I strongly advise you to stop giving me advice!
September 28, 2014 11:43 PM   Subscribe

Please help me come up with some polite but firm ways of asking my father to stop giving me nearly constant unsolicited advice. I see him so rarely as we live in different countries, and I don't want the rest of his visit to be ruined.

My father is staying with us at the moment and will be here for another week. For the most part we get along well but he has always driven me crazy being a know-it-all and giving unsolicited advice. For some reason he has ramped it up a notch this visit, perhaps because we've moved house. Our new home is like a blank canvas for his advice.

I would say he is giving me approximately ten pieces of unsolicited advice a day. And it isn't like he just brings it up once and let's it drop. He pushes and pushes and says "you really should do this" and "well, I think you're making a big mistake if you don't do that". I've tried with all the phrases like "I'll consider it" and "that's an interesting suggestion" but unless I say "that is an amazing idea I will implement it immediately" he isn't satisfied. Even if I do say that, he'll just keep repeating what a great idea it was of his and how he has helped so many people with his amazing advice. I've tried telling him that the advice is driving me crazy but he just advises me not to be so sensitive!

We are getting into arguments over stupid things, now. For example, we have a stick blender that I use to make smoothies. He insists that I should get a regular pitcher-type blender because the stick blender leaves visible bits of blueberry skin in his smoothies. He wants to go out and buy me a real blender to prove his point and he keeps going on about it. I don't want a damn blender but have gone so far as to google photos of blueberry smoothies to see whether they all have blueberry skin visible. They do! I felt victorious! Then I felt ridiculous and pathetic. I took a deep breath, put on some calming music, and wrote this question.
posted by hazyjane to Human Relations (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just curious, what would have happened had he gone out and bought a real blender? He didn't make you buy it, right? Give him that satisfaction?

Anyway, I am an Indian guy, and one of India's characteristic features is the copious amounts of free advice you constantly receive from elders, neighbors, and just about anyone and everyone. Eventually you just learn to tune it out.

What happens if you say "That is an amazing idea I will implement it immediately" but don't implement it? Does he police you into implementing it right away? Let him repeat what a great idea he thinks his idea is?

Just for another week right? It is one thing if he forces you into somehow obeying him, but if it is just advice, you still retain your free will to decide on it later on right? Maybe you can tell him that yes, his blender is indeed better and that you will buy one by the time he comes to visit you again?

I am not out rightly trying to say "you are being too sensitive, just get over it already" . I absolutely understand it is nerve racking. I am just saying it is your father after all, you could just humor him and make him believe he's right, make him believing your life will become a million times better because you are going to follow his advice soon enough .. and then laugh it away quietly?
posted by the_hard_truth at 11:51 PM on September 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, hard truth. Perhaps I should also add that part of my problem probably comes from the fact that he abandoned me and my sister when we were little and left us to be raised by our alcoholic, mentally ill and abusive mother. Although I have chosen to have a relationship with my father as an adult, I don't feel the respect I would feel for a father who had met his responsibilities towards me. So the "he is your father after all" part of your answer had me thinking "yes, but..." Ok I promise to stop thread sitting now!
posted by hazyjane at 12:01 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

My dad does this to me too and it drives me mental. Luckily we live in the same city and so only spend short amounts of time together.

I think what you want to avoid is doing your nut and having a meltdown because that is where this is heading and the outcome will not likely be a positive one.

Perhaps you can say to your dad, "look, I understand that you are trying to be helpful but it's really grating on my nerves. I don't want to lose my shit and ruin the rest of your stay, but when I say thank you for your advice, please just let it drop."

Unless he takes the very pointed hint, then I'm not sure what other plan of attack you have available, other than ignore it as you have been or just go right ahead and lose your shit.

It's super annoying, you have my sympathies!
posted by Youremyworld at 12:12 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ok, point taken. I take back my "he is your father after all" comment.

In that case, don't ignore out of the goodness of your heart or the love you bear for him. Ignore him as you would a third person. Every time he gives you advice, he isn't the father he should have been, he doesn't deserve to be giving you advice. Lashing out at him might probably only make things worses, so just tell yourself to grin and bear it and count the number of days remaining that you have to put up with it.

Basically, IMHO there's nothing you can do it to make it better for yourself. Anything you do might only worsen the overall situation. You can try be as firm as you possibly can, but based on what you have written the extent of your patience is still not enough for him to mend his ways.

