion in the world, especially in matters of creativity and design. As for the world of my son and his bride, their world is just fine without it.
How Do You React When It’s Time For Giving Advice?
After Michael shared his story, I reflected on more than one occasion when I injected my opinion where it wasn’t needed. Luckily I have good friends and an understanding family who recognized my good yet misguided intentions and forgave me.
Has this happened to you? Have your good intentions ever backfired into misunderstandings between people you care about? Were you able to recover with a heartfelt apology?
We learn from each other when it comes to sharing our expertise, our experience, and knowing when to offer them and when to keep both under wraps. I hope you’ll share with us here so we can all learn together about how and when to offer our advice.