Saturday, September 06, 2008

From Ma to You*

*Simultaneously posted at Blog for Cranial Gunk.

Forty-something years old and my mother still knows which buttons to push to upset me.

At best, I tolerate my parents. My relationships with each has its own conditions. I say this not because I do not love and respect my parents.

I love and respect my parents very much. Especially now, being a parent myself, I appreciate the sacrifices they made to present me with the choices I had in my high school and college years (those formative years when I acknowledged an identity separate from my parents).

I say this because it is true. It is more my mother than my father. My father is pretty much a benign presence in my life. We have little to say to each other and speak only occasionally and sometimes dispense with direct communication entirely; preferring instead to use my sister as a conduit.

My mother on the other hand is aggressive and controlling. While I am sure she has the best intentions, those intentions regardless how sweet are soured by the force with which she drives them down my throat. And it is not enough that you nod in agreement but you must be in complete agreement in method as well as manner. I joke that my mother and I can't spend more than two hours in the same room before we start arguing.

And still I tell my children they are lucky to have three sets of living grandparents (my parents are divorced and both remarried).

I agree with Dr. Ensor (as quoted by Allison Stacy) when she says grandparents provide grandchildren with "love, a sense of their roots and the wisdom of a senior's life experience — all of which can contribute to a happier, healthier life." I am one of those the author points out who asks, "I wish I'd asked my grandparents about that before they died."

However, all the positives that grandparents bring to the lives of my nuclear family (mommy, babies, and me) come at an emotional cost. My mother and I disagree over a number of life and parenting topics. My father and I disagree also but he is not as an aggressive a personality as my mother. My mother is the one that really makes me pay in Tylenol and antacids.

We disagree on a number of life and parenting issues. I insist she is playing favorites with my children. She insists she isn't. She insists I am denying my children a good education by not moving into the suburbs. I insist that the city diverse in culture is a perfect place to raise children. I insist her germ phobia is detrimental to my children and self destructive for her. She insists that she is not germ phobic and that I am dirty and careless with the health and welfare of my children. And so on.

Perhaps it really is as simple as a generation gap. Perhaps we are too much alike and I am too much like my father in all the wrong ways. Perhaps this conflict is inevitable like children rebelling and hating school. Regardless of what the causes are, prolonged interactions with my mother make both her and me miserable.

Dr. Spock (Yes, the Dr. Spock of 40's child development fame), provides a whole section on grandparent-parent-child relationships on his company's web site. Just skimming the advice given, you can correctly conclude that it is not disrespectful to say, No, to your children's grandparents - In fact you have a duty to! And it is important to set boundaries from the beginning.

Just as an interesting Did you know? I found this article by Paul W. Schenk, Psy.D. on how to "Teach Your Parents to Stop Nagging." Though intended for teenagers, I find much of the advice still applicable in my relationship with my parents despite the decades that have passed.

And wonder how well I will fill my mother's role in the lives of my children and their children? Will I be a hoped for poor replacement? Or will I fill the role completely much to the chagrin of my children?


thisislarry said...

We must be brothers. Your relationship with your mom and dad sound like mine.

This makes me appreicate not living in an extended family group, where a new parent would not be able to get away from the well-intentioned but unwelcome advice from other relatives.

To me, this is one of the advantages of being an early-generation Asian American. You have the benefit of being able to tap into another generation and another culture, and yet you have the ability to draw your own limits. True, those limits are sometimes drawn in powdered aspirin, but they exist.

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Melissa said...

I think this topic would strike a chord with a lot of adults. Philosophy and personality clashes feel so much more emotional when they happen between parents and children, I think, than between friends or acquaintances. My little one is only 27 months but I sometimes worry (just in passing, natch) about the great potential for disaster between mothers and their kids. Love is pretty fierce, I guess.

Anyway, maybe you should give your mother a copy of "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk". And then run away quickly. :)

thisislarry said...

ha ha ha, glad I reread this post. my mom was just visiting this last weekend, in the middle of our remodel and wanted to tell my painters to do something differently.

sign, even at 39, I cant get away from mommy thinking she's the only one that can do things right....