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Knowing When To Keep It to Yourself

April 27th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

My dear 89-year-old Aunt Ruth, a wise woman and an elegant lady if there ever was one, has spent her life attracting people.  It’s not just because she’s attractive, which she is, but it’s because she has great social skills.  She knows how to put people at ease, how to talk to them, and, as I was to find out in our many conversations over the last several decades, how to hide her true feelings.

We became close in my midlife, her sixties.  She had lost her daughter to a horrible crime; I had lost my mother to a horrible death from cancer.  It wasn’t that Ruth was a replacement mother, or I a replacement daughter. Rather, you could say we became friends with (family) benefits.  She is my father’s sister, twelve years his junior–the baby in the family, just as I am.   Equally important, she was there–there in my father’s childhood, there when my mother went to summer camp (the girls from both families ironically attended the same one), there when my father and mother dated, there in the early years of my own life, which I can barely remember.   I could tell her anything. She also told me her secrets.  She reminded me often that what one appears may not accurately reflect who that person is inside.  And here she was, this woman whom everyone adored, telling me on more than one occasion that “in the dark of night,” she’d get on “her broomstick.”  Then, and only then, did she dare to say what she really thought.  No one could hear her.  And in the light of day, no one would have guessed.

Reading Barbara Graham’s wonderful contribution to The BuzzThe Other Grandparents–brought to mind Aunt Ruth and her broomstick.    We all harbor secrets in our souls–negative opinions and uncharitable feelings that could wound and, possibly, cause irreparable damage to our loved ones.    Some people might say it’s phony or duplicitous not to express them.  But I don’t think of it that way.   Rather, when we keep our mouths shut, we give ourselves a chance to see the situation–or the person–through fresh eyes.   Knowing you don’t have to give vent to angry or resentful feelings might just allow other–better–feelings to creep in.

For more on the art of collaborative conversation, read my 3-part series on Shareable.net

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4 Responses to “Knowing When To Keep It to Yourself”

  1. Rona Maynard says:

    I love your aunt’s line about “getting on her broomstick.” I have to do just that from time to time, but only in the company of people I trust. One more reason to treasure my friends of all ages: they keep me out of trouble.

  2. Melinda Blau says:

    I know, Rona. I love it, too. It also serves to keep us humble, and to remember that all of us, at time, harbor less-than-generous feelings!

  3. anniek says:

    Thank goodness I have my husband to vent to. We are definitely ‘the other grandparents’. No Pictures of us just her family. She has her parents on a pedestal. I am constantly getting my feelings hurt and constantly biting my tongue. Fortunately, we get to see the grandkids a lot as her parents moved away.

  4. Melinda Blau says:

    Thanks for posting, Other Grandmother. Your comment is perfectly timed, as I am now putting the finishing touches to my next book, “The Baby Whisperer’s Secrets for the Whole Family.” As it happens, I am writing about this very subject.

    First of all, I’m sure you know–and if you don’t, you should: You get the better end of the deal. Would you rather have the honor of your photo on the mantel or the gift of grandkids in your arms? In the end, your grandchildren will decide whom they love. They’ll have separate and different relationships with all four of you! One doesn’t diminish the other.

    And remember, too, it’s the quality of relationship that matters most in a family, so take steps to better your relationship with your DIL. Continue to bite your tongue. Cut her slack, even though she doesn’t do the same for you. It’s understandable to feel slighted and hurt because there are no pictures of you–but have you also tried to put yourself in her shoes? It might help to remind yourself that the photos are reflection of something in her not against you. She’s aware that the kids see more of you than of her parents. Maybe she misses them. Maybe she thinks she owes it to them. Maybe she has issues with them you don’t know about. Maybe the photos give her a sense of leveling the playing field–this way, the children won’t forget them.

    If it’s hard for you to see this situation from her perspective, to not take it personally, and to give her the benefit of the doubt, look into your grandchildren’s eyes. Remember that she’s heir mother. They’ll be happier if you get along than if there’s tension in the household whenever you’re there. And, believe me, they feel what’s happening in the space between their grandma and their mother even when you bite your tongue. So, do it for them. Be the role model.

    One of the “gifts” of aging is that we are better at relationships now. We have the perspective and, research confirms, that our minds and bodies are better at dealing with emotions. You might never adore your DIL, but you can probably muster empathy and respect for her, and maybe–just maybe–find some qualities you’ve so far overlooked!

    And here’s one more thing you can do: Next time you’re with the kids, get someone to take pictures. Pick the best one, frame it, and give it to your DIL as a gift. “I wanted you to have this picture of us with the kids, because everyone looks so good.” Say it–but mean it–as a sharing between two people who love those children. And then let go. This is not about being fake with her. It’s not a way of manipulating her or changing the fact that her parents pictures predominate. It’s just a nice gesture that might earn you a bit of real estate on that mantel!

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