You may think you're tiptoeing around--"Walking on Eggshells," as Jane Isay, the author of a book by that name, puts it--but that may not be how we come across. My friend Pat, who describes herself as a person who says what she thinks upfront, says that after a day of babysitting--and reporting on events to her daughter--her daughter told her she shouldn't be so frank about what she's thinking. "What she doesn't know," Pat says, "is how I'm holding my tongue, not saying what I might otherwise say. I have to be very careful what I say around my grown children."
Don't we all. The great fear, I suggest to Pat, is that if we aren't careful with what we say, our grown children--children who now have adult lives and are heads of families of their own--will get so ticked off they won't speak to us again, or there will be a coldness to our relationship and that will break our hearts. She nods in agreement but she also asks, how much of a mute can you be?
In the introduction to her book, Isay recalls swapping notes with a friend about touchy incidents that they had both had with their grown children--how vulnerable they felt and how hard it was to communicate with them. Isay lays the problem to our being pioneering parents. "We're the first generation to have raised our children so permissively." Now, after cultivating the "creative" and encouraging them to express themselves, we're stuck with the adult version of it. "Often their decisions [as adults] are not what we would have chosen--for ourselves or for them. We're at a loss to communicate our reservations, worries, and concerns, not because we can't put those feelings into words, but because the response we get often isn't pretty....the independence we worked to hard to instill in our children now feels to us like disinterest, and strong-minded youngsters sometimes grow into thoughtless adults."
Cold comfort, but all-in-the-same-boat comfort nonetheless.