While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On becoming likable before you become irrelevant:
I work in an academic setting, and a reader’s description of a stubborn in-law reminded me SO MUCH of some of the emeritus faculty I have worked with. Yes, they are affected by things like hearing loss. But mostly, they are used to holding the floor, to others kowtowing to them. They do not respect the time, calendars or efforts of others. They do not keep up with issues of the moment, and believe their reputations or past contributions should carry enough weight to earn them special treatment until … death. Their long-suffering wives drive them to meetings and copy edit their memoirs for free.
The entitled behavior isn’t new. They’ve always been that way. But now they’ve lost the power/prestige/charisma/life force that required the people around them to tolerate it for decades. They recognize they’re no longer receiving the treatment they’re used to, but don’t realize why, and get annoyed and belligerent and think everyone else has just gotten ruder.
Look — our culture is not friendly to aging. I know this. I’m not saying this is necessarily natural or ideal. We are all going to become irrelevant one day, probably sooner than we’d like. Technology, social progress, changing values and priorities, etc., will move beyond where you or I can or want to keep up.
It WILL happen, though, so learn to get along with others before you reach that point — that’s how you will be remembered, included, respected and loved. That, or make a boatload of money and then you can keep being a glass bowl till you drop.
On feeling overwhelmed by child-rearing:
I was a very difficult baby. I refused to nurse, cried incessantly (I am told) and an aunt had to interrupt her studies to care for me. I wet the bed until about 11 or 12, set fires, had a stutter so bad I could not speak in class until about 13.
My mother had three children by 22. And there were no real options for professionals in their rural community back then. Other family members and a few teachers became my surrogate coaches and mentors.
Today, I am a successful professional, a mentor to others and living a happy life. My parents were wise enough to accept this informal “help,” although it was really hard for my mother in particular. She was embarrassed and felt guilty. But she moved beyond that to accept that I did better with my aunt than in her care. She just kept trying.
Both of my parents had to adapt to a more distributed caregiving model than they wanted. But this distribution of love and caring helped me to become a happier child, and successful adult.
Parenthood is tough duty. We expect and educate managers to coach and mentor. We train soldiers, but not parents.
I was a child neglect and abuse social worker for some years. I learned that parenting can be taught, and families can be “created,” on many models. And that having helpers — aunts, grandparents, therapists, friends, baby sitters — can help any family. Seek professional help. Join a parenting group. Distribute the workload. Taking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.