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Should Age Be a Private Matter?

A few  nights ago our family was invited to the100th birthday party of my mother-in-law’s cousin.  To me, the celebration of his becoming 100 indicated that he and all around him were grateful for his blessings of a long life.

It was a time to announce his age to those who were there. Something that is often private was the topic of the event.

My MIL has lots of friends around that age, including someone from our synagogue  who turned 100 a few months ago and celebrated with a party in synagogue on Shabbat. Oh, and did I  mention my MIL’s best friend, Anne who turned 102? That was a milestone which our family and Anne’s children celebrated at a restaurant.

Until about 6 years ago, my mother-in-law’s age was private. No one seemed to know her age and if they did they certainly didn’t discuss it.

After that, her age was officially public knowledge and no longer a taboo subject.

So I’m wondering: Why wait till you’re 90 or 95 to announce your exact age? I think it should be something to boast about when we are still in our 30’s, 40’s and beyond.

I guess this belief stems from my childhood and how I was raised.

The adults in my life always discussed their age. I had two sets of grandparents growing up and I knew all of their ages as a child. And that’s not just because I was a nosy kid who asked a lot of questions! (although that may have something to do with it.)

But seriously, when my maternal grandmother was in the hospital and not feeling very well the last year of her life, she maintained her sense of humor and shall I say, brutal honesty.  When the doctor came in to examine her and asked her how old she was, she said, “90 1/2,” in a decisive tone of voice. No one was going to leave out that half a year that she was proud of.

Every year one of my sisters writes a poem using my mom’s age that year as a takeoff for a theme. That poem gets emailed to all the cousins and friends by my mother herself.

So I grew up with the adults around me treating age as a number denoting an accomplishment.  Nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Another birthday means we have arrived. And thank G-d we have more time on this earth to accomplish things.

Still, age continues to be a taboo subject in some families and cultures. It’s still considered impolite for children or adults to ask one another how old they are. I get that.

But I wonder whether the hiding of one’s age or considering it not a topic of conversation in polite company contribute to unhealthy messages about our aging bodies and souls.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing to be open about one’s age, because it helps us grow and move forward emotionally. I believe that when we pretend to be what we are not or forget that we are 56 (that would be me!), maybe we won’t take care of our health. We may neglect ourselves and skip mammograms or colonoscopies or bone density exams or other checkups… because we think we are still 25 or 35.

By contrast, when we focus on the positive aspects of growing old such as having more wisdom and experience we embrace our age.  Rather than getting depressed when we reach a new decade or big number,  I do think it’s better to reach a place of acceptance.

That celebration doesn’t have to be in the form of a party or getting gifts. It can be in the simple acknowledgment of our moving forward. Our growth. It could be a time to take stock of what we’ve achieved the past year or years and what we want to achieve in the next year. A time for gratitude and prayer.

Children are proud of their age because it denotes being more grownup and having more privileges. To them every fraction of a year counts. My young grandson has been keeping track of when his 5 1/2 years became 5 3/4 until he turned 6.

We don’t have to have that kind of glee for a new age or fraction of an age. And some people choose to keep it private. Whether we admit it or not, we feel our age. Every. Single. Day.

But instead of seeing that as a negative, let’s see it as a reminder of our blessings.

So the next time the subject comes up, be proud of your age. Whether you are 20, 30, 40, or 50 +, let’s celebrate our birthdays, not just with a party and lots of cards.

Oh and by the way, my birthday is coming up soon in a few months and I’ve been reflecting as I reach that number and as I watch others have birthdays. It could be this post is my way of working through my unconscious anxieties about the new number. Or maybe I’m just reflecting on a common societal trend of age and privacy. I don’t know.

All I know is that I  pray that we can all embrace and celebrate our birthdays by having our cake and eating it too. That means being grateful, taking care of our physical and emotional health and reaching out to loved ones.

 

 

 

 


10 Things You’re Doing that Drive Your New Daughter-in-law Crazy….and How to Fix Them

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I originally wrote this post for my website page that offers help exclusively for mothers-in-law on how to cope. I launched that page in 2013 and this was my first broadcast I sent out.

Well, I’ve come a long way since then. Many people have corresponded with me through that site with questions on how to cope. I have tried to answer their queries to the best of my abilities based on my own and on others’ experiences shared with me. However, I sometimes wonder whether I have fallen behind in some of these skills. Having had several more sons get married thank G-d, increasing my number of daughters-in-law to four (and counting!), I’ve had some tricky scenarios occur in our family(and no, I will not share them in this post!). I can picture my daughters-in-law reading this and thinking, “Hmmm…” Yes, confession: I have broken these rules (from time to time!).

Rereading my own tips leads to me realizing I need a tune-up and some studying of my own rules.

So in hopes of increasing my own commitment to these guidelines and possibly helping others in the process, I’ve decided to rewrite and slightly revise them with updated 2016 situations such as text and what’s-app and Facebook. So, without further ado, here they are:

10 Things That Drive Your DIL crazy….and how to fix them

1. You call your daughter-in-law too much. The rule of newlyweds is “don’t call – let them call you.” By your calling them, you may be pressuring them to talk when they may be busy with something else.

How to fix:

a) Tell your new couple that for the first few months, you are available if they need you – and mean it. Make a commitment to them never to call them in the beginning. When I was a new mother-in-law, I remember picking up the phone…and putting it down. It took all my inner strength to refrain from calling.

b) If they call you, return their call within a reasonable period of time, and help them out if you can. This will build trust as they realize you are there for them, while not hovering over them. Better to let them find a time that works for them and call you, rather than put them on the spot. This applies to leaving messages too.

c) You may text or “what’s-app” them but do so with just information that you are giving them about something upcoming in the family, rather than with expectations of them to respond.

