Friends have returned from a two-week visit with their daughter, her husband and their twin sons. We are having a dinner debriefing on the trip--the tales about the warm weather (the daughter lives in Florida), the sunshine and the beach plus, most importantly, their daughter's hospitality and the chance to spend time with their grandsons every day. They have returned home looking refreshed and relaxed, the visit coming after 18 months of confinement in their home in the northeast where the wind chill is threateningly low.
As we drift past the positive highlights of the trip, they start joking about how they, as parents of adult children, have to keep their lips zipped and not express disapproval at some of the choices their children make. When we get down to specifics they seem almost relieved to tell us about their major zipped-lip challenge. While their middle-school grandsons marched off to school clean and neatly dressed every morning, the parents were, sigh, disturbingly ill groomed--at least from our friends' point of view. Their daughter hasn't had her hair cut since the pandemic hit; it is now down to her waist with the grey growing in above formerly dyed hair. To our friend--the mom--the hair makes the daughter look a decade older than she is and ill-kempt. The son-in-law hasn't cut his hair either, or shaved. His beard is long and straggly and his long hair is tied into a topknot but only when he's working outside.
It's partly a generational thing. Many of us aren't as comfortable with the half-shaved look or the full beard or the long, long hair. And the pandemic has readjusted the younger generation's aesthetics. Our friends, fortunately, kept to the high road during the visit: "I kept my mouth shut," one of them tells me. " I didn't say a word about it, but it was killing me."
She is exactly right. It may be killing them to say nothing, but there is nothing to be gained by alienating a child by commenting on their appearance--whether it's weight, or dress or hairstyle. We may be mortified about the way they look but better to suffer in silence and live with that than risk a fractured relationship with an adult child. Bottom line is, our children have control over their bodies--we don't.
painting: Romare Bearden