Friday, January 25, 2013

10 Things to Remember When Giving Advice

I get multiple messages a week from preemie parents asking for advice. I don't mind it at all. I remember when we first had Jack and I was desperately scouring the internet for stories of other micro preemies. I needed to hear, to see, how kids like Jack were doing. Chances are if you've had a preemie, you did the same thing. And then a year or so later, a curious thing happens. Tables turn and instead of you asking the questions, you become the answer.

I'm a believer that we are all each others biggest support system. Who knows this life better than we do? Who can we trust more than each other? Unfortunately, I've seen and heard of some very bad advice given to preemie parents. Heck, we've been given bad advice so many times, I can't even count! Here's my personal top 10 Things to Remember When Giving Advice. Hopefully we can all continue to learn from each other and give the best advice possible. We are in this together! 

1) Each preemie is different.

- Just because someone has a 23 weeker, it doesn't mean they will be exactly like Jack. Their struggles and triumphs may be totally different. I need to remember this when giving advice. When someone asks if Jack went through a specific type of therapy, I can give my honest and best advice based on our own experience. But always, always, give the caveat that each preemie is unique. Just because something worked for Jack, doesn't automatically mean it will work for another child. And vice versa. Just because something didn't work for Jack, doesn't mean it couldn't work for someone else. Keep this in mind when someone asks you about specific treatments, therapy techniques, and the like. 

2) Honesty is the best policy.

-From my own experience, I don't want things sugar coated. I want real. I want genuine. I want to come fully prepared to handle any situation that may arise when it comes to Jack. Doctors are very good (almost too good, sometimes) with giving non-sugar coated advice. We need to hear the reality of the situation in order to make the best decisions. Yes, it may hurt our hearts like nothing else in this life to honestly hear things. But we need to know. When I give advice to other preemie parents, I try to honestly portray the reality that comes along with having a micro preemie. But! I try not to scare them away. I let them know that no matter how hard things might be, they can do it and they are strong enough.

3) Giving advice is tricky.

-Sometimes the answer to someone's question is more negative than positive. It's natural human nature to want positive news and people come to us usually seeking the positive. But the preemie reality is that it may get worse before it gets better. It may get MUCH worse. You have to weigh the positive and the negative. After I honestly answer, I always choose to end with the positive. With the hopeful. With saying that I am praying for them (because I am). If someone takes the time to reach out to me, I take the time to respond with thoughtful advice. 

4) What would have been helpful for you to hear?

-I always, always think back to where we were a couple years ago. I think about what advice was helpful for us to hear. I think about what things made a difference and what things were not useful. There are some things better left unsaid. We heard a lot of those. I only want to give solicited advice that will be useful, not hurtful. 

5) Don't know? Pass along.

-There are times when I get questions that I have no answer to. Whether the situation wasn't in our own experience or I don't feel confident enough in the answer, I send them to someone else. Pass along those people asking for advice to someone who knows, who has had more experience.

6) Avoid lame cliches.

-Please, please avoid these. Don't say things like "it could be worse" or "just be thankful she is alive" or "I'll pray for you" (If you don't really intend to pray!). In my opinion, it's better to have a genuine discussion, cliche free, that allows genuine feelings and thoughts to come out.

7) Don't judge.

This is such a hard one. Things in the NICU are not black and white. There are a million decisions happening all at once and when someone comes to you for advice, they are not wanting to be judged or made to feel bad. Specifically, the decisions going into a preemie being taken off life support are incredibly complex and immense. Yes, you can give your own miraculous story, but again, all preemies are different. Tread lightly. 

8) Don't promise things.

-Don't say things like "your baby is going to make it!" or "they will be just fine!" We don't know this. But there is one thing we do know about life in the NICU. There is death and there is life. It's all happening there and we cannot promise things to others just to make them feel better. Likewise, many micro preemies have life-long struggles. We can't promise that this won't happen. What we can say is "be strong!" and "we are thinking about you." We can let someone know how amazed we are at how well they are doing. We can marvel at the beauty of their tiny preemie. We can cheer them on when they post good news. But we can't promise easy. We can't promise all things good. 

9) One kind word can change someone's entire day. 

-Truth, people! Be kind. Tell someone what a good mama they are. Tell them you are so proud of them. Brighten their day with a kind word. 

10) Sometimes people just need to rant.  

-There, I said it. Sometimes people will come to you for "advice" but what they really want to do is vent. And that is totally OK. Let them vent and feel good knowing that they trust you enough to come to you with their emotions and issues. Who understands more than another preemie parents how incredibly frustrating this whole experience can be? 

What would you add?

This post was originally published in May of 2012 and is being posted again as part of our Flashback Friday series. 
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Mandy Gramkow said...

Love this! Can I link this up on my blog?

Jessi said...

Thank you! Yes, you can definitely link or share.

Becky said...

Very good. You covered everything I can think of. Thank you for helping us in our micro preemie journey.

Amy Sullivan said...

So I was just clicking over from a comment you left at my place, and I saw your blog "You Don't Know Jack" and read that you were shopping for agents.

Tell, tell.

Jessi said...

@Amy - yes, that would be for my husband's book about Jack! He is still looking and waiting for the right fit.

Buckany said...

I think this is the most complete post I have ever read about the secret society we called the NICU. Our little girl was born at 26.2 and life as we know it was forever changed. Thank you for taking the time to put out the truth I so wish this would have been around when Mayce was born.

Jackie said...

Great post and advice! :)