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When the Next Generation Comes to Visit

May 24th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

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!

Mother U Asks: How Has Motherhood Changed You?

May 9th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

“…giving birth to or raising another precious human being changes you as nothing else can.”

In her beautiful Mother’s Day offering,  What Becoming a Mother Can Mean to a Woman, published on Fox News online magazine, psychologist Phyllis Chesler, a distinguished professor of women’s studies and author of thirteen books, recalls the changes in her own life:

Female motherhood is both a sacred undertaking and a sacred experience.  Becoming a mother—giving birth to or raising another precious human being—changes you as nothing else can. You are pitched, head-long and feet-first into a parallel universe, a new way of life, a craft, a passion which tempers and deepens all those who engage in it.

For example, before I became a mother, my ego knew no bounds. I thought I could overcome all obstacles through force of will, not by bending to circumstance, or trusting in forces larger than myself. Becoming a newborn mother changed my life. It humbled me, slowed me down, made me kinder, and infinitely more vulnerable to cruelty.

Mothering a child is an incomparable rite of passage.

So, now that the pancakes have been served in bed, the car washed for you, the garage cleaned out (with your help of course), and it’s back to everyday motherhood, ask yourself, how has motherhood changed you?  Please state your age, so we can see if there’s a difference in the generations.  Of course, we older mothers-turned-grandmas have to dig deeper into our psyches to remember what it was like before children!

Best Advice from an Older Mother…

May 7th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

Psychologist and prolific author Paula J. Caplan, whose Buzz contribution,  “On Each Other’s Side (Instead of at Each Other’s Throats,” was adapted from her 1990 classic Don’t Blame Mother — now out as The New Don’t Blame Mother and a must-read for mothers of any age — also writes Silence Isn’t Golden, a fascinating blog for Psychology Today.  Paula prefaces her May 6 post, Mother’s Day Thoughts: What’s Funny, and What’s Not, with this wonderful story about her own mother.  A kernel of wisdom (in bold) that I had to pass on:

When my book, Don’t Blame Mother, first appeared, a journalist from one of the major women’s magazines called me. For their Mother’s Day issue, they wanted to report “The Best Advice My Mother Ever Gave Me” as told by numerous interviewees. They knew I had just written this book. I replied, “When you said that, a response immediately popped into my head, but could you do me a favor? Before I tell you what it is, I’m just curious to see what my mother would say. Could you please call me back in five minutes?” She agreed.

I called Mother – Tac Karchmer Caplan – and told her what the journalist wanted to know. Her immediate answer: “Don’t wait till you’re old to say what you think.”

“Perfect!” I said. “That’s exactly what came to my mind!” When the journalist called back, I told her what had just happened. I heard her sigh.

She was disappointed. “That’s not really what we were looking for,” she said. “We were looking for things like how to keep mascara from running.” Mother, I like your advice the best! Thank you. And Happy Mother’s Day. (Mother is now 87 and still saying what she thinks.)

Three Generations of Mothers

Happy Mother’s Day to Paula and Tac, to our daughters Emily Caplan Stephenson and Jen, and to mothers and daughters everywhere who are–we hope–doing their best to say what they think!

What About Daughters on Mother’s Day?

May 5th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

My Daughter, the Mountain Climber

I am in Paris (where Fetes de Meres is not until June 7).  This coming Sunday, May 7,  is the first American Mother’s Day (if memory serves me,which it often doesn’t!) that I haven’t been with at least one of my two children.  I suppose I’m fortunate to have had so many other Mother’s Days with them  Or maybe I should consider myself lucky this year.  We all know that it’s just a Hallmark holiday.  And isn’t every day supposed to be Mother’s Day?  Yeah, right.

Cynicism aside, this can be a hard day for mothers and daughters.  Those of us whose mothers have died feel the loss even more acutely.  And some women can’t stand being with their mothers, not even for one day.  But even close mother/daughter duos have “moments.” Who needs the pressure to have a “good” Mother’s Day?  As the family grows and changes, you also step parents and in-laws and all their ideas, potentially making the day more strained than celebratory. Plans bump up against prior traditions: “Mother’s Day has always been at my sister’s house” is met with, “But our family goes to the Pancake House.”

The good news is that any relationship can shift toward a more positive direction.  In her “5 Ways to Strengthen the Bond with Mom”– just published on The Buzz — relationship expert Terry Orbuch directs her advice to daughters.  Here’s a few points we older-generation mothers ought to remember as Mother’s Day approaches.  After all, now it’s their day, too!

1.  Make a gratitude list. Just as Orbach advises daughters not to focus on what Mom does wrong, it’s a good idea for mothers to “take 10 minutes and write down a handful of things you really appreciate” about your daughter, too.  No one is all bad all the time, and humans have an unfortunate tendency to elevate the negatives. Consciously listing the good will help you gain a balanced perspective. And by the way, if you have trouble thinking of what’s she’s “given” you, just look at your grandchildren! Read the rest of this entry »

Mother U featured in “The Wisdom of Grandmas”

May 2nd, 2011 by Melinda Blau

This from writer Beth Meleski, who interviewed a range of grandmothers in northern New Jersey for The Parent Paper and NorthJersey.com:

