8 Pieces of Advice to Take From Your Parents and 7 to Forget
"Do as I say, not as I do" isn't a kind warning, it's just bad parenting. Here's more advice from your parents that you should skip—along with the good advice you should follow.
Parents: We’ve all got them! And even though we’re grown adults, it seems they can’t quite let go of their parent role, often giving their kids advice. This can be a great thing—their life experience combined with their unique knowledge of their children can make them the best advice-givers. However, not all parental advice is worth heeding. (“Don’t wear white after Labor Day”! ) We talked to family experts about which advice is worth taking and which advice you can immediately forget so you can maintain a healthy relationship with your parents without jeopardizing your own goals or sanity.
Advice to keep: Be careful what you wish for
Children are characterized by their wild imaginations and their inability to assess risk, two things that when taken together can lead to some unfortunate endings. (Remember “parachuting” off the roof with a bedsheet?) As we mature as adults, we outgrow a lot of those impulses but our parents can still provide us this useful reminder to think about consequences, says Paul Coleman, PhD, a psychologist, family counselor, and author. “With hindsight, we often realize that disappointments and failures have led to something much better and that sometimes our successes or achievements are not all they seem,” he says. “This piece of advice subtly asks us to have faith that something larger may be at work in our lives; that we are not the sole architect of our life. It also reminds us to be clear about our intentions and to consider the consequences.”
Advice to forget: You’re doing it wrong
Maybe you are doing it wrong! There is usually a faster way or less costly way to get everything done. But making mistakes is how we learn and a good parent will guide you through the trial and error process rather than giving you the answer or doing it for you, Dr. Coleman says. “It teaches us lessons of determination and creative thinking,” he says. “And when it’s your turn to be the parent, make sure you’re aiming for the right goal. If the goal is to weed the garden and you end up in a mud fight with your child, then you may feel like a failure. But if the goal is having fun playing with your child, then it’s a huge success.” It’s not just your parents you have to worry about—use these 13 tiny ways to make your in-laws love you.
Advice to keep: It’s an oldie but a goodie!
How often have your parents tried to convince you to listen to a song or watch a movie or play a game that was popular when they were young? Before you brush them off for the current offerings, think about what they’re really trying to tell you, Dr. Coleman says. It’s not just a song, it’s a relationship: Your parents are trying to connect with you by showing you a special part of them. “I’ve always loved to sing and my father would remind me to sing some of the old standards and not limit myself to the newest fad,” he says. “At first it seemed silly but I learned there is wisdom in the old songs and the older people, as well. They have something to teach you.” Do you have a parent who loves to sing? Here’s why you need to record your parent’s voice, stat.
Advice to keep: Put money in your retirement account every month
As a younger adult, it’s easy to think that good health will last forever and to put off thinking about your golden years. However, your parents are likely living in theirs right now and may have some solid financial advice that will pay off big time down the road, says Carla Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Aging Joyfully. “Listen to your parents when they are advising you about financial issues such as spending, saving, or economic cycles, there is much wisdom that holds true no matter the generation or passage of time,” she says. You should learn from others as well, like what these 9 people wish they’d done before retirement.
Advice to forget: Love isn’t worth it, you’ll only end up hurt
“Like anyone, parents can sometimes get wrapped in their own life experiences—particularly if they were hurt by them,” Dr. Manly says. However, while these feelings are understandable, they don’t give your parents the best perspective to be offering advice, she says. Take their relationship advice in context: If advice is coming from your parent’s unresolved wounds, it’s important to understand that it is tainted by their negative experiences and doesn’t necessarily apply to your situation.
Advice to keep: Mind your manners
Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and other niceties are so important, both in public and in your private relationships, says Raffi Bilek, a licensed social worker in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s funny but even though most of us grew up with our parents constantly reminding us to mind our manners, too many people tend to forget the basics of politeness these days,” he says. “They may not feel like the most important thing you can do but skipping over them certainly undermines the relationships you’re trying to keep.” Cover all your bases with these 50 modern manners everyone should be doing.