My suggestion is still the same, pretend like you care, pretend like what he says makes a difference, do what you think is right nevertheless.
posted by the_hard_truth at 1:00 AM on September 29, 2014

Best answer: I have a large, loud, overly opinionated extended family and one phrase that comes in handy is "I'll take that under advisement." When one of says that to another one of us, we all know it translates to "seriously shut up oh my god I am capable of doing this my own way leave me alone!" but it sounds extremely civilized. I think it comes from my grandfather, who was always rather calm in the face of all the familial chaos.

Going by your followups, though, and the end text of your original question, it seems like the problem isn't really that he's giving you unsolicited advice. The problem is that every time he does this, you interpret this as him telling you that he doesn't trust you to make decisions or take care of yourself as an adult - and you're resentful because your self doubt stems from his leaving you as a child to be raised by someone else you had bad experiences with, so what place has he got to be telling you how to do anything?!

So you've got a conflict here where he's giving you advice about mundane things because that's one way he expresses affection, and you receive that advice and interpret it as aggression and rejection instead. I mean, he could also be just really self-centered and not be able to understand ways of life outside his own? But in that case I don't see why he'd want to spend so much time with you.

He's there for a whole week more, so you know what? You've got to take some time just for yourself. During that time, make choices that make you feel powerful and grown up and capable. Recharge your self confidence! Then, as others are saying, smile and nod and don't let him make you do anything you don't want to do.

Maybe make some more concrete plans for things to do together that are new experiences for the both of you, so neither of you have pre-existing opinions on how they're done? Like, this is what tourism is for - so you have something to do with your relatives so everybody's too distracted to start fighting about stick vs stand blenders.

Also, start asking him directed questions. Maybe part of his repetition after you say "great idea!" is that he's at a loss for things to talk about because he doesn't know what would hold your interest. Give him conversational opportunities to share himself with you in ways that aren't advice. Ask about his extended family, things he knows, places he's been. It will make him feel good and also give you plenty of topics to switch back to when he starts giving you more unsolicited advice.

You might also deliberately ask him for advice about things that are very abstract that require no actions to be taken on your part right now. "What should I plant in my garden next summer?" "When I'm your age what sort of house should I live in?" "In ten years when I have the savings what country should I visit?" Distract, distract, distract. Then spend time by yourself recharging, then repeat, until he's gone!
posted by Mizu at 1:40 AM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

Keep saying "no". Nothing else, no kind of variation at all. Just "no" to any kind of suggestion, advice or criticism, etc. Wait until he finishes his sentence, look him right in the eye and calmly say "no", every single time. This will likely lead to him asking "but whyyyyyy???" and other such variations on a theme. Continue calmly saying "no".

You might feel a bit weird doing this at first, and he'll likely engage in an extinction burst. You might try imagining a given scenario, with him offering advice and you calmly saying no. Imagine him ramping up his behaviour, and you just calmly saying no.

No is all you can say. You can't help it, it's just how you're programmed. You are now a computer that only spits out "no" to any kind of clicking of mouse buttons or pressing of the keyboard. Imagine your computer. It's playing up, so you try to make it do something. You press the button that usually works, nothing happens. So you press another button, and again nothing happens. You start clicking with the mouse and pressing buttons in ever more complicated variations, and your computer just sits there not doing what you want. No matter what input you give to the computer, you get exactly the same output. By giving your father the same output to his input, every time, you're training him that it doesn't work.

Human beings generally get frustrated when things don't go their way. In my experience, individuals such as your father get frustrated really quickly, because they don't have the mental processes to handle the thing not working. There's only one step in their process - they say "jump", and the other person says "how high?". The next step would be where they'd ask themselves whether or not it was a good idea to speak out. The step after that is dealing with the ramifications of someone saying no. This works out well for you, because you have a simple process to deconstruct.

When he breaks out of his loop, respond enthusiastically to what he's saying. The computer is magically fixed! He's found the correct sequence of keypresses and mouse clicks to get it working again. Hurrah. Then, if he starts in on you again, the computer shuts down. After a few times of doing this, he'll learn that he's losing his fun when he does X, so he should do Y instead.