For many of us, our mothers have been our moral compasses, the ones we turn to for information, knowledge and advice. Now, as parents ourselves, it is suddenly easier to understand how much we need their guidance as we shepherd our children safely into adulthood.
The bond between mothers and their adult children is complicated. On the one hand, our mothers have been there, done that. They have survived the toddler meltdown in the dairy aisle, the 10-year-old who wasn’t invited to the sleepover, the teen who can’t get home by curfew, the senior who is wait-listed at his first choice school. On the other hand, advice from mothers is fraught with our shared history.
Jennifer Blau Martin, a mom and health educator who blogs with her mom, says that when we are new parents, we seek our mother’s advice to bolster our confidence. As our children grow, we trust ourselves more but we still occasionally need help. Jen suggests that our moms are a valuable resource because of their ability to view our plights with a level of objectivity. Additionally, mothers often have areas of expertise that we would do well to tap.
Her mother, Melinda Blau, journalist, author and creator of the website MotherU, (www.motheru.com) agrees. She offers this advice for mothers and children. “Mothers, wait until you are asked to share your advice and once it is given, let it go. Adult children have the right to decide whether to take their mother’s advice and also how and when to implement it.” To parents, Melinda has this to say, “If your mother shares her opinion without invitation, the adult reaction is to ask her to wait until you request her input.” Melinda asserts that seeing each other as a whole person, not just as mother or child, is key.
As Tiger Moms push the boundaries of success and Helicopter Moms monitor their children’s every move, and movies like The Race to Nowhere and Waiting for Superman highlight our children’s collective stress, the advice from our mothers, when they do weigh in, can be helpful….[continue reading the rest of this article here]

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

Why We Need to “Re-vision” Our Mothers

April 25th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

This post was inspired by the newest addition to The Buzz, written by Janice Eidus, author, among other books of The War of the Rosens and The Last Jewish Virgin.  Janice and I met each other through Facebook, and when she passed through my town recently to do a reading, we finally met in person.  Being mothers, we both talked about our children and our mothers.  I suggested she write something for Mother U–perhaps exploring how the mother/daughter theme works its way into her novels.  Little did I realize that Janice’s piece, My Mother/My Writing: Turning Childhood Memories Into Fiction, would evoke memories of my own childhood.  “We had the same mother,” I quipped in an email to her.  Well, not exactly, but close enough to bring back memories–and some regrets.

My first grandson was only four months old when my daughter and I first began discussing the “motherhood union.”  Jen actually came up with the term, when I said to her, “It’s like we’re in the same club now.”

It’s easy for me to think of Jen and I as part of the motherhood union.  Not so my mother and me.  It’s not that we had a contentious relationship–the screaming in our family was delegated to my eleven years older (and very protective) sister.   At first it was simply that I didn’t know my mother.  A former teacher who now was the lady of the house, she was considered “old”–35–when she had me, her third child. (She had lost a baby after my brother, nine when I was born, and often reminded me that I was her “change of life” baby, her “surprise.”)  Everyone was out of the house when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time alone or with “the help.”   My mother was always busy, shopping, volunteering and, mostly, putting out elaborate spreads when “the girls”  came over to play mah-jong or canasta.   Then there were the times she’d take to her bed, claiming another “sinus headache,” which, looking back, was depression.

I wasn’t angry as a child–maybe a little sad, but I didn’t feel deprived.  It was the only kind of mothering I knew.  By the time I was a teenager, I had developed great people skills.  I was a kid other kids’ mothers loved.   It got me places.  Still does.

Cut to a week before my wedding.  One of “the girls” called my mother to tell her that my father had been having an affair with Shirley–a buxom redhead (think Jessica Rabbit) who lived across the street and just happened to be my mother’s best friend.  Although I saw his behavior as reprehensible–and felt guilty because even I had known about Shirley–it was my mother who turned their divorce into public spectacle.  She’d rant about my father to anyone who’d listen.  At one point, she aired her complaints on national television, to the delight of host Alan Burke who loved stories of sex, sleaze, and sensationalism.   I saw as little of her as I could.  I had my own marriage to worry about.

Even after Jen was born, I bristled at every visit.  I hated that sometimes she’d just show up, asking if she could take the baby for a walk.   Then, as Jen got older, it was lunch.  Then, it was for an afternoon at her apartment.  But slowly, as she and Jen developed a relationship that had nothing to do with me, I began to soften, seeing a side of my mother I’d never have imagined.  Read the rest of this entry »

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

February 26th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

“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. Read the rest of this entry »

Surfing with the Kids: 6 Surprising Benefits

January 12th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

For the record, let’s stipulate that there’s a lot of worthless, if not downright offensive, material online and that some who lurk in cyberspace have less than honorable intentions. Let’s agree, too, that some of us are smitten, perhaps too much, by our tech toys. Accordingly, MIT professor Sherry Turkle warns us in her new, must-read book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other, we ought to consider the “price” of our “enchantment” with technology.  (Read an excerpt here.)

But as Turkle is quick to remind us, the Internet isn’t going anywhere. It will continue to change everything from our relationships to our professions to the way we think about life. The question of how it will change us, though, is up to us. Howard Rheingold, the man who coined the terms “virtual communities” and “smart mobs” and has had a front-row seat on the unfolding drama of the Internet, puts it this way:

Will our grandchildren grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?… the humanity or toxicity of next year’s digital culture depends to a very large degree on what we know, learn, and teach each other.

Call me an optimist, but I think we can seize the digital future-ironically by joining forces and sharing the experience with digital natives–children and teens who have grown up with the Net (if not your own, a friend’s or neighbors’ kid!). This might seem counterintuitive. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s In Your Family’s Digital Future?

January 10th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

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… Read the rest of this entry »