Image 01

Archive for the ‘family dynamics’ Category

When the Next Generation Comes to Visit

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Miami, 2011

With summer around the corner, the prospect of inter-generational house-sharing increases. So journalism professor Mary Quigly, founder of Mothering21–a site about “raising” older children (read adult children)–asked readers to share their experiences. Mary, who is not yet a grandma, recalls visiting her own mother’s pristine condo in Florida, usually without incident–except for the time one of her children spilled a cherry Slurpee on Mother’s precious pale blue carpet:

My husband and I  got most of it out after scrubbing with numerous chemicals.  Before leaving to go home, we  cleaned the apartment so spotlessly that on her next visit my mother never noticed the slight discoloration on the rug. I saw it though every time I opened the front door!

Now the shoe is on the other foot and we Boomers are the ones protecting our homes from sticky fingers and Slurpees.  Here’s the piece (in the interest of full disclosure, she quotes me in it!), which has familiar themes and good advice for daughters.   (The rest of the site is well worth a read, too.)

Now how about some responses from daughters who host their mothers about what it takes to be a good older-generation house guest? (Jen? Anyone?)   Ironically, after writing the above post, I remembered that I had, in fact, written such an article for the New York Times in 1979–Jen was 10 and Jeremy 7: “When Children Are House Guest for a Weekend.”  The advice holds up!

Knowing When To Keep It to Yourself

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

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

Consulting Grandma: How to Make the Most of An Often-Wasted Resource

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

“What do I know?” said a master family therapist in mock self-deprecation,  “I’m just the grandmother!”  One of her grandchildren had a learning disability, which she–a well-known and respected professional–knew a great deal about, both professionally and personally, because she had also raised a son who had an LD.  She now saw similar signs in her grandson. “But they don’t ask my opinion,” she said of her older son and daughter-in-law,” so I don’t offer.”

Many modern grandmas find themselves in similar positions.

New-Style Grandmas

Old-Style Grandma

Grandma was once a kindly lady whose “career” was motherhood, and as the children left the nest, her life grew increasingly smaller.  Not so the current crop of grandmothers, many of whom have adult children and PhD’s. Gail Sheehey calls them “fly-in” grandmothers.  They’re constantly on the run, now juggling their multiple interests and responsibilities with randmotherhood.  The irony is that strangers consult them, but their grown children don’t.

What a shame–and what a wasted resource. Whether you’re dealing with a learning disability, an eating disorder, or some other type of parenting issue, your mother might have invaluable information both as a mother and as a professional. So here are some guidelines for both generations that might help. (more…)

What’s In Your Family’s Digital Future?

Monday, January 10th, 2011

My daughter signed up my oldest grandson, eight, for his first gmail account. Within a few hours he had figured out how to sign on his little brother, who turned five last June. He already knows how to check his email on his mother’s iTouch.   This didn’t happen out of nowhere.  When he was three or four, he learned how to read the word “START” by logging on to his Webkinz account, and now he and his younger brother frequent Club Penguin where they can “waddle around and meet new friends.”   It’s social media with training wheels.

What’s happening in my daughter’s house is happening almost everywhere.   I hear other women talk about following their (older) grandchildren on Facebook, keeping in touch via Skype, learning how to text because a teenage grandchild thinks emails are lame.

Undoubtedly, a lot of good will come from our digital connectedness.   Perhaps technology can help build better intergenerational relationships.  We can relate to our grandkids without always having to go through their parents.  We’ll learn more details and more nuanced information about our grandchildren than our grandparents ever knew about us–who their friends are,  their likes and dislikes.   Even when it’s hard or impossible to see each other, we have ways of staying in touch.  And who knows?  Maybe they’ll think we’re hip (or whatever word they use now) because we didn’t get stuck in the Industrial Age!

All to the good, but even scientists who study the effects of the Internet don’t know where all this connection and conversation will eventually take us.  In her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Teachnology and Less from Each Other, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who has been pondering these questions for the last 15 years, notes that we’re only at “the beginning.”  She raises some important issues about computer-mediated communications, among them… (more…)

Remembering Mom in the New Year

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

L’shana tova–Happy New Year.  Even if you’re not Jewish, fall is a reminder of the cycles of life and of milestones. Each new school year is, in fact, a “new” year. You look at your children or grandchildren with fresh eyes as they trot off to school. There’s no denying the passage of time.

For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, the fall can bring sadness as well.   In the last 37 years, I can’t count the times have I said to myself, I wish my mother were here to see…Jen walk down the aisle,  Jen becoming a mother, my eldest grandson reading, his little brother going off to kindergarten, and the littlest one lurching across the floor like Frankenstein as he takes his first tentative steps and falls into my arms.   I want to believe that she still “sees” us, but my heart aches nonetheless.   Earlier today, as I sprinkled salt, garlic, onion power, pepper, and paprika on a five-pound slab of raw meat–brisket, vot den?–my mother was with me.

