Want to instantly drop five points in the eyes of your children or their spouses/partners/co-parents? Just use this simple phrase for immediate results.
They may not stop asking you to babysit or attend family functions, but they will do it with gritted teeth. Nothing like a disparaging comparison between the imperfect world of competing demands that parents struggle through every day, and the all-sunshine-all-the-time vision that you remember so well. Oh, and did I mention the wise and immutable rules that governed your life as a young person?
Here are a few corollaries for you to excise if In my day is not your cup of tea. When I was growing up, in my family, when I was young, offer the same easy deification of a dead time.
Maybe you had a good upbringing, maybe not. But it happened at a very specific time, in a very specific environment. Use comparisons sparingly. In my day, we never ever laid it on too thick.
As parents, we try so hard not to play favorites. Or, if we do, we do our best to hide our little indiscretions. But even when we are being fair, sometimes our kids will still complain that the other person is getting the piece of cake that has the most frosting, or is somehow getting the bigger slice of the pie.
Oh, you thought this would all go away just because your kids were grown up? You hoped that holiday time would be a pure delight, when old hurts flew away on the wings of little doves?
If the holiday is at your house: Who gets the better room? Who chooses the favorite meal? Or, if you are celebrating at the home of your delightful offspring: Whose house are you going to? How long are you staying? And the spooling out of it all, expressed or implied: Which grandchildren do you really love better?
My mother-in-law, at 98, musters her remaining mental capacities to address the sibling rivalry of her gray-haired children. She insists, as if no one had heard this script before, on doling out equal pieces of the (in her case theoretical) pie.
My friend whose children are only showing the first signs of gray has decided to make her own stand this holiday season. After years of bickering among her offspring about how many nights Grandma spends with each one, she has decided that this year, she will just put her feet up on her own footstool and stay happily at home.
The argument that post-menopausal women help to produce more offspring has been around for long time. But a study of 18th and 19th century Finnish and Canadian farm families (stable populations with excellent record-keeping) puts numbers behind this aren’t we helpful idea.
Women whose mothers were alive began having children 2.4 years earlier than women whose mothers had died. (Was this because their mothers were nagging them about getting married? The records don’t say.)
Both men and women who had a post-reproductive mother living with them, produced more children and experienced fewer childhood mortalities. Interestingly, this difference in childhood mortality connected to Grandma’s presence only kicks in after the age of two, which implies that, for the first two years, a child is the responsibility of its mother.
It also helps more if Grandma is relatively young. “Grandchild survival to adulthood is enhanced by 12% when grandmothers are under 60 at their birth, but by only 3% when grandmothers are over this age.”
It starts as advice to the mother-of-the-groom: wear beige and keep your mouth shut.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you have a tendency to spew unsolicited opinions and pronouncements, and if beige is your color. Lesson one: this is not your wedding.
It continues as a grandmotherly truth universally acknowledged: Do not give guidance of any kind. Butt out. Say nothing. Hold your tongue. Lesson two: this is not your baby; not your family.
But could anything so uni-dimensional tell the whole story?
Let’s assume that, after all these years, you have some modicum of self knowledge, an ability to read a situation, modulate your behavior. You might just notice that, although this is not your nuclear family, it is your extended family. And the poor beleaguered new parents (and hopefully they become somewhat less-beleagured as time goes on) are wolfing down mommy blogs, parenting books, and parenting get-togethers both in person and online. They are looking for advice. They are aching to commiserate. They are hungry for ideas, inspiration….on subjects which you know only too well.
If you are a controlling person who does not get along with your children, go back to the part of this column that talks about wearing beige and saying nothing. Stop there. But if you have some distance, if you have some control of your actions, remember that you have the perspective and the memory that is not available to parents who are in the thick of it.
Luckily you are available to them. But only in limited doses. Just because you can open your mouth does not mean that you should not shut it as well.