2. You compare your own family members to your daughter-in-law and/or her family. Okay, you’re proud of your own family and biological children. Fine. But, by comparing openly or talking about another person too much, you may be giving the unwitting impression that you don’t value your new daughter-in-law as an individual.

How to fix:

a) When you are with your dil, don’t share or brag about your own family. At least in the beginning few months, be a listener, more than a talker and sharer.

b) As a side note, this comparison factor may come into play when the various couples start to have children. It’s best to listen to your individual daughters-in-law share and discuss about their children, without interjecting comparisons about another of your daughter-in-law’s children.

3. You ask open-ended questions such as what she is making for dinner, or how she spends her time. To you that may be a matter of conversation, but to her it is personal and perhaps not something of interest to her.  Starting conversations with a question can only lead to defensiveness, or feeling pressured into sharing.

How to fix:

a) Avoid appearing curious and asking too many personal questions.

b) Allow the relationship to build through your sharing with her and then letting her share spontaneously.

4. You give her advice that she does not ask for, or you give your son advice about something that pertains to both or one of them. When your children get married, they are under new management. They are adults in charge of their own life. By you offering advice, you are demonstrating that you still see them as children. They should know that you are there for them (as much as you can) when they ask. But never ever offer unsolicited advice. Whether it’s about housekeeping, finances, child-raising, health. Anything.

How to fix:

a) No advice at all. Only if they ask. And even then, reflect back to them by saying, “So what are your options? How do you want to handle it?”

b) Now, it’s okay to say, “if you need any help, feel free to ask” to them or to offer your opinion – ONE time, but then you need to drop it. Try never to bring it up again.

5. You criticize and find fault with her. This will drive her crazy and will drive a wedge between you and her. If you see your son or daughter-in-law doing things “wrong” in your eyes, keep you mouth shut. Do not criticize her. Ever. Let’s say she makes bagels and cream cheese for dinner five days a week (maybe an extreme example). Don’t say anything about it. Don’t offer advice on other nutritional offerings (see rule #4). And don’t tell her how unhealthy an unbalanced it is to serve such dinners. Just let it be. Whatever she does or is, is not your business.

How to fix:

a)  If you notice that you are criticizing too much, stop.

b)  Apologize if she or they were hurt and resolve to never find fault.

c)  Realize they are a married couple and if you want them to be happy, then finding fault with either one of them is not going to create good feelings or happiness between you.

d) Maybe find a friend or mentor to share and vent with about your thoughts. Try to find solutions within yourself to reframe situations so that you don’t appear critical.

6. You rarely praise your couple and/or daughter-in-law. Not only is it important to avoid criticizing (rule 5), but you must find ways to praise them sincerely. A mother-in-law who rarely finds good in her daughter-in-law is at best going to have a stilted relationship. You can offer the praise to your son about her, some of the time. It doesn’t have to be always to her, but still she must know that you approve of her. If you don’t approve in some areas, find other areas that you do approve and make sure she knows.

How to fix:

a) Make a list of things that you appreciate about them and try to remember to point out every now and then when you truly admire something they did.

b) Be grateful in your heart for their good qualities and make mention of them from time to time.

7. You pop into their home without calling first. I don’t think I have ever popped into my married couple’s apartment without calling(or texting, emailing or calling) first. Even if you have something you want to bring them or give them, never just show up.

How to fix:

a) Always call to ask if you can come before even considering coming to them.

b) If you have something you want to give them, leave it in a special place in your home and mention to them that the next time they are over they can come get it.

8. You follow up on issues or events that they confide in you about. Let’s say your children share with you such as a visit to the doctor, or a challenge they’ve had with something. While it’s okay to follow up afterward with friends in such a situation and say “hey, how did that go…” – with daughters-in-law and especially newly married couples, it’s best not to keep tabs on their private lives. They shared. Fine. Let it go. Maybe in a few weeks or months, you can say “by the way what happened with that?” But in the meantime, don’t go there. What you view as concern, they may view as intrusiveness.

How to fix:

a) Try not to obsess about things they share with you. Unless it’s an ongoing thing that they may need support with, just put the details of their life out of your mind.

b) In your daily prayers, offer a thought or beckoning for help in whatever area they (or you) may be struggling.

c) Keep busy in your own life and you will resist the urge to follow uop.

9. You remind them about invitations and obligations. This can be a biggie. You know, thank you cards after the wedding or after a baby is born. Right? You have the urge to remind them of keeping to the family tradition of good manners. Right?  Or here’s another one: Let’s say there’s a wedding in the family. Everyone has received an invitation that you know of. It’s probably best not to prompt the new couple and say, “don’t forget we have that wedding….” Or even worse, “Um…please be on time to the wedding…” This will drive them up a wall. They may have their own plans or agenda for that day and it’s between them and the hosts whether they come. You can ask casually if you will see them there. But to actually prompt them and remind them as if they are children is not appropriate.

How to fix:

a) Realize that their behaviors are not a reflection of you. They are their own entity now and their coming or not coming to an event on time (or at all) should have no bearing on you and don’t be involved.

10. You insist that they come visit. It’s perfectly okay and wonderful to invite your married children for a weekend or ask them to come over for the afternoon on a Sunday or evening. But when inviting becomes insisting, you are instilling pressure and having expectations.

How to fix:

a) When they do come to visit you, make your home a pleasant and fun place to hang out. They will be more likely to come by more often.

Conclusion:

Remember that the more we mix in and the more expectations we have, the more we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. All of the above missteps are okay once in awhile.

We are all human and perfection is not the goal. I have made many of the above mistakes and learned from them in the process. Just be aware and be careful, and if you make a mistake, discuss it and move on. And yes, fix it using the tips for fixing above. That’s what it’s all about – improving and repairing our relationships that need it.


Copyright 2013 by Miriam Hendeles

Original Source: http://bubbyjoysandoys.com/miriam-hendeles-2  or http://miriamhendeles.com

Email: Miriamhendeles@gmail.com

 

 

 

 


They’re Just Married: A Mom’s Muse

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A few days ago I received a text from my newly married couple. Two words: “We arrived.”

