Adapted from recent online discussions.
On Monday, “Can’t Be Martha Stewart” asked how to respond to his mother’s jabs at his full-time-employed wife.
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Um, shouldn’t he also have a private conversation with his mother to explain that he will not tolerate these little jabs?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Only if talks break down at the great bilateral cats-and-dogs summit I advised yesterday. When you can’t fix the source of the jabs then, yes, you try to fix the fact of them.
Are the couple sure they’re not indirectly disparaging the mother’s choices or devaluing the work she did? For example, comments that imply that an OB-GYN’s time is too valuable to spend on housework.
— Anonymous 2
DEAR ANONYMOUS 2: Possible, thanks, though it wouldn’t be unprecedented if the mother took the mere fact of the different choices as a rejection of hers.
In an age-appropriate (and non-angry) way, explain to your children why your mother says the things she does, how times change, and how every family has to make the right decisions for them. You might even add that when they have homes of their own, the way they were raised might look outdated and unfamiliar. (No talking robots, for example.) Life is about the freedom to make the right choices for ourselves and our families.
— Anonymous 3
DEAR ANONYMOUS 3: Good teaching moment, thanks. And if the robot cooks chickens, then I want mine now — with an “off” switch for the talking.
My mother worked as a schoolteacher for my entire childhood (1960s). In my high school graduating class, I can remember only one true stay-at-home mom. That parent model has never been the only model in the United States, and the writer’s mother needs to realize that.
— Anonymous 4
DEAR ANONYMOUS 4: Thanks. Many women, though, were steered into “pink-collar” work, which helped preserve the worldview that women were society’s helpers and nurturers.
DEAR CAROLYN: You may be correct that my mother is intimidated by my wife’s profession. I will try to make this a macro conversation with a things-are-different-now-bend.
— Can’t-Be-Martha again
DEAR CAN’T-BE-MARTHA AGAIN: Please let us know how it goes.
DEAR CAROLYN: My mother likes to pretend we’re best buds, when the truth is that I’m not terribly keen to spend much time with her. Sometimes, it’s pleasant. Others, it becomes one criticism after another.
She keeps pushing for us to have lunch once a week. I have no desire to subject myself to her picking at my weak points, so I make excuses. I just can’t bring myself to say, “Look, you can be a real (expletive) sometimes, OK?” Is that what I should do?
— We’re Not That Close
DEAR WE’RE NOT THAT CLOSE: No, that would be honesty in brick form after a long stretch of no honesty at all. That’s not fair.
Her jabs aren’t fair, either, so start saying that: “Picking at my weaknesses isn’t friendly lunch conversation.” And, once the foundation is laid: “That’s your third swipe at me today. I’m going to leave now, and hope you’re in better spirits next time.” And do leave.
When there’s a real and honest relationship, then, “Look, you can be a real (expletive) sometimes, OK?” will be in a context that makes it loving and funny versus a brick from the blind side.