That’s the theme of our newest offering on The Buzz, a sweet piece by Esther Mizrachi Moritz, Keeping My Mother’s Spirit Alive that begins…

Directly after my mother’s funeral in February of 2009, a crowd of people filled my parents’ tiny Brooklyn living room.  I made a beeline for the freezer.  Heart pounding, I opened it, hoping to find some sambusak. I was obsessed with the idea of bringing home my mother’s Middle-Eastern delicacies to my children, Alexis and Jesse, then 13 and 16.

Moritz shares how she’s learned to sustain memories of her colorful mother, a woman of Latin American and Egyptian descent.  We hear often enough that death is part of life, but most of us feel as cheated and alone nonetheless.  I was only 29 when my mother died. Jen was four; Jeremy, only six months at the time, never knew her.   Moritz was 48 and her children considerably older.  But it’s always “too soon” to lose your mother.

When I hear a woman complain about her mother, I often say “At least you still have one!”  So, ladies, whether you’re annoyed about the fact that Mom meddles in your business or that she insists you do things her way or perhaps that you now have to take care of her, take a deep breath.   Try to find some moments to cherish and freeze them in your mind.  I guarantee, you’ll want them one day.

Mother to Daughter: I know more than you realize

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Over the five years we worked together on our three “Baby Whisperer” books, the late Tracy Hogg and I often marveled at the fact that so many modern mothers had stacks of parenting books on their night tables, went to parenting classes, consulted the Internet and various child-rearing sites when they were confused or worried–but overlooked an important, and often better,  resource:  their own mothers.   Some worried that their mother’s advice might be “out of date.”   (Admittedly, we don’t know how to close that damn stroller, but babies haven’t been similarly modernized!)  Others feared that if they turned to their mothers for advice, they would somehow open the door to endless intrusions.  Still others felt as if asking Mom was a sign of their own incompetence.

Of course, mother/daughter collaborations run the gamut, from women who don’t feel they can function without their mothers to those who believe that Mom has nothing to offer.   In “My Mother, the Parenting Expert,” our latest addition to The Buzz, psychologist Mindy Greenstein, author of the upcoming memoir, The House on Crash Corner, was solidly in the latter category when her son was born.  Daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she had spent most of her childhood fending for herself–and struggling to understand her mother and to be understood.  She couldn’t imagine calling on her mother for anything.  But as is often the case when a young woman joins the Motherhood Union, circumstances forced her to take a second look.

New on The Buzz: Need Help with Your Mother/Daughter-in-law?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Whether you love your mother/daughter-in-law to pieces, or you secretly wish she lived in another country, you’ll get some good pointers from this latest addition to the MotherU Buzz, What’s a Mother/Daughter-in-law To Do, written by sociologist Deborah M. Merrill.   The advice is drawn from her book, Mothers-in-law and Daughters-in-law: Understanding the Relationship and What Makes Them Friends or Foe.   Merrill, a daughter-in-law herself, explains that she was drawn to the subject personally as well as professionally:   

There were two things that drew me to this topic. I am a family sociologist, and I think that the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is one of the more fascinating and unique of the various family relationships. This is because you are expected to treat one another like family and assume all of the obligations of an adult child even before you get to know one another and without all of the benefits of family, such as having a shared history.
I was also interested because of my own experiences as a daughter-in-law. We live in a society with a high divorce rate. Like many other women today, I have two mothers-in-law in my life. I have never quite understood why my relationship with my mother-in-law (i.e., my husband’s mother) is so much more difficult than my relationship with my father-in-law and step-mother-in-law. I wanted to hear about other women’s experiences: how they handled the role and how well they got along with their in-laws. I wondered whether or not I was alone in expecting to be a part of my mother-in-law’s family and feeling that I was on the outside looking in on it.

Confession of a Once-Reluctant Grandmother

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

It’s the pose that gets me.  He looks so old.  I can’t even see his face, but I know that’s my first grandson, son of my first born.  When I look at that photo, I see pages of the calendar flying into space, the way they showed the passage of time in old movies.   I remember the Before.  When Jen was pregnant, I was happy, but the idea of becoming a grandmother didn’t please me.  How could it?  I didn’t know what that meant, any more than a preganant women knows what it will mean to be a mother.  All I could think about were the images of kindly, white-haired old ladies, knitting booties, waiting for the next visit.  That’s not me, I thought.  I have a life, a career, places to go, people to see–and I’m certainly not old. I was sure I’d love him or her, but I didn’t really get what all the fuss about grandchildren was about. (more…)