A friend's daughter lives in London. She's gone and married a Britisher and has three sons--all of whom speak with a marked British accent. When she visits and they want their dessert, they ask, "May I have some pudding, please." Christopher Robin, where are you?
But I digress. On her most recent visit to her daughter, my friend, MaryEllen, was asked by the daughter to make her famous lamb dish--famous within the family and a favorite of the daughter's. Off to work went the daughter and son-in-law; off to school, accompanied by the nanny, went the children. There MaryEllen was, alone in a strange kitchen. She didn't know where things were kept but she did know she needed a big pot. So she looked in all the cabinets and finally found a big pot in a high-up cabinet. When she climbed up there to take it down, she noticed there was a lot of dust. Her first thought: Tell her daughter that the once-a-week housekeeper needed to clean up there. And when her daughter came home--the house sweetly perfumed by the lamb dish--that's what she started to say. But before she could get it all out, her daughter launched into an outburst: "Is this why you come to visit? To search around and find things that are wrong? Why don't you just stay home"--and lots of other words to that effect.
MaryEllen is not alone. Another friend, Cesar and Marcia, went to visit their daughter and her family in California. They stayed in their apartment, providing some babysitting for their grandchild. One evening, when guests were expected for dinner and the grown children were at work, Cesar took out the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming. His son-in-law came home in the midst of the clean-up and started yelling at him--a diatribe similar to the one MaryEllen experienced. Only more shocking, since it wasn't his child who was lambasting him. It was his son-in-law.
We may think we're helping our children and their families--pointing out that the maid should dust a closet; cleaning up when guests are due--but whatever we're doing is implied criticism. We are not, in fact, minding our business. We're minding theirs. Only we just don't know when we are doing that and when we are actually being helpful.