Those two words told me everything – they had arrived at their new apartment a week after the wedding and the ensuing celebrations. Although I would have liked just a bit of a longer text (2 words? Come on?), I understood that they were busy and needed to get on. School, work, life. They have things to do.

And there’s another piece here. After a couple gets married they need space from their parents in the first weeks of their marriage. Actually, the first year – known as “shanah rishonah” in Hebrew is a time for the new couple to bond.

The couple needs settling and so do we, the parents. Our family recently celebrated the wedding of our fourth son (mazel tov!) and it takes more than a few days (weeks?) for us as the parents to settle back into what was pre-couple normal. Things have been kind of hectic around here ever since these two individuals – our son and his lovely wife met each other over six months ago, dated, became an engaged couple, and then….the wedding a few weeks ago!

Fatigue, stress, anxiety and endless to-do lists. Those are only part of the equation of making a simcha. So yes, for the past three months we’ve been preparing a wedding which took a lot of emotional and physical preparation. Getting acquainted with a new family, dealing with many different people and accommodating many kinds of events brings out the best (hopefully not the worst!) in all of us. We were in constant contact with each other, communicating various plans via email, texts and phone calls.

The day after we returned from Cleveland where the wedding took place,  telltale signs of the simcha were visible.  Many who make these parties and events will relate; there were chairs that had to be returned, thank you cards to be written, fridge and freezer leftovers to be dealt with, and some empty suitcases still lying around.

But now, all that has been cleared away. The suitcases are back in storage, the chairs returned to their owners, most of the thank-you’s written, and my house has a semblance of order.

As we accept the always welcome Mazel Tov wishes from friends and acquaintances in the market, some of us are getting over the colds and viruses that we caught on the plane or from one another as we traveled. Stress of the excitement and pressure catches up to us and our immunities are lowered, bringing out those upper-respiratory infections in many of our family. Thank G-d for Z-Pac. It  works wonders (many thanks to Dr. U – my internist who found time for us in his schedule!).

And then – and then — we move on. The couple is settled into their new home and they are a separate couple. Besides for the occasional gift that comes to our house and gets placed in our upstairs guest room (for the next time they visit), we really have little day-to-day activities revolving around the wedding.

Yes, there are bills to be paid, work to be done (to pay those bills!) and more mazel tovs to be accepted. There are the pictures to choose from the photographer’s proofs, and copies to be made at Walgreens and Kinkos. It’s all a lot of fun and pleasant. These activities are what I’m supposed to be doing.

These activities of choosing and framing pictures, giving thank-you gifts to kind friends, and writing thank you notes to those whom I appreciate, are all appropriate social behaviors for mother of the groom to do post-wedding.

I enjoy these tasks. But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the void in my heart that I can’t just pick up the phone and call my son and daughter-in-law anymore. They are a new couple with their own life and my job is to give them that space. This is something I remind myself for each one of our kids as they grow and fly the coup.

I go back to work, visit my clients who I’ve neglected for the past few weeks, and spend time with my husband. I call my mother a little more often, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law too, and I spend more quality time chatting with my grandsons. Things are a bit more relaxed.

Still, the void is there. And that’s okay. That space in my heart where I was preoccupied with this son and his bride can be filled with hope and love and warmth and pride.  That excitement of planning and thinking about them is now redirected to moving forward in my own life and things that I enjoy doing for myself. (pictures of kids counts as doing for myself!).

As I write a list of “things to tell the new couple” when they call before Shabbos, I remind myself that this exact situation is what my husband and I have prayed for. We don’t want to hover and want our children to be on their own.

We don’t want to be picking up the phone every time something pops into our heads of what to tell them. This is the time to refrain from overwhelming. To sift, filter, and perhaps pick up that phone – only to put it back down again.

The good news? Shana Rishona is one year only. Not more. Okay – two weeks down. Fifty more to go. I can handle this.

 

 

 


In-Law Boundaries Then and Now

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When I was expecting my first child, I once overheard my mother-in-law sharing with a friend of hers that I was pregnant – in the early months. I was so upset; I thought she had violated my privacy. Looking back, I know what I was thinking, but I also know what I wasn’t thinking.

I wasn’t thinking about the other side of the picture. I wasn’t realizing that all in-laws want is to be a part of their children’s life. So she slipped and shared with her two friends about my upcoming event. Big deal.

Boundaries  with in-laws were always a thing, except we didn’t call them that in the old days.

If you crossed boundaries or were over-involved with your kids and in-law kids, you were a meddler, a doter, and interfering parent. If you talked too much, you were a yenta.

When I got married we had a particular preference with our parents and in-laws (which was hardly ever followed because we didn’t enforce it) was that they call before popping in. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, and that’s the way it was.

Back in the 1980’s there were no cell phones, so by making that rule I was basically saying to my mil or fil that if they were driving down our block and wanted to stop by they’d have to go home and call us. Which was kind of ridiculous, I think now.

In fact, I look back at those days and I’m a little embarrassed at how unreasonably I acted. I mean, I know what feelings I had that motivated me to be kind of tough and strict in some ways. But still, I think I overdid things a bit.

Lucky for them, my in-laws weren’t pushovers.  And they were smart – they’d be just in the neighborhood and just had to stop by and why bother calling from a pay phone or their home phone? They’d just stop by in the evening for just a minute.

And I would be upset (understandably) and make a big deal (by venting ridiculously  to my husband).

Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t visit my children  without calling first. That goes for my kids who live locally and those who live faraway.

How many times have I driven by my children’s house and wanted to stop by? All I had to do was call or better yet, text and bingo. I would be told “not a good time,” or “Yes, that’s great, come on over.”

Calling or texting to ask for permission to move forward into their turf is really easy now.

