How To Give Advice


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

Related Post Roulette

44 Responses

  1. I’ve seen a few episodes, and agree that the show itself is worthwhile. Usually most people come out looking very different but ultimately human and sympathetic when judged in the right light. But I remember one husband was just an awful, snobby prick when he was paired with a rural, unglamorous woman. He totally refused to abide by her rules even when he was supposed to, and spent a lot of time hiding out at the gym.

    Anyhow, this was a great post. In my own profession, I have a particular way of offering advice, which is usually coached from the get-go with “this is how I would recommend you do things if X is your goal.” (This is with regard to fraught things where families often vary greatly in their values, like sleep training or issues with picky eaters.) I recommend sleep training pretty aggressively, which doesn’t fly with a lot of parents. And when they tell me their value is on being present to comfort their child and they’d rather have him in their bed until he leaves it, then I say that’s their choice and my usual approach probably won’t appeal to them.

    Advice is only as good as its application, and if I know the application won’t ever come to pass I don’t waste a lot of time exercising my jaw.Report

  2. Dina says:

    I really like this post…maybe because I don’t know if I ever thought about it in that way before.

    We all (or most of us) want the same things in a VERY general sense; but not always in a more specific sense.

    So…yes, it’s a good idea to understand what people want before giving out advice. This is especially the case when dealing with parenting and education.

    I think sometimes though people give advice not because they truly want to help a fellow human being; but because it gives them an excuse to talk about themselves and their experiences. In that case, they probably don’t care about the goal of the other person; and won’t seek out the information.

    But when people truly do feel compassionate and want to help; taking the time to determine goals would be helpful.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Dina says:

      Your point re: people wanting to talk about their own experiences is a great one.

      And while I focused on advice, I think identifying goals doesn’t happen often enough. We really need to define the terms of conversation. For instance, in any conversation about “healthy living”, don’t we need to define what we mean by healthy?Report

  3. Michelle says:

    Because I knew you were going to be writing about this show, I actually watched a couple episodes on Lifetime this week. I was prepared to hate it, but found it pretty fascinating instead. The pairing of opposites is definitely what made it interesting. One show featured a a motorcycle mama and her brood paired with an uptight housewife whose kids were scheduled for every activity under the sun. Motorcycle mama, who was pretty smart, made far more inroads with uptight housewife’s family. Dad ended up buying dirt bikes for himself and the kids and loosening uptight housewife’s death grip on the kids’ schedules.

    In our family, The Russian and I had quite different opinions on child-rearing. He’s much of the the “let them do their own thing and don’t do anything to make them unhappy, heaven forbid” school of thought, whereas I think freedom needs to be balanced by responsibility, rules, and consequences. As the evil stepmom, my opinions lost out. I hate to think of the arguments we might have had if we’d had any kids of our own. Fortunately, there are far fewer consequences to spoiling cats.Report

    • Kim in reply to Michelle says:

      My husband is of the opinion that we should not have kids.
      When asked, his reasons vary.
      But I think he’d be more of the… “experimental” sort.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Michelle says:

      Wahoo! I’m glad that all my whining about my forthcoming “Wife Swap” opus had some effect!

      But whatever you do, do NOT watch “Celebrity Wife Swap”. That is every bit as awful as it sounds… and then worse. A recent episode featured Andy Dick, his wife, and his girlfriend (yes, you read that correctly).

      While I tend to focus on the child rearing portion, I have begun to pay more attention to the gender role piece. That often throws people for a real loop in fascinating ways, many related to the recent LeagueCast.Report

      • Reformed Republican in reply to Kazzy says:

        With the exception of News Radio, Andy Dick is a good reason to avoid just about anything.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Reformed Republican says:

          A friend of mine actually met a (non-famous) guy named “Andy Dick” recently. He had to show her his license for her to believe it.

          I felt bad for that guy, but I guess it’s a conversation-starter.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

            Don’t you just throw in the towel and go by Andrew, Drew, or your middle name or something? Or does he live life like Michael Bolton in “Office Space”?Report

            • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

              I got the impression he’s learned to turn it to his advantage, and this is his bar intro to girls.

