February 7, 2010 in Features

Rules of conduct too much to ask

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: My wife shares my views of the extreme difficulty, on a few fronts, of her mother’s extended visits to our home. My wife is amenable to discussions with her mom, but fears we may be expecting too much from her – a 60-year-old woman whom we both agree is a very unusual combination of neutral congeniality and stone-quiet stoicism.

After several regular, extended visits by her during the past three years, I am proposing this type of a conversation with Grandma:

“Grandma, my wife and I love your eight-week visits from overseas to help us with the baby. Our home is your home, and it will always be your home.

“Now that our daughter is 1, we’d love to ask of you a few things during your stay:

“Please don’t always, constantly and incessantly use baby talk with the baby. She is learning quickly and needs to hear thoughtful adult voices.

“Please don’t monopolize the baby. We know you take great care of her; just share her with us when we are home.

“Please be a presence in our home. Speak to us, share your thoughts, reach out to us, try and do your part to fill our home with conversation, emotion and stimulation. This is the environment we seek for your grandchild.

“Make yourself at home. When we have company, please join us. Sit with us as we welcome others into our home. When asked your wishes, please try to express them. We realize you try not to be a burden, but you create a lot of effort for us when we have no idea of your tastes, wishes or desires. We know this isn’t what you intend. Please feel most welcome to participate in all ways while you are staying with us.”

It’s way too much, isn’t it? – Va.

Way.

Your requests, if fulfilled, would create your idea of the perfect Grandma and houseguest – and if actually expressed to Grandma, would likely be both insulting and futile. She is who she is. Whatever requests you make in this conversation have to have the basic facts of her personality as their foundation.

So. “We love your visits, and our home is your home”? Yes. Nice sentiments.

“Do not use baby talk”? No, no, no. She can be the Grandma she wants to be, within the very wide boundaries of the baby’s safety and health. Your daughter will learn language from countless sources, particularly you and your wife. One gah-googler won’t spike her chances at Harvard.

“Please don’t monopolize the baby”? Yes, but not as part of the sit-down. Fight that war one monopolized moment at a time (“Here, let me take her now, thanks”), lest you activate her defenses for little practical good. See “She is who she is” above.

“Please share your thoughts,” etc.? Pass. Unwinnable battle. See “She is who she is” above.

“Please join us when we have company”? When you have company, invite her to join you. Each time, every time, warmly.

She’s an adult and her preferences warrant respect, and that includes her preference for not expressing preferences. Create an inclusive environment, encourage the choices you prefer that she’d make, then respect the choices she does make. What a great example for your child.

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