One of my "notes to self" [see list to the left] is about housekeeping--a euphemism for putting our imprint on our grown child's home or for acting on "advice" by assuming it's wanted and warranted. This goes for dads as well as moms: No fixing things, no rearranging messy closets; no relining kitchen shelves--unless asked.
As Deborah Tannen points out in her book, "You're Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation," some of our housekeeping suggestions stem from concerns for their health and safety." Tannen describes a daughter's discomfort--a feeling that her mother was criticizing her husband--when the mother would come to visit and remind her daughter and son-in-law that "he should cut down the dying elm tree in the yard lest it fall and hurt somebody (it did eventually fall though no one was hurt), and replace the rotting step lest someone trip (it never was and no one ever did). Anyone would find these constant reminders annoying."But Tannen doesn't take the nagging parents to task. She addresses the grown children in saying, "Imagine the worry [the mother] endured each time she saw these threats to her loved ones' safety--and her frustration that they didn't undertake the simple repairs to eliminate the danger."
Point well taken. But, as Tannen points out, not all our observations, helpful hints and concerned commentary are so obviously linked to an urgent safety or health issue. Tannen describes a daughter who "cringed when her mother peered at the stove in her kitchen, lifting the protective pan under the grill to check to see whether the crumbs had been cleaned from beneath the pain--which, of course, they hadn't."
I may be overly sensitive on this point--I had such a mother; the grill pan was the least of it--but Tannen has given me a slightly different perspective on my reaction [grrrrr!) to my mother's good housekeeping exchanges. Rearranging my kitchen cabinets, re-doing my closets is not necessarily the criticism I took it to be. It's a problem of indirect communication. It can make an innocent remark or action come across as criticism. And indirectness. Tannen warns that the areas for setting off our grown child with an "innocent" comment are "the Big Three of appearance: hair, clothes, weight."
Made me feel fortunate that my mother stuck to the housekeeping.