It’s easier for us to resist barging in at any hour at our kids’ home. So who am I to criticize my in-laws who had a different set of tools to work with in those days? It’s all about seeing the other side of the picture.

But today, we have other challenges to deal with, things that our own parents, grandparents never even thought would be an issue.  We have social media and the personal computer, and smart-phones each of which lends to lots of sharing and posting. The truth is that our children hate dislike prefer that we don’t share indiscriminately.

And I confess that I don’t follow that rule very well. In the same way that my in-laws would “just” stop by for “just” a few minutes to visit when they had the time or were “in the neighborhood,” in the same way I post a picture “just” on Facebook for “just” this once when I “just” have a great photo to post.

It’s hard for me, and it must have been hard for my in-laws. We parents want to share the good stuff about our grandchildren. And the pulling out of the pictures from our little purse just doesn’t cut it anymore these days for some reason. (that’s what my grandmother did with her friends back in the day!)

Look, with in-law relationships as with any relationship, the key is to do our best. To try to place ourselves in their shoes and understand how they feel. To remain true to our own feelings and needs. And to keep the communication lines open.

With a good dose of understanding, communication, and perspective about the other person’s situation, things can usually work out very well.

 

 


Who’s the Boss Here Anyway? (and lessons I learn as a Grandma)

When my kids were little, my husband and I  faced many parenting stresses. Through it all, we felt that we were in control of our children’s lives and were the conductors on the train that our kids were traveling on.  Major and minor decisions – from what school to send them to, to where they would go to camp, to bringing them to play-dates, to dealing with negative issues that arose, to taking them on outings, travel, buying them new things, everything was our department.

As the children got older, we involved them in discussions according to their ages and developmental levels. We might have scoffed at times at the overwhelming reality of too much on our plates, but there was a constant sense of purpose, busy-ness, and important-ness in our daily lives.

And that position of control felt comfortable for us. It felt important. Smart. In charge. As if we were responsible parents.  And it’s a feeling that we got used to having.

Fast forward many years.

Our children grew up  and moved out and onto yeshiva and/or college out of town.  One by one, they married.

All that control and decision making power now fell from our laps right onto  our adult children’s shoulders. We were told – directly or indirectly; passively or aggressively – to back off. The only exception was when they wanted our advice and we happily gave that to them when asked (and at times when not asked).

We were no longer the bosses of our children’s destinies. We were dethroned.

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Okay, it took some getting used to and I kicked, screamed and had a few tantrums (to my husband or anyone who would listen), but overall I accepted my new position.  I mean, I felt the hurt when things didn’t go my way, and was  annoyed when they did things differently than I thought was the “right” way.

When my oldest grandson was about five, I compiled a collection of magazine articles I had written since he and the others were born. The articles were  on empty stage syndrome and other middle-aged topics, so I added some fresh material and then wrote a book about being a grandmother. Within that year, I held book signings and other events and a friend of a friend asked me to lead a workshop at a well-known synagogue not far from my home. The audience was a group of synagogue members who were  vibrant and active seniors. After my presentation which included readings from my book and sharing some personal experiences as a new mother-in-law and grandmother,  someone raised her hand and asked the following question:

“What do we do when our grandchildren don’t thank us for the gifts that we give them? And why don’t their parents – our children – teach them the proper thing to do?”

I could hear others in the group mumbling comments in agreement with the questioner, and a few called out some other transgressions that their adult kids did with child rearing. Apparently, this was a hot topic, one that many in the group related.

It became immediately clear to me that this theme of non-grateful grandchildren was a topic I wasn’t at all prepared to discuss and advise about.

I wanted to relate to these women’s situations but I really couldn’t understand all the angst. At the time, I didn’t get the big deal if the child doesn’t say thank you. A thought occurred to me that many of these women were grandparents of older grandchildren than my pre-school aged grandsons. Some had grandchildren who were 8, 9 or 10 and others had teenage grandchildren.

I offered them empathy as best as I could. And then I gave some generic advice along the line of how we have to keep our mouths shut even if we think the adult kids are raising their kids with poor manners.

This led to some more sharing as the group offered some other examples of how poorly their adult kids were raising the little ones these days.

But I left the group feeling confused.  In my mind, this wasn’t the most successful event I had led. I felt I was not on the same page as these more mature grandmothers and I certainly didn’t feel that I had offered them concrete tips in the areas that were important to them.

Fast forward four more years. I now have (G-d Bless them) grandchildren who range in age from almost nine years old to almost six months. I’ve had countless experiences where I had to choose between expressing my opinion one time, several times or many times (one time wins!), arguing with their decisions or keeping my mouth shut (keeping mouth shut wins!)

But in the earlier days most of our interactions were with our adult children.

For example, where they sent the kids to school or what synagogue they chose to pray in, or where they lived, or how they spend their money or choices they make or friends they have —- all these issues have been between us and them.  I practiced the cardinal rule of zipping up my lips. The best thing to do (unless they ask for our input) is to keep quiet because it’s really up to them. Not us. Their business, not ours. A tough pill to swallow sometimes but the truth.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from one of my grandchildren and for a reason that I can no longer fathom, I found it to be lacking in appreciation.

What? Me, who four years ago couldn’t understand the need for kids to express appreciation, was having a problem with this? Yes. True.

And not only did I feel disappointed in the letter, I expressed it to him on the phone. Looking back now, I’m thinking, “What was I thinking? The kid wrote me a letter and I’m complaining?”

Well, needless to say he told his Dad who shared with me that the child was pretty insulted.

Gulp. I messed up.

After talking it over with the child the next day on the phone and patching things up,  I realized an entirely different – but related lesson.