              I’m not sure if it’s worth it though.Report

              • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                “I was on News Radio” seems like a great pickup line.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                One of my favorite Hartman line deliveries of all time is the one where boss Jimmy James loses Phil’s character (Bill) in a poker game to a rival media mogul.

                Upon learning of this, Bill pulls his employment contract out of his jacket pocket to see if James can do that (spoiler: he can). And Dave Foley asks Hartman incredulously, “You carry your contract around with you?”

                And Hartman just sort of explodes, “IT DOESN’T SEEM SO CRAZY NOW, DOES IT?!”

                I use that line in my life all the time.Report

              • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                “Coughed up something that looked like escargot this morning. I guess that’s a good sign.”Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    Eleven years old and barely knows how to read? Holy shit. Eleven is just seven years short of legal adulthood. The kids going to have to kind of take care of herself soon and she can’t read? How will she handle college or work? What were her skills be?

    I’m really disinclined to approve of people who use their kids as sociological experiments rather than as people who are going to be an adult sooner than latter. Parents should kind of see it that their kids are able to at least somewhat survive in the real world.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Pretty much – I can accept a parent having strong moral objections to strict discipline and taking the view that kids should be allowed to mold themselves. And there’s definitely something appealing about the notion of not wanting to impose your own beliefs on your child. But beliefs are not knowledge, and if nothing else, a parent’s universal responsibility and obligation to their children is to pass on what they know about the world to their children. A kid can’t figure out how she wants to live in the world if she doesn’t know squat about the world.

      And reading is just about the most fundamental thing that a child needs to be taught if you really want her to figure out for herself how she wants to live in the world, because reading allows her to find out about the rest of the world even if you don’t want to teach her anything else.Report

      • greginak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Do unschoolers really say they don’t want to impose their beliefs on their children? I don’t think much of unschooling but i can see how it might work for a small subset of families. But if a parent said they didn’t want to impose their beliefs on their children then they lack significant understanding to know what a child needs.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:


          As I’ve discussed before, there are a lot of parents (and teachers) who talk about not imposing beliefs on their kids and then do exactly that, just a different set of believes. Ironically, on the episode I’m watching right now (I really can’t get enough of it) a mother who doesn’t accept traditional gender roles is attempting to help a pair of Texas football players to express themselves. How does she do it? By making them paint their rooms pink. The boys rightfully recognize, “I picked green because I like green. I wouldn’t express myself with pink.” This was completely lost on the woman.

          I’m really not all that familiar with the unschooling movement. It is different than home schooling, which typically still has a curriculum and instruction and whatnot. Unschooling (or ‘radical unschooling’ as the family termed it) seemed based on just letting the kids find their way in the world, wandering the woods and playing video games and doing whatever made sense to them. The eldest boy seemed capable of reading, as he was often seen texting with his girlfriend. But the boys in the family all had long hair. Which could have just been them expressing themselves unimposed upon by their parents. Or it could have been part of some sort of counter-culture indoctrination, either implicitly or explicitly.

          As a teacher and a parent, there are certain specific beliefs I wouldn’t want to impose on my children. But there are bigger, more overarching beliefs I do want to impart on them. I want my kids (both students and biological children) to be critical thinkers. Should this lead them to a life of faith… well, that doesn’t mirror my own beliefs, but if it is a decision they arrived at thoughtfully, I’d support them in it.Report

          • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

            K- I understand a mild case of not wanting to push to many beliefs on a child so they can find their own way. But it is impossible for a parent not to give all sorts of beliefs to a child. Even unschooling is a belief that imparts values and context. There is nothing wrong with that. Nobody is raised a jar. We are social creatures. Doing something and not doing something both impart values. That doesn’t imply we shouldn’t give kids choices, in general we should give age appropriate choices. But believing we aren’t wrapping our kids in values is just out there.

