Dear Luv Doc,
My girlfriend is a divorced mother with two amazing daughters that I adore. Because we are not married, I am always very careful not to offer up unwanted parenting advice. Overall, she has done a great job raising them without a lot of help from her ex. He has custody two days a week and helps her financially. I have met him and he doesn’t seem like a bad guy, just more of a mismatch. They were really young when they got married and he was, by his own admission, very immature. He now has a decent job and a nice girlfriend and seems to be doing okay, but judging by the way my girlfriend talks about him to her daughters, you would think he is a terrible dad. I know my girlfriend probably saw him at his worst, but he really seems to have matured and turned his life around. I am worried that by constantly criticizing their father without reason she will eventually alienate her daughters. My parents went through an ugly divorce and it made me resent them both for a long time. I don’t think it’s healthy for her daughters to feel like she is being unfair to their father, but I also don’t think it’s my place to say anything to her about it. What do you think? Should I speak my mind or just stay quiet and hope for the best?
– Don’t Call Me Daddy
First of all, I think your heart is in the right place. You aren’t pretending that you’re some sort of parenting expert; you’re just saying that in your personal experience your girlfriend’s unwarranted criticism of her ex may have an unwanted effect on her daughters. That’s legit. I also appreciate your concern about not wanting to give unwanted parenting advice. Your instincts are spot on. As someone who regularly gives advice, I can safely say that most people aren’t looking for advice so much as a ratification of their preexisting beliefs, even if those preexisting beliefs are absolute garbage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. People have been ignoring my opinion since I was old enough to even form one. That doesn’t stop me from fully indulging in the fantasy that people actually care what I think. In fact, I would argue that much of the progress of humankind can be credited to people who ignored being ignored.
Wait … am I saying the progress of humankind is the result of tenacious ignorance? No wonder nobody takes my advice. I am clearly a babbling idiot.
However, even a babbling idiot knows that offering up unwanted parenting advice is a little like playing Russian roulette. Why? Because even though they spend an enormous amount of time and effort trying to prove otherwise, parents are fucking crazy – like an ugly guy with a smoking hot girlfriend, or maybe Smeagol and his “precious.” They are absolutely terrified they are going to lose – or worse yet, ruin – the thing they hold dearest, and the thing that they hold dearest is what they believe to be a miniature version of themselves. Therefore, they are constantly trying to convince that highly skeptical miniature version of themselves that they are sane and know what it means to be a decent, thoughtful, intelligent human being.
Adding fuel to that insanity is the fact that the most horrible human beings are the ones most convinced that they know how to parent the perfect child. Don’t believe me? Exhibit A: Donald Trump Jr. – literally the last guy on Earth anyone would ever want to find themselves next to in the backseat of an UberXL. You think Don Senior ever took even a shallow dive into the oeuvre of Benjamin Spock? Of course not, and that is precisely the problem with parenting as a whole: Even a complete fucking moron can ace the entrance exam.
So, if you think the average person is going to trust another average person’s opinions on how to raise their child, think again. You’d be equally successful offering them advice on how to masturbate, but here’s the deal: That doesn’t mean advice on how to masturbate isn’t going to be useful. Truthfully, if you’re going to excel at something, that wouldn’t be a bad choice. Similarly, just because your parenting advice is unwanted doesn’t mean it won’t be useful. In my very humble opinion, the more you know about masturbation and parenting, the better off you are. Confidence is sexy, but competence is even sexier.
So, as gently as you can (maybe start with an inept parable that completely misses the mark), tell your girlfriend that your parents’ criticism of each other undermined your relationship with them and that you’re worried that her criticism of her ex might have the same effect on her daughters. Once you’ve delivered that opinion, shut up and take your beating like a good boyfriend. She’ll respect you for it in the end, probably.