Even our kids have don’t have control over other people – their growing kids! That’s right. While we think we can tell our kids what to do because we have control over them and they have control over their kids, it’s all just an illusion. The only ones we can change are ourselves. We knew that already, right? But

So for those senior grandmoms who complained that their adult kids didn’t teach their progeny how to show appreciation, my response would be (four years later in case any of them are reading this!):

We are not in control. Our kids  are not in control either. Everyone does his or her best to teach their kids how to act and be. At the end of the day, the kids eventually have minds and hearts of their own. Only we can influence our relationship with our grandchildren through our kindness and acceptance.

If you want to give gifts, give them. If you don’t want to give gifts, don’t give them. Nobody wants a gift with strings attached.

The key component in any relationship – including the grandmother/grandchild dynamic – is warmth, understanding and acceptance. No preaching and no expectations.

Letters, conversations, warmth. Those are worth more than formal thank you’s from young children and teenagers.

And that’s my lesson of dethronement – we’re no longer in control and we never were. Not even when we were young moms and dads raising our kids.

And as a grandmother, that realization is very freeing today.

 


A Humble Confession by an Ex-Non-MIL

You know those annoying non-moms who think they know everything about motherhood? For sure you do; everyone does. We’ve all come across them in our most insecure and shameful moments as parents. Just when we need the most encouragement — because one of our kids is having a tantrum, or talking back to us, or being unruly, or making a scene at a public place like a zoo or park — these know-it-all non-moms vow out loud to never be the kind of mom we are.

And then when these NM’s become moms, guess what happens?

Actually I don’t know what happens because I’ve never done a longitudinal study following  non-moms into their eventual mom-hood. But I’m willing to bet that if we tracked those woman and interviewed them years later, we’d find some pretty overwhelmed and possibly not-so-sure-of-herself types. Just my guess. Nothing scientific here…just some good-ol’ deductive thinking.

Well, I was a know-it-all and high-horse type of person but not about motherhood. I was that way about MIL (mother-in-law)-hood. When my kids were little and I’d see  MIL’s say or do things to their DIL’s, I’d wonder how they could ever be so insensitive. For example, when a MIL gave her adult children (gasp) advice, I’d think she was being intrusive and completely out of bounds.

When a MIL worried about her adult married kids’ financial situation, I thought to myself how it’s really none of her business.

And when a MIL called too often, I thought to myself that when I become a MIL to my sons’ wives, I will be really careful not to do any of those things.

And you know what? In the beginning of my MIL-hood, I was pretty careful. In fact, I became a pretty caring MIL. I probably did refrain from much of the behaviors that my own MIL and other normal people do when they become MIL’s.

And then something happened to me.

I grew up.

I grew into MIL-hood and relaxed my inhibitions. Maybe it was due to old(er) age or just plain lack of energy but my attitude became, what the heck? I’m the mother (and yes, mother-in-law) and I’m going to say what the heck I want to because I already wrote the book on being a mother-in-law and….

I relaxed my standards because I’m human. And I goof sometimes.  As my adult children grow into more mature adults….and to parents of not just babies or toddlers but of pre-school and elementary school children, I find that I’m becoming slightly more involved.

More outspoken. Entitled. Opinionated. Yup. All the horrible things I vowed I’d never say or do, I find myself saying and doing.

I mean – hello! We have opinions too. Right? Maybe that’s it – as we get older, we fear becoming invisible and so we assert ourselves and our opinions more.

When the grandkids were babies, it was easy to hold back from expressing the opinion of how to burp the baby, or whether the baby should be bottle-fed or nursed…or whatever the monumental decision was. I mean – who cared about that?

As the grandkids got older, (and we got older) we feel the need to compare and contrast how they do things with how we did things.

And sometimes we see things in different ways than we saw them when we were the parents. Maybe it’s that we kind of sort of “forget” what it was like being a new mom? Could it be that? Is it the old(ER) age factor? Like having those senior moments (I talk about them in my book) where we selectively forget how it was to be a young and busy mom and we just shoot our opinions from the hip.

In our old(ER) age, we say something, rather than put ourselves in their inexperienced shoes and just let them figure things out themselves.

Sometimes I have discussions with my husband about stuff and one of us says to the other “Nah, don’t make an issue. It’s none of our business.”

To which the other one promptly goes and makes an issue. Big time. Just because.

See? It’s hard. It’s tough. So never say never. You just never know when you’ll be in the exact situation as someone else and maybe – just maybe – you will react as they did or do.

So-  now I’m here to express that I  have sympathy for all those MIL’s – including my own — in how she raised me.

Yes – you read that right.

I know this is huge that I’m writing this after writing a book  all about my insights on being the perfect grandmother and mother-in-law.

I know this may even ruin my credibility as an author because, hey, how can I basically take back all I said about being conscientious and just change my mind with the click of a publish button on a bubby blog?

Well, bubbies and Omi’s, I’m doing it. I’m here to tell you that I now do all those annoying things I vowed never to do.

I ask too many questions.

I hate noise. I get upset when they play ball in the house.

I sometimes contradict the parents in front of their kids.

I tell them to bundle up the kids. I comment on their or their kids’ clothing (not always favorably).

I worry if I hear them arguing.

I post every last letter and drawing on my kitchen wall and Facebook page (even my own MIL didn’t do that last one! Yay her!).

All of it some of the time. And some of it all of the time.

Bottom line is I (and all my MIL friends) try our best. We really do and that’s what counts.

So – my message to all the future moms out there –

Never say never.

You just never know what kind of mother you will be. Don’t make promises about how you’ll be because even when you become that role, and follow your vows to the Tee, you will evolve over time into another role. Another stage. Another season.  And just what you thought worked for the previous stage, just doesn’t work anymore.

And then one day you may find yourself doing all the behaviors that you vowed never to do. And that will be pretty embarrassing.

Because all your ranting and raving about how you’ll never do or be this way or that way got turned on its head.