            We need to be as conscious as possible about our beliefs and messages to try to grasp what we are imparting on kids. That is about the best we can do. Most people don’t do really want to do this or do it well.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

              I agree 100% percent. This is the response I give when educators, particularly progressive educators (the philosophy I hail from), insist that we shouldn’t impose on children. We absolutely should impose on children. And even the idea that we shouldn’t impose is itself an imposition of a belief system.Report

          • Reformed Republican in reply to Kazzy says:

            Letting kids wander around in the woods and do other unstructured activities is great!. I think that sort of learning is important in raising kids who are confident and able to do things independently. However, there is still a need for structured learning to ensure essentials such as reading and basic math are learned.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Lee and Mark,

      I don’t think the mom realized just how dire the girl’s situation was. It became apparent when the disciplinarian mom wanted her to run the dishwasher and the girl couldn’t figure out what the buttons were (at least, that is how it was presented; it looked to me more like she could sound out the word, but not automatically, which is very weak for a child that age). The mother was moved when she learned this.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        If mom and dad aren’t aware of how dire the situation was then we are dealing with another problem, neglect. Parents should be at least somewhat aware of how and what their kids are doing. Especially if they believe in radical thinks like unschooling. There are limits.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I don’t mean to defend the practice. I’m just trying to provide a bit of context.

          Since the families on the show by definition tend to be at the extremes. I see a ton of behavior I find appalling. This family was no different. As you and others have pointed out, I think these parents were derelict in their duties. They weren’t simply choosing to parent in a different way towards different ends, but largely were opting not to parent. I didn’t go deeper in my criticism of that particular practice because the piece was really just utilizing that particular episode of the show as an avenue to discuss the broader point. But suffice it to say I wanted to shake that particular set of parents.Report

        • greginak in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I worked briefly with a mom who didn’t do any sort of testing on her home schooled kids. I wasn’t sure if it was out of some belief or laziness, but it left the kids at high risk for serious problems when they tried to get into college, which they wanted to do, in a couple of years.

          One of the best questions you can ask people is if they can see the possible negatives or weak points of their theories. If they can’t do that than they are usually shallow thinkers or ideologues. Testing is far from perfect but has good uses.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

            Testing? Or assessing? There are a number of schools that don’t employ testing, at least in the younger grades, because of the difficulties it presents for accurately assessing young kids. I am actually on board with this line of thinking, at least in part. One of the larger charter programs (the name is escaping me) eschews testing all the way up through 12th grade. I have an issue with that, as the vast majority of those kids are going to attend colleges that will require tests of one kind or another. And test taking is a skill that must be practiced and learned.

            Those schools tend to fall into a category I call “Teaching for the world they wish existed, not the world that does exist.” It is fair to point out the weaknesses of testing. It is not okay to call yourself a college preparatory program and not prepare your students for the reality of college, which includes tests.Report

            • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

              I think testing for young kids is not that useful but there needs to be periodic assessment to see where they are at. Test taking is a skill that matches well with college and some work skills. Kids should learn that at some age. I’d probably saying actual testing should start in a late grade school myself, maybe even middle school.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

                To me, the question is not “To test or not to test” but instead “What should we do with these test results?”

                I give my 4-year-olds periodic one-on-one, formal assessments. But I always put these in conversation with other forms of assessment; no one assessment rules the day.

                That is one of my biggest issues with the high-stakes testing push we’re seeing in public schools: they put so much emphasis into a single assessment. They’re not really getting an accurate picture of their students.Report

              • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yeah… i don’t like high stakes testing. Many young people can’t handle that kind of pressure, to much is focused on one type of assessment and to much ends up riding on it.

                What to do with the results? Well they go down on the kids permanent records of course.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

                When I took one of the NY State Certification Exams, a question read something like:
                What is the value of standardized testing?
                A) They tell you how effective the teacher is
                B) They tell you exactly what the student has learned
                C) They give you an idea of how a particular student performed on a particular test on a particular day

                I know that the right answer was C. But I also know they wanted me to say B or, at worst, A. It felt like one of those questions designed to ferret out the free thinkers.

