During our first conversation, it's clear that Lisa Romeo wants a lot of help and guidance in many areas. Her previous diet counselor, she tells me, gave her a few suggestions about diet and exercise but didn't provide the kind of structure she needed. Her academic adviser has provided less attention than she promised. Lisa's father is ill, and doctors have been appallingly uninterested in arranging his care. Lisa is also worried that she's not providing enough high-quality mothering to her two children.
These complaints include an implicit core assumption: People's lives depend on nurturing guidance from authority figures, and if those advisers don't measure up, their underlings are out of luck. This is true—for infants. But Lisa is an adult. In fact she's more competent and intelligent than several of the authority figures in her life. That's why she's so frustrated when they don't perform adequately. I'm a little worried that I'll end up on Lisa's list of failed advisers. I also realize that she doesn't exempt herself from judgment: She's trying to be the ideal mother who protects her own children from all suffering—and she's not meeting her own expectations.