And aside from the embarrassment here’s the biggest problem: you may just have to confess on your blog or write a whole new book that contradicts your first book. Nope. Not worth it.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 


“Nachas,” Grandchildren and Facebook

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I’m a Nachas-ist. Yep. You read right. I’m addicted to “nachas.” Now, nachas – (pronounced nakh-es) according to the dictionary is Yiddish for joy or blessings,pride especially from one’s children and grandchildren.

The truth is that there is no English word or phrase that captures the exact nuance of what nachas is. Not one of the words – joy, pride, blessed feeling – conveys the true meaning of what we know to be “nachas.”

Nachas is so unique to the Jewish culture with the stereotypical grandmother/Bubby or Mom who kvells (there goes another non-translatable Yiddish word) about her progeny.

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So back to being a Nachassist, I believe that I spend most of my existence as a grandmother kvelling (loosely translated as inner boasting, bragging) about the little and not-so-little-anymore boys who were born from my children- otherwise known as grandsons.

Cute ones. Adorable ones. Smart. Talented. Athletic. Perceptive. Kind.

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Oh and handsome and charming too.

And did I mention that I am absolutely NOT prejudiced or biased at all? I mean anyone will attest to the above claims.

So how am I a nachassist? You see, I thrive on nachas. (See above descriptions. We’re showing, not telling here.)

Nachas is what keeps me going. And nachas is what also keeps me distracted from doing what I have to do as in when I tell my 5-year old (irresistible) grandson, “Will you just stop being so cute? I can’t stand it anymore and I can’t get anything done with you around. Go away, okay?”

And he smiles back at me, in that knowing way. He gets it. He knows that I don’t have patience for too much cuteness. Then I tell my daughter-in-law (his mother) that they should make it illegal to be so cute.

The last few weeks, I agonized  at how little I wrote, blogged, read or did anything of significance with my brain because all I could do is kvell.

And you know, kvelling and accomplishing just don’t go together.

Now, in case you think that Nachassists are similar to Narcissists in that they have a personality disorder, think again.

Nachassists are not bad or selfish or damaged. They are simply human and they are just doing what comes naturally when good things come our way in life.

You see, even if you don’t have grandchildren, you can display a healthy dose of nachassism with regard to anything good in your life.

For example, if you have a child who is accepted to an Ivy League university, you have joy and pride in what the child has accomplished. That’s “nachas.” (if you’re not Jewish you call it something else, but you get my drift).

And if you worked really hard to play a Beethoven Sonata on the piano and then you perform it perfectly (or almost perfectly) in front of a large audience, you have nachas from yourself.

Nachas is that good old-fashioned, cuddly feeling you get when  you or someone you love gets or earns something really good and worthy of pride.

Now, sometimes “nachassism” can veer into dangerous territory and perhaps earn a not so nice reputation like its cousin “narcissism.”

How? When a Nachassist gets an urge to post a picture of his or her progeny on Facebook, it can cause some issues. For example, if the nachassist forgets to ask permission from the parents of the cute, adorable and irresistible kids. That can pose a problem of privacy being invaded into the young family’s territory, a feeling of being intruded upon.

And that’s when nachassism gets a little sticky.

The simple way for a nachassist to prevent any problems is to ask permission. Then, the parents of said children can either say yes or no. (hopefully they say yes, right?)

If yes is the response, the nachassist is free to post that photo for all his/her facebook friends to ooh and ahh over said child.

Never mind that each of those facebook friends who are admiring, liking, reacting and otherwise stroking the Nachassist’s ego on Facebook is secretly thinking, “My grandchild is much cuter. Hmph.” It doesn’t matter if each one is eagerly waiting to post his or her own nachas about his or her own life, it doesn’t matter.

Because that just proves how powerful the Nachassist phenomenon is. Later on, the likers, reactors, and strokers can post their one Nachas on Facebook for all to see.

You see, it’s all just a Nachas game, played by nachassists who want to brag and boast, share about their good events in life and/or grandchildren.

And that’s not so terrible, is it?

So the next time something good comes your way, go ahead and share it. Post it. Be proud of it. We are all here to read and share in your happiness.

And just so you know, we begrudge you the good fortune. In Yiddish – that’s called “Farginning.”

Oh, yeah, it’s hard to translate exactly into English. But you get my drift, don’t you?

May all grandmothers, grandfathers, parents and children have nachas from each other and themselves! Amen!

 


The Art of Giving Space to New Parents

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The news of our son’s new baby, a firstborn son for him,  came late Wednesday night.  My husband called  from an errand  and told me the exciting news that he had just heard from the new father.

“Mazel Tov! It’s a boy!” shouted my husband, in his characteristic sharing-good-news voice.

“What? Oh wow! Mazel Tov!” I answered in my semi-sleep state.

I called my son and daughter-in-law, wished them mazel tov and got all the details – like baby’s weight, the labor and the fun birth-story tidbits that all of us new and older moms enjoy sharing.

Soon, my daughter-in-law sent me a few photos of the baby. I couldn’t believe this. Already they were snapping and sharing pictures? How cool is that?

Times are a-changing. Couples nowadays are very savvy at  getting right into things. Immediately.

Next came an adorable video of my dil talking to her 15 minute old son and his responses via tongue wagging, eyes blinking and body stretching. Another insight into first-time Mommy-hood –  lots and lots of early stimulation.

My husband and I have already gone through the experience of  birth arrival  phone calls from parents. We’ve had the gamut of  feelings: euphoria, pride, gratitude and the overwhelming desire to just go. Do. Help. Support. Advise. Counsel.

But each time we become grandparents to another little boy (only boychiks so far in this family!) we learn about ourselves vis a vis today’s generation. We learn that times are changing. We realize that kids know what to do and are pretty definite about how they are going to parent.

And we learn that it’s best to keep our mouths shut regarding unsolicited advice. In some ways it’s not new, because we wanted the same space when we were new parents. But now we’re on the other side and it’s our job to be supportive and understanding, rather than didactic.