Also read this.
posted by Solomon at 1:41 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Instead of just "no", try "I like it that way."
"But it leaves bits of blueberry skin in the smoothie!"
"I like it that way."
"But your walls will take longer to dry!"
"I like it that way / I don't mind."
"But it's more expensive!"
"But I like it that way."

It's the only thing that shuts my relatives up because they can't argue with my tastes. "Yeah, sure, your way may be better. But I like it this way."
"But but but!"
posted by Omnomnom at 1:49 AM on September 29, 2014 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Your father does have a point in a way, though. I seriously doubt that you'll get him to stop this habit anytime fast, so you might want to work on not caring so much, instead.

Much of the anger seems to come from the fact that he was a rotten father when you needed him, but now he's trying to ram stupid advice after stupid advice down your throat just so he can feel like a helpful father. So not only did he fail you, he's also making it your job to help him not feel like a failure! He's failing you again

I can't really help you with the anger, but I suspect the secret is to divorce his present obnoxiousness from his past failings. Eventually you want to get to a point where this is just an eyerolley thing he does; whatever.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:27 AM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Dad, can we please not spend all the time of your visit discussing solutions for my living environment? I really want us to have some fun instead." :repeat:
posted by Namlit at 2:38 AM on September 29, 2014

After adding your followup, I have a thought about how to contextualize this in your own head -

Maybe the reason he's trying to give you so much advice all at once now is because he's feeling guilty he wasn't there to help raise you when you were a girl. So the blender thing may not really be about "why don't you do things my way" so much as it's "I'm so sorry I did that to you please let me help you now to make it up to you".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:33 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thinking along the same lines as Empress C, I suspect your dad wants to feel useful and part of your life, and his strategy is advice. At the same time he knows on some level that you don't need him. He left and you survived. But if he can buy you a blender ....

Why do you want him in your life? Identify those things. When he does them, make sure you express your appreciation.
posted by bunderful at 4:57 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

He seems like he wants to have a bonding moment by teaching you something. Is there anything that he knows how to do and takes pride in, that you're genuinely interested in? For example, how to cook a certain dish. I think that if you ask him to teach you how to do a specific thing, he'll get that bonding moment he wants (and that maybe you want?) and maybe will be able to relax with the advice. If he doesn't slow down with the advice-giving afterward, I think that you'll also have more slack to just ask him to stop or that you've got it (without it becoming adversarial or a confrontation or hurtful).
posted by rue72 at 5:17 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Having experienced a similar family history and a recent visit from my own 'sagely' father, I have to agree with empress callipygos. I see this as a way of making up for past wrongs, misguided as the attempt is. My father has gone so far as to buy me a food processor in a strikingly similar circumstance. It's how he shows he loves me. In return, I tell him about it every time I use it (infrequently!). It can be exasperating when he's chiming in for the millionth time on my car loan or my flooring, but for my own sake I try to believe he means well and accept that he is working on repairing some guilt within himself.
posted by Violet Femme at 5:18 AM on September 29, 2014

"I'm really not interested in having a conversation about this right now." Then, if you can, remove yourself from the situation if he continues. This might be tough if he's staying with you, but is it an option for you to have him stay in a hotel? If not this trip, then I hope you consider doing that the next time he visits.
posted by alphanerd at 5:21 AM on September 29, 2014

"I love you, Dad. Please stop giving me advice."
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:32 AM on September 29, 2014

Do you want to really tell him what you're feeling? Would the script look something like this?
You're treating me like a child. You should have done that when I actually was a child. I could have used your advice and support then. But instead you abandoned me. So you missed your chance to give me advice and treat me like a kid, sorry. Too late. I'm a grown up now. Please treat me like a grown up and stop giving me advice or leave.
Is that what you're feeling? Saying it out loud might ruin the rest of the visit, which you say don't want. But it would at least clear the air and maybe get your relationship on a better footing for the next visit.
posted by alms at 5:40 AM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: So the blender thing may not really be about "why don't you do things my way" so much as it's "I'm so sorry I did that to you please let me help you now to make it up to you".

Agreed. But so what. You absolutely, positively, do not have to ease his guilt by accepting a "gift" of a thing you've explicitly said you don't want. All that does is reward him for not bothering to listen to you now.

My kids' father did this to them when they graduated high school. They made it very clear that they didn't want him there, and he showed up anyway. On top of having been absent/shitty when they were children, it's extremely disrespectful of them as adults.