                I put C. Fuck them.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

                Sort of impressive that they even gave you the option, in a low expectations sort of way.

                …Unless, of course, C was the right answer…Report

              • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

                I wouldn’t be surprised if C were the answer you were supposed to pick. It’s an obviously true answer. (I’m assuming this is the type of multiple choice question where you are to select the one “best” answer.)

                It might be appropriate to *infer* the effectiveness of a teacher from a student’s test scores, but a single students scores wouldn’t “tell” you their effectiveness.

                B similarly seems wrong. Answer choices that use the word “exactly” are rarely correct. And as written, the inference that the test score tells you precisely what a student has learned seems suspect. No test can be comprehensive enough to cover everything a student could have learned along the way.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                It struck me as the sort of question that was intended to indoctrinate more than assess. High stakes testing has taken a lot of criticism, though many DoEs stand by them, rejecting the criticism and insisting it is the best method. Presuming this question or others like it were in the study guides (I didn’t use any), it’d be a good way to start to indoctrinate young teachers who might not yet have opinions on the tests.

                Maybe I’m being too cynical though, but the wording was quite strange.Report

  5. T. Greer says:

    It strikes me as uniquely impossible for parents and teachers to not encourage certain values when interacting with their children and/or students. I remember a conversation once with a gentleman who laughed at my Mormon sensibilities and declared that he would never force his values on his children by not allowing them to swear at home.

    He never saw that such a course of action would impress values upon his future children just as deeply as my course would. Just different ones.Report

  6. dhex says:

    the only wife swap i’ve seen are clips on youtube of that crazy religious lady who got paired with some hippie pagans and totally lost it. that seemed more like a (poorly considered) prank.

    unrelated but i wanted to mention mr. kazzy that your posts on early childhood education/development have come in helpful during our search for a school/pre-k program for tiny genghis. thanks bro.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to dhex says:

      I’m glad I could be of help. I’m happy to communicate via email if you’d like any more specific advice. Just say the word. Otherwise, best of luck!Report

  7. dragonfrog says:

    Now I’m pondering what sort of family we’d end up paired with – if TV producers were looking for the most incongruity producing axis along which we could be paired with an opposite. I can think of a few angles, none of them likely to lead to a pleasant couple of weeks…

    And, I’m not sure how if at all the whole thing would change if the show were called “Husband Swap”Report

    • Jaybird in reply to dragonfrog says:

      Footage of new wife: “DEAR! GET UP! DO STUFF UNTIL I AM PACIFIED!!!!”

      Husband interview: I did stuff until she was pacified and then she left me alone. It was different from when my wife yells at me to do stuff because I had to do dishes but I didn’t have to wash the car. I guess that’s okay. I miss the way my old wife yelled at me though. Sometimes we’d have sex if I did a really good job washing the car. I guess this isn’t that kind of show.


    • Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:

      In researching the piece, I learned that FOX had a short-lived competitor called “Trading Spouses”. It is unclear if they traded husbands.

      Unless you take whatever way you structure your family to an extreme, you’d be a poor pick for the show. They need people on the fringes. You can’t just pair an atheist with a religious person. You have to pair someone who runs a subscription-based internet radio show about atheism with a pastor’s wife (real episode). You can’t just pair a family of omnivores with a family of vegetarians. The family of omnivores has to hunt all their meat and the vegetarians have to actually be vegans who only eat uncooked food and the mom attempts to nourish herself with the sun by staring at it every morning (real episode).

      You gotta be in the 10% of something if not the 1% of something. If you’re in the 40-60 range, you’re just too normal.

      If we were paired with someone, the family would have to be one where the wife sleeps on the left side of the bed, which is my domain. And likes to watch the news. And goes to French restaurants. THE HORROR!Report

  8. So I do have a huge question here. How did you wirte 1500 words on Wife Swap without once mentioning Dave Chappelle’s “Trading Spouses” skit?Report