By now I get that  first time moms –and even second and third time moms –have pondered, researched and analyzed the pros and cons of all decisions for 9 months. And whether or not we agree or understand or recall doing things that way,  they want to do things their own way. In their own time.

So back to our new baby grandson’s arrival:

I called, texted and emailed my friends and family about the good news. Then,  I thought of posting some of the pictures onto Facebook.

But I stopped myself. Through a  WhatsApp, I asked,  “Is it okay to post a pic of the baby?”

Her swift response was , “Sure. No problem. Thanks for asking.”

The next day, I had a lot of things to do work-wise, and my head was swirling with tasks to get done in time for Shabbos.

I could have acted on autopilot. After all, I’ve done this many times before. The boy thing. The celebrations.  The gifting. The bris or brit milah (circumcision). The tumult surrounding all the phone calls. The decisions.

Still with all that I reminded myself that  this is not only my simcha. This is not my time to make firm decisions without consulting the new parents.  I had my time when I birthed and raised my own children. Now it was their time.

Within a few hours, the phone calls came in and the decisions were worked out.

They asked us if it’s okay if we  would host the sholom zochor for the baby.  the party after dinner on Friday night.

Great. We would be happy to do it.

I delegated the job of picking up the food and setting up the tables and chairs to them to my other son and daughter-in-law who were more than happy to help out.

And I then I got busy. My first stop would be the hospital. Yes, I would take off from work and go running to the hospital. I would even bring my dil a delicious meal from one of the local take outs that she likes.

But wait: Does she want visitors? Probably. Thinking back to when I was a new mom, I remembered that visitors were fun. But did I want unexpected visitors to come? Did I want surprises in the form of my mother-in-law?

No, I did not and neither does any new mom (hormones notwithstanding). So I did the right MIL-appropriate thing and I called my son and made sure they were up to visitors.

And when I went to buy the gift I asked the store owner for a gift receipt.  I didn’t want to impose my taste on her. While we relish those warm and fuzzy velour stretchies with cute blue and grey or turquoise and green stripes, these may not be the “in thing” for the young couples.

Last night my husband and I visited the new parents and their adorable baby. We oohed and ahhed and took lots of pictures of each of us holding the baby. We sat and chatted for awhile. And then we left.

This morning I got a phone call from my daughter-in-law. “Mommy, I just love those stretchies! That’s so nice of you….

I was happy to know that she enjoyed the new outfits. But more than that, I was glad that I had given her the space to decide for herself whether to “like” the gift. After all, none of us (not even the most veteran grandmas or bubbies) likes to be told what to like and how to be.

How do you navigate relationships with new moms and dads?

 

 


When the World Around Us Is Crumbling, Embracing Inner Change

Just this morning, the LAUSD (Los Angeles public school system) and other school systems received “credible threats” leading some to shut down the doors  to the schools. We hear this news and we are scared, insecure and feeling powerless.

But sometimes it seems that changes in the outer world have the odd benefit of causing self-reflection.

chinese-proverb-on-windmill

Recently I’ve been thinking about how I’ve changed  over the years. Most importantly, my identity about who I am versus who I was is more defined for me these days than it ever was.

At the core, I’m still the same person. Yet, my hobbies, how I occupy my time, my life goals, and my overall perception of myself have gone through small and large gradations.

On the exterior, I’m a hybrid of middle aged dieter and sometimes-exerciser, part time music therapist, English teacher, home owner (new kitchen remodeler!), broken ankle survivor, grandmother, writer, blogger, friend, daughter, mother-in-law. (not in that order, please).

My relationships keep expanding: Friends, acquaintances, more grandchildren, new daughters-in-law, colleagues, social media friends and so forth.

But on the inside I’m a mixture of the former and insecure together with the new and evolved and more confident. My struggle throughout life seems to be to peel away the layers of insecurity one by one, and hopefully emerge as a whole person.

When I was newly married, I’d fill out forms and where they’d ask about occupation, I’d write “housewife.” There was no hesitance as I checked off that box.

housewife-with-cook-book

There was no place for “stay at home mom” (and the term wasn’t yet in vogue) so “housewife” was the closest thing to my truth. I spent my days at the park or library,  shopping for groceries, carpools and cooking uncomplicated meals.

You know, Mommy-ing.

I also taught piano lessons up to ten hours per week, and taught Music Appreciation at local elementary schools.

I was a Mom who stayed home and who also went out to teach part time. When posed with the question about what I “did,” my answer was “Mom, mother.” Not very glamorous on today’s standards, but that was my answer.

Whatever work I did, it wasn’t “real” work, to me. The other non-Mom stuff were more hobbies to me than form of profession.

Looking back, I don’t think I was completely truthful. Maybe I felt guilty admitting that I wasn’t really a full time mom, so I fudged the whole truth on those forms. (You know, like the weight on driver’s license? Okay, that’s different, but you know what I mean).

So, it wasn’t until I started to work as a music therapist, specifically when I did my full time grueling music therapy internship, that I thought of myself as something other than a Mommy. After years of music therapy school, studying, auditioning and practicing more hours of piano than I can believe, I changed my self-perception.

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After getting my first (music therapy) job, I declared myself a professional.

Finally, I embraced the real me – the one who did enjoy Mommying and nurturing, but had a drive to help in the outside world. The one who could feel whole and complete doing the things that I always wanted to do with my music, with people and for the world.

Being a professional to me was more than just a term that defines the protocol for gaining respect in the corporate world. Professional didn’t only mean practicing ethics and values deemed appropriate for my job.

Professional standing – and my admitting that I am a person with a profession or career – helped me carve my identity in my other roles.

I suddenly became in touch with my raison d’etre and my dreams.

I had always dreamed (a far-off seemingly unattainable dream) of becoming a music therapist, ever since my first piano teacher – whom I adored – had worked during the day as a music therapist for children with autism. She would discuss what it was like to be a music therapist (in between teaching me songs I would ask questions!) and I was fascinated.

