While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On the Myth of the Evil Mother-in-Law: A few years ago I wrote you a letter, which you published, thank you, in defense of mothers-in-law. It irked me that so many young wives and mothers seemed to be perpetuating the evil mother-in-law myth, and believed young women needed to be kinder and gentler and more understanding of their poor mothers-in-laws.
Well, now I am so embarrassed and ashamed of my fellow middle-aged women! I just cannot believe how meddlesome, presumptuous, and whiny some can be, who come to visit and stay too long, who try to drive a wedge between young couples, who think they can dictate how important events should be played out (demanding that a vegetarian bride serve two meat options?!). Middle-aged women, please, take a step back and leave these young folks alone! Let’s let them live their own lives, make their own decisions, and raise our grandchildren the way they deem appropriate. That is their right and privilege. Wouldn’t you have wanted the same from your mother-in-law?
After my daughter had her first baby, I discovered the power of the compliment when I simply said how proud I was of her and her husband for working together on the baby’s diaper changes. She beamed and kind of melted, saying, “Mom, you don’t know how good that makes me feel. There is so much advice on social media, often contradictory opinions. It’s hard to know what to do and what advice to take. But it is so good that you don’t tell me what we’re not doing or how to do things, and just comment on what we are doing right.”
Since then, I do everything I can to comment on the good stuff they do as parents – and there is a lot of that, for sure – and she continues to be extremely grateful. We all want to be helpful as experienced parents, but it’s tricky to know how to do so without being hurtful or overbearing. So, just give honest observations and compliments about what you see them doing right.
On redirecting conversations about dieting and weight: My first day on my new job, my nearest co-worker brought out a salad for lunch and began to talk calories and weight loss and how “bad” she’d been at coffee break. I said, “I can’t really do diet talk because it’s not good for me (eating disorder background, but I didn’t care to talk about that), but your salad looks delicious.” She paused for a second and then said, “You know what? It’s not really good for me, either.” Then we sat there for a second trying to figure out what script we were going to use, before I said, “Are those sugar-snap peas? I love those,” and she said, “Yeah, they’re only frozen, though,” and even though we were talking about food, at least we were talking about what we were eating instead of what we couldn’t eat.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.