Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eloquent Amy: Wordsmith of the Awkward Moment

I've written before about how one concrete and vital way that advice columnists can give real help to people they don't know, and don't know much about, is to use their knack for the vernacular to provide a script--a neutral, polite, and effective one--for the painful and awkward moments that leave many of us speechless. Amy had a great one today.

The issue is a grandmother who obviously favors her biological grandchildren over her step-grandchilren and shows it with the number and type of gifts she gives. This is an issue that Carolyn encounters all the time. I've seen it addressed less by Amy, but the words she gives today for explaining to the kids are, I think, resonant and just right. (I should note that this issue may be of particular importance to Amy these days: this summer she re-married, building a fairly large blended family with her daughter and her husband's several children).

Amy's response also speaks to another issue Carolyn has addressed a lot lately: what to do when a grandparent shows their imperfections, to the detriment of children or family? Carolyn recommends that, except in situations of abuse, it is valuable for children to know even their most "difficult" family members, to appreciate people as complex, multi-faceted beings, and to be loved by as many people as possible--even those who may clash with mom and dad or show their love in atypical ways. I appreciate that Amy doesn't say "tell Grandma to treat the kids equally or she'll never see them again because you can't trust her to respect your family's rules."

Rather, she gives the mom the tools to equip her kids to recognize and adjust to unfairness in the world, without losing their sense of self and self confidence:

Dear Disappointed: You and your husband have already tried to deal with this in a straightforward and honest way by talking directly to his mother about this. That's the best response to her behavior.

Your kids are old enough to discuss this with you, so, in advance of the next gift-giving occasion your husband should take the lead by saying, "Grandma seems to enjoy giving lopsided gifts. I'm sure you've noticed this. I am not happy that she doesn't treat you all the same and have asked her to change, but she refuses. I guess she's really set in her ways. This embarrasses me, but it shouldn't embarrass you. Please try not to feel bad about what you do — or don't — receive, and always remember that we love you equally.

Grandma just can't seem to adjust to our new family as well as you all have."

To the point, neutral, supportive of the kids, and acknowledging grandma's bad behavior without criminalizing her. Go Amy!

**Reading again....I guess it does criminalize Grandma a bit: she "enjoys" giving lopsided gifts and "refuses" to change. I think it's right to let your kids know that you're aware of and don't agree with or support the disparity--but what do you think about the tone? Is something like "Grandma can't seem to understand" or "Grandma doesn't get why this is so important to us..." just as functional, or do we go with the blunter but harsher "grandma refuses to do anything about it"?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I only had time to skim over this post briefly, as I am really busy today, but I feel the need to share. I feel that advice columnists and teachers share in this neutral script of which you speak. I can't tell you how many times a student has come to me with a horribly awkward situation (my advice is better than a parent's?) and I have to find he best way to respond, both helping the student and being appropriate so as to keep my job.

Maybe I could learn a thing or two from reading these advice columns. :)