So, in my early 30’s, when most of my then four kids were in school, I went back for another degree, earned my music therapy credential and a few years later, my Masters in Special Education and started to work. As I built up my music therapy practice,  I realized more and more how fulfilling my new career can be.

Fast forward to about 8 years ago when I became a grandmother, I suddenly was overcome by a newly emerging identify. I was a grandmother. Hey, I wasn’t young anymore. I wasn’t a Mom of little kids.

I gave birth to a new identity – that of grandmother.

I began to write. My first article – which I called “Naming the Grandparents”  was published in a local magazine for Jewish women. The editor gave me a column every other month and I jumped at the opportunity.

I realized that I had been touching upon a relevant topic to women of my age. Every month or so, I would sit down to write my thoughts about this new stage of being a grandmother, mother-in-law and mom of adult kids.

As my younger sons were growing into young men, I was starting to see large themes and topics burst into articles of interest and humor. I took stories of my life and wrote about them.

Then came the birth of my book, titled “Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby!” – a collection of my stories about the joys and oys of being a grandmother and mother of adult kids.

Then came blogging and publishing on social media.

As we watch our children all “growed” up and our grandchildren doing so well thank G-d, my husband and I feel we’ve done a pretty okay job at the Parenting Profession. (Yep, he gets a lot of credit for that part..)

Now, I am knee deep into many other professions – that of adult parenting, grandmother of toddler, pre-school and early elementary school grandsons and other roles.

I’ve broken my ankle and gone through surgeries, gained lots of weight (7 months of non-weight bearing will do that) and gone through other challenges.

Looking back at the changes I’ve made, I can be proud. I can now look forward to more changes to come within myself.

And if those terrorists continue to make threats at Western Civilization, maybe others can work at changing the world. I’m just going to try to change myself with one song, post, article, school lesson, or kind word or hug at a time.

 

 


My Grandmother Persona

My posts online about my grandchildren, my book about becoming a mom-in-law and a grandmother, and my Facebook page with  the ubiquitous images of my grandsons may give people the idea that I’m a Stay-at-Home Grandmother.

FB friends may think I’m  the always available and hands-on grandmother who sits down on the floor and plays legos, chess, checkers  and Tinker-toys. Or maybe readers of my articles imagine  I’m the type of Grandma who babysits at a moment’s notice, takes care of the kids while their parents go on vacation, or gives them baths and does homework.

Well, I’m none of the above – for sure not on any steady or regular basis.

Or it could be they envision I’m that type who sits on the rocking chair and knits blankets, talks about the good ol’ days and then gets up and bakes a whole batch of cookies with the kids.

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Does she look like me? Nope.

People (who haven’t read my book) may even think I’m the sort of Grandma who dispenses advice and hovers over the kids.

Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

And frankly my adult kids are not pining for that kind of grandmotherly attention. Or advice.

So I never ever (ever) give unsolicited advice. Well, almost never.

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Not me.

The reality is that  I don’t know how to bake very well, my daughters-in-law are better bakers than I am any day.  And they pretty much know what to do, and if not, they certainly don’t need my comments of how things were done in the old days.

I  kind of do my own thing. And with doing my own thing -teaching, writing, playing music….

We love music!

and being a wife, friend and other roles–

and basically having my own life comes the reality of not being available to do all the grandmotherly things that our grandmothers and mothers did with their grandkids (that-is us and our own children when they were little).

We are a combination of what we experienced as children, both as daughters and as grand-daughters. We get to pick and choose from our own upbringing, what we will – and won’t transmit to the next generation and beyond.

And then we create a persona for ourselves that works with our own personalities and lifestyles.

I often think and reflect about my grandmothers and the loving times I had with them.  My relationships with them have informed my relationships with my grandchildren.

But I’m very different from them.  Both my grandmothers were what one might call today “stay-at-home” grandmothers. Even though they definitely didn’t stay at home  all day, but went shopping and to various activities around their communities, they were pretty much available to my parents when they were needed.

Both  grandmothers were born in Europe, as were my parents. My grandparents lived well into my young adulthood and  were very close to me, my siblings and cousins. I always considered my grandmothers as women who I could go to when I had a problem, who would be on my side and would never reprimand me.

My paternal grandmother helped me with my French and history homework, sat for hours and told me stories about her childhood, and came over every night, especially after my grandfather passed away to hang out with us.

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My maternal grandmother would take care of us when my parents went on vacation, would do arts and crafts projects with my cousins and me on long Sunday afternoons, and have us over on Shabbos afternoons sometimes while we played hide-and-seek with the cousins in her fun attic at her home in Brooklyn.

It was wonderful to have that, and I want to be that way with my own grandchildren. And some of that stuff I do. I’m there for them sometimes to babysit, if I’m available. I do the carpools if I’m available, which doesn’t happen that much lately because my work hours coincide with the children’s pick-up times from school.

I take them from time to time to ice cream or 7-11 or  pizza.

But, overall, I am not as available to my adult children.

When a mom has a new baby, my daughters-in-laws’ moms come to help them. I’m not the mom; I’m the in-law and I know my place. I’ll read books to the boys,  play music and sing to the new baby, but wake up in middle of the night for them, like my own mother did for me and like my grandmother probably did for my mother? Not quite.

And while I feel bad about that in a way, because I would love to be “that” kind of grandmother who really bonds on a primal level with the kids, I’m just not that way.

And I think my adult kids are just fine with that. They know I’m a package deal, the kind who stays out of the way, out of the house, and is there to hug, kiss, love and most of all brag about her grandchildren.

And oh – of course, I’m there to post a picture (or two or three) online.

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What kind of Grandmother are you?

Stay tuned for this series of things I do (and don’t do) as a Grandmother.

 


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