You're an adult. You get to make smoothies however you want to make them. Omnomnom's suggestion is a dispassionate response that reinforces that your choices are your own and have nothing to do with him. So just say "I like the blueberry bits" every time.
posted by headnsouth at 5:57 AM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Why did you have to post this the week my in-laws are visiting?
All these scripts and mantras are great ideas, and I hope will be helpful. Speaking from the front lines, though, all I can say is: hang in there, he's leaving eventually. Sounds like you've been doing a fine job keeping your cool so far, and that's really all we have to do. Sneak in a few comments on how his advice isn't what you need, or how you've made your choices to get the outcome you want, but really, just avoid blowing up at him and all will be well. You say "staying with us", so I'm hoping you've got a support team (partner, spouse, roommate, buddy) that you can retire with at the end of the day, share photos of smoothies full of specks and scream into a pillow, congratulate each other on not pouring blueberry smoothie over his head, and laugh at the whole thing. If not, send me memail and I'll receive as many photos of speckly blueberry smoothies as you need to send.
posted by aimedwander at 6:38 AM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It must be so hurtful to have someone who left you completely on your own insisting that you can't hack it without him. I want to shake him and say "if she needs so much of your help as a grown adult, why the hell did you abandon her when she was just a child!" It must be maddening to experience first hand.

So how to get him to stop? Let's think about why he's doing this. A few possibilities:

--He's trying to deal with the guilt he feels by "making it up" and being extra "helpful", in which case putting him in charge of a Very Important Project might help

--He's a reassuring himself that you need him and won't kick him to the curb, despite you being completely justified in doing so, in which case reassuring him of his importance and permanence in your life might help (ugh).

--He is overindulging the typical parental urge to improve your child's life via nosy interference, in which case eye rolls and "I know, dad, geez" might help

--He's self-centered and bossy, and a tad bit narcissistic, in which case worshipping his advice and treating it as gospel will only change his method of constantly demanding your attention/praise and getting rid of him is the only option


To be clear, I don't think you're obligated to do any of this. I personally would find him another place to stay and then tell him to cut it out, very firmly. If he loses his shit, kick him out.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:44 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a somewhat similar relationship with my father. He didn't leave us, he just relinquished 100% of child rearing to my mother so I have no memories of him as a child or a teenager, at all, even though he's always lived with us. It's not his fault - he was a typical father for where I grew up - but the end result it, there is just no bond. I'd like to feel more but I don't, and that's that. Perhaps it would help you if you had a similar realization and simply stopped caring as much.

On a more practical note, when I feel particularly burdened by our interactions, I simply fill our time together with talk that makes him feel like he participates in my life in some small way. I tend to go on about my work but you can choose any topic that's not too stressful to you. Treat him like you would a toddler - redirect, redirect, redirect.
posted by rada at 7:03 AM on September 29, 2014

My father used to do this. Subtitle it in your mind. Every time he nags you or gives you an unsolicited piece of advice remember what it actually means is "I care about you, I am trying to connect with you. I worry about you, I have learned these things in my life & want to help you." Maybe even a little in your case, "I screwed up & wasn't there for you then, but am trying to be there for you now even if it's in the most annoying way possible it's the only way I can think of." From my limited experience of fathers, expressing emotions can be hard, my father used to show love by either nagging me or trying to fix my problems and I think a lot of men of a certain generation/culture do the same thing. This is a practical way I can "help" and yes it is super annoying, oh so very annoying.

Sometimes a smoothie isn't just a smoothie. You both have unspoken other stuff cluttering up what you are saying to each other, you are still justifiably mad at him, and he's trying to connect/act like he thinks a father acts. I'm not saying either of you is right or wrong, just something to be aware of.

You can go the snippy "I managed fine without you for years." Comeback.

Or if you want to be polite. "That won't be possible over & over." Or just tell him, & next time he says you are being sensitive, own it and say yes, but if you know it hurts me why keep doing it anyway?
posted by wwax at 7:48 AM on September 29, 2014

I see him so rarely as we live in different countries, and I don't want the rest of his visit to be ruined.

Tell him this! It's kind; it says you value his visit.

