Don't Bite Your Tongue
If you're an American parent, particularly if you're a mother,
you've been hit with two contradictory streams of advice practically
from your baby's arrival. One emphasizes parental involvement in some
cases to the level of competitive sport. If you aren't investing
large amounts of time and money into your child, even well beyond what
has traditionally been considered the beginning of independence, there
is something very wrong with you and your child will reap the
disastrous results. They're reviled as helicopter parents by
practitioners of the other stream who see every developmental
achievement from successful pottying onward as a time for letting go.
If your kid hits the age of maturity and you haven't practically
erased yourself out of his/her life there is something very wrong with
you and your child will reap the disastrous results. Fortunately for
most of us neither side has truth by the horns. Real life is much too
complex for that. That's the wonderfully affirming message of Dr.
Ruth Nemzoff's Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding
Relationships with Your Adult Children.
"...No one set of instructions fits. Parenting is more akin to
looking in the fridge and conjuring a meal from what's in it, than
following a recipe. Parents work with what they have; the child's
temperament and skills inform our behavior. And as in the past, we
need to modify our behaviors to accommodate the changes in our
children, in ourselves, and in the circumstances." That is one of the
most liberating passages I have read since even before my first
pregnancy. Believe me, I've read plenty.
Nemzoff emphasizes that throughout our life span we humans are
social creatures. Connectedness helps us live longer, richer lives.
Who better to affirm a young adult out of the nest than the one who
has been doing so since birth? Who better to help an aging parent
find the grace and still beauty in changing circumstances than one she
loves most dearly? Both generations need each other. In each unique
parent/adult relationship there will a need to be thinking outside the
box, trying to take the other's perspective, and sometimes learning
painful truths about oneself. But if there isn't a partnership more
worthy of this I don't know what it is.
I found three points Nemzoff makes especially helpful. One is
to let go of fantasy and embrace reality. Your child may not marry
and produce those longed for grandchildren. A miliatary parent may
have a peace activist child or vice versa. But if you can't take this
sometimes very difficult step both generations may suffer.
The second is you'll make mistakes no matter how loving and well
intentioned you are. Hell, yes. But you've been making them all
along. Both you and your child have survived. Learn what you can and
keep on keeping on.
The third is that peace isn't always the mark of a good
relationship. It sometimes means a giving up of real and maybe
potentially divisive issues. Ever been to a family gathering where no
one gets beyond the weather or the Red Sox? The people we are the
closest to can hurt us more deeply than anyone else. They can also
make us happier than anyone else. Protecting oneself from the former
can mean depriving ourselves of the latter.
If you're a parent anywhere near or already in this stage of
life or an adult child with living parents Don't Bite Your Tongue is a
very wise investment.
On a personal note, with my kids in grad school, college, and high
school I'm certainly in the demographic I'm writing to today. This
book certainly has raised my spirits and eased my fears.
A great big shout out goes out to those three wonderful kids who I am
so proud and grateful to be mother to.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod