As many of you may be, my husband and I are on an extended visit with our son and his wife, and their three children. I’ve heard the adage about house guests being like raw fish, so I’m trying my best to stay out of the way, but something happened the other day that made me think.
My son, suffering a short fuse, was shouting at the children, which made them generally uncooperative, and I could see my daughter-in-law would probably have snapped at him if I hadn’t been around.
Later, once the kids had been sent to bed in tears and we were able to find a quiet moment, it was on the tip of my tongue to say something about how shouting rarely gets you anywhere, even if it makes you feel better at the time.
But I didn’t. I bit my tongue and found a different conversational thread.
The next day, over coffee with my daughter-in-law, she mentioned the shouting and I told her I had considered saying something to my son. She surprised me by saying, “Oh I wish you had,” as tears welled in her eyes. “I’ve tried but he doesn’t listen,” she said.
When did I become afraid to give my son advice? There once was a time when I was the woman who could answer any question – be it the 12-times-table or the best ingredients for a mud pie. I could explain who God was and the best way to get your sister to give you her favourite toy.
But these days, I wouldn’t dare. No one wants to be accused of meddling, do they?
As an young parent, I often turned to my mother for advice, and goodness knows my mother-in-law wasn’t shy about offering it! And while it may have irked me sometimes (okay, a lot), I generally took the advice on board, if not to heart, based on the fact she had been around the block a few times more than me and may have had a better understanding of the potholes.
I remember asking my father whether I should marry my husband. He said, “You’d be a fool not to, and I didn’t raise a fool.”
I remember asking my mother for all kinds of advice when I was learning to make a home, and then to juggle work and family. In this she was no expert, but she still had advice to share.
It’s often noted that, somewhere along the way, western society became closed off and insulated. Many families operate as separate entities, cut off from their neighbours, extended family and wider communities. Is this fear of giving advice symptomatic of this cultural shift?
Obviously one can’t go around doling out pearls of wisdom to this generation that seems to know it all already but, after the incident with my son and daughter-in-law, I might think twice about holding back.