Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Entering a second childhood?

Today, a rather bitter and entitled grandfather is annoyed that his grandchildren aren't as email savvy as he would like:

Dear Amy: I have three grandchildren, ages 13, 9 and 7. I wrote each of them an e-mail, asking them various questions and telling them their grandmother and I love them.
After several days, I didn't hear any response, so I e-mailed my daughter-in-law asking if the kids had received my messages.
She replied that one child doesn't have an e-mail address, and the others don't check their e-mail. I asked her to pass my messages along.
More time went by with no response, so I e-mailed back and said I was very disappointed in them. I said I felt their lack of a reply was disrespectful.
My daughter-in-law said she was very busy and that the kids simply don't use e-mail. Amy, I'm not blaming the kids, but I feel that their mom should convey the contents of these communications with the children and ask them to respond, any way they wish. Your views?

— Upset Granddad

Although email is new to the equation, this is an ancient problem. Grandparents want to know their grandkids, and more often than not, the kids don't respond in the way they'd like--or not as often as they'd like. I love this book called The Holy Man, by Susan Trott. It consists of a number of short chapters about people who seek the wisdom of a holy man to help them with their problems--but in each case it's the experience of waiting in line, living simply and respectfully in community, that really helps them. One of the chapters is about a woman who is frustrated because her grandchildren never send her thank you notes...ultimately she learned that she'd only find satisfaction in loving when she didn't expect a quantifiable response.

Would the grandfather be satisfied if the daughter-in-law updated him on what the kids were doing? If she added a "the kids say hi and send their love" line to an email she wrote? If she read the emails to them and reported back to him that they were happy to hear from him? If they answered his emails but didn't address his questions, or express their love explicitly? When you limit the kind of response that will make you happy, the odds that someone else can achieve it reasonably is also limited.

Telling the grandchildren that he's disappointed and hurt that they didn't respond will only taint any future response--he'll feel that they're only doing it because they complained when he didn't, and won't "count" those responses--there's no good way out. Why is he the one acting like a child in this scenario?

I suspect this grandfather may have gone out of his way to learn to email for the explicit purpose of establishing a relationship with the tech-savvy younger generation and is particularly frustrated that it's not working the way he expected. (How did he even send an email to a child who has no email address?) It seems that even in today's world, kids younger than jr. high don't have much use for email, and the passwords and usernames are probably too much for little ones to keep track of. And there's no reason at all that a mom should also be her kids' secretary, checking three separate email accounts, taking their emails, conveying messages, and passing back responses. Email is like cell phones: until a child is old enough to use it responsibly on their own, there is no reason for them to HAVE their own.

Amy says:

Dear Upset: I agree that a parent should make sure the children receive your messages and respond — but I disagree with your choice to beat this to death via e-mail with your daughter-in-law.
Pick up the phone. Pay a visit. Focus on getting to know your grandchildren in person, if possible. Once you form a solid connection with them, it will be easier for you to establish a way to communicate.

I would also emphasize the importance of sending letters, cards, or small gifts in the mail. In this way, it's possible to send a direct, personal message that the child won't miss, and will be excited to receive. A word of warning: they probably won't write back through snail mail as often as he'd like anyway. But it will sink in all the same. My grandmother used to send long, rambling, nearly illegible letters, packed with exclamation points, smiley faces, and strings of unrelated the time I wasn't really sure what to do with them--I certainly didn't write back as much as I should have. Now she can't do it anymore, but I can, and I do.

And as a further note...why is it only the mom's responsibility to make sure the kids communicate with their granddad, and thus only her fault when they, as children will, don't respond in a timely way? Sounds like he's their father's father...maybe his son should be involved.

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