Advice to forget: Spare the rod, spoil the child
This is a popular old parenting adage but one that’s long overdue to be forgotten, Bilek says. “Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment as discipline are on the way out—it turns out that in the long term, it’s really not good for kids’ emotional well-being to get hit by their parents,” he explains. “Also, it doesn’t work! Physical punishments don’t get kids to listen, they just get them to be obedient when you’re watching and hope they don’t get caught next time.”
Advice to forget: Never go to bed angry
“Go to bed angry!” Bilek says. “Trying to resolve an argument late at night when you’re tired and mad is a losing proposition.” Instead, agree to talk about it when you’ve both had some rest. When you wake up, you will almost certainly feel less angry, and be in a far better position to deal with the problem at hand, he says. Better communication is one of the 16 relationship resolutions every couple needs to make.
Advice to keep: Pursue your passion
Parents are in an optimal position to recognize your talents and likes so when they offer life advice, it’s a good idea to at least listen, says Risa Stein, PhD, psychologist and author of the Best Damn Life Workbook and founder of GenuineU. “Astute parents recognize a child’s unique qualities and, while society will often discourage them from pursuing their passions, parents who can remain objective in noting a child’s drive and/or passion can be a great source of support and encouragement during trying times,” she says.
Advice to keep: Don’t be a quitter
Let’s be honest: Marriage is difficult, employment is difficult, raising children is difficult. And parents who have successfully and happily maintained marriages, raised children, and worked in careers that have brought them a sense of fulfillment, know the amount of grit and perseverance that takes, Dr. Stein says. “Instead of coddling, a good parent advises their children to tough it out,” she says.
Advice to forget: You’re nothing without me
For some parents, their children become their identity and they strive to keep control of them long after the kids have become adults. “Be wary of advice that discourages you from maturing and developing into a capable adult,” Dr. Stein says. “These parents retain a tight hold on their children through intimidation veiled as advice (‘You’re not smart enough to make it out there, you need to live at home’) or through helicoptering disguised as guidance (‘I’ll accompany you to the job interview and we can discuss whether you should take the job afterward’),” she explains. This is why it’s so important to know these 31 relationship habits that seem loving but are actually dangerous.
Advice to keep: Friends come and go
From childhood to adulthood, people experience many different stages, and with that comes the chance of both gaining and losing significant relationships with others — a perspective your parents are well-equipped to share with you, says Jacob Kountz, AMFT, a marriage and family therapist at Kern Wellness Counseling. “This doesn’t mean to always be in mental preparation to lose whatever friend you make, but a reminder to treasure the moments you have with them now,” he explains “And, if those friendships do fade, this reminds you to take the good you’ve learned from them and move on without beating yourself up.”
Advice to forget: It’s all about who you know
At first glance, this oft-repeated bit of advice may seem sound and if it leads you to make more authentic relationships then it is good. However, too many people take this advice to mean only making friends for the purpose of using them, Kountz says. “The truth is it’s not all about who you know, but rather how you treat them,” he explains. “This highlights the importance of not only making a good impression, but it’s also possible to make a genuine friend or two when you seek social relationships for more than just personal use.”
Advice to keep: If you fall down, just keep getting back up
Fear of failure paralyzes many people, preventing them from achieving their goals. However, a good parent can help you realize when you’re caught in the pattern of anxiety and inaction, reminding you that failure isn’t just inevitable, it’s essential for growth, Kountz says. “Your parents can help you by sharing some of their toughest times and how they struggled through them and succeeded,” he says.
Advice to forget: Do as I say, not as I do
It’s an all-too-common image: A father drinking a cocktail while telling his child to never lay a hand on the bottle. Parents may think they’re telling you to learn from their mistakes but unfortunately what they’re really teaching is that it’s okay to be a hypocrite, Kountz says. This advice can be turned around for good if the parent is willing to examine their bad behavior and be honest about the consequences, having an ongoing discussion with their child, he adds.