I was visiting my sister and at one point she said, "I'd rather not hear about so and so right now." This was a topic she just didn't want to think about at the moment. It struck me that we'd all be so much happier if we said stuff like that right upfront. It's harder to say, "I'd rather you stop making suggestions," because it comes across more like personal criticism but I'd say it anyway. At least it beats letting him go on until you can't take it any more.

But also, it sounds like his visits get awfully long, and putting him up in a hotel or meeting him elsewhere/going on a trip together for at least part of it might take some of the pressure off. I always found having my parents in my place really pressurizing.
posted by BibiRose at 8:21 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most of the advice you've been given so far has involved using euphemisms or deflections. Why not try direct communication. It worked with me and my dad.

He was and still is a fount of unsolicited advice and it's further enhanced by his utter conviction that his way of doing something is the best way. It was infuriating and the cause of many huge fights between us.

We eventually had a serious sit down about it and I told him that while I appreciated and respected his opinion on many matters that when he gave me unsolicited advice I often found it condescending, unhelpful and not all what I needed in the circumstance. I assured him that I knew he wasn't trying to be disrespectful of me and that I understood that he gave this advice out of love and concern, but that wasn't how his advice was being received. And then I told him he had to stop and ask me first if I wanted advice before he gave it. And then every time he tried to give me advice, I would stop him and remind him that I hadn't asked for a "special suggestion."

It took some work, but now he mostly asks if he can give me a "special suggestion" before sharing his opinion on matters. And we're able to joke about his compulsive need to advise and help his daughters.

Direct and respectful communication does work. Try it.
posted by brookeb at 8:45 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

It is possible he has a personality disorder and is NOT capable of changing his behavior.
Lots of good advice here, none of which will work if you're dealing with someone who has this defect.
posted by Sophont at 9:00 AM on September 29, 2014

My mother does this, and so does my cousin. It's maddening and it's constant. No subject, item or project can be deemed a success unless you are following their advice 100%.

My favorite example was a discussion of radio stations.

Me: I like the X.
Cousin: I like the oldies station, it's the best one.
Me: Not my thing, but hey, to each his own.
Cousin: But the oldies station is the BEST! I read an article about it. You should listen to the oldies station.
Me: Except that the oldies station plays oldies and the X plays alternative music, which is the music I like.
Cousin: But the oldies station has the best DJs and it's on AM and that article I read said foo and bah and blah...
Me: Uh. Okay.

I mean, really?

Take a deep breath and say, "You have a point, I'll think about it and get back to you."

Also this is an aging narcisist thing. Although most narcisists have been the center of attention since forever, they all need constant reassurance that they're okay. If your dad is feeling redundant or not needed, he'll up the ante on this shit. So go out of your way to ask for his opinion on something and then do it while he's there.

As for the blender. Let him buy it. You can always give it away after he leaves.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:39 AM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So many great answers here. I've used some of them today ("I like it that way" and "I'll take that under advisement") to very good effect, and we are having much more fun together. Also, it felt really good to be listened to and understood on here as that's what had been missing during my father's visit. Thank you.

My father is a narcissist to some extent, but for the most part I think he's just really insecure. He is also definitely trying to make up for he mistakes he made in the past in his own clumsy way. Thinking of it that way helps me have more compassion for him.
posted by hazyjane at 11:10 AM on September 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

When somebody gets fixated on a conversational issue, whether it's advice or fighting (my Mom used to get really dug in), try distraction. Dad, what kind of food did your Mom make? What was your favorite? It works especially well if the person gets to talk about themselves.

Another approach is You are so rightand then say but I just don't want to store a blender. Some people are resistant to change, and you see him seldom, so as much as telling him he's right would aggravate you, just think of it as social lubricant to help with the chafing.
posted by theora55 at 11:14 AM on September 29, 2014

Maybe try rotating in, "Hmm. Tell me more about why you think that." It might flip him out of "You should do..." and into "I think....", which might at least feel less condescending. (It may not work, but it may be worth a shot.) Or you could think of yourself as pretending to be the toddler he's treating you as, asking "Why? Why? Why?" every time he advises something.
posted by jaguar at 11:34 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, brookeb, I wish I had a transcript of that conversation so I could use it for my Dad! To be fair, though, I have to consciously stop myself from giving unsolicited advice to my now-grown children. ("Just bite your tongue, LauraJ, bite your tongue!")
posted by LauraJ at 12:05 PM on September 29, 2014

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