Unwanted Advice - January 30, 2009 ("Ding Dong, the Pompadour's Gone") Edition
We're both of Russian descent, and used to respect for adults. His father physically punished him till he was 16, and then it was military academy. He has high standards for everyone. He was hard on his daughters when they visited but now their mother is ill and the girls assumed more chores.
I've said, "Don't be so hard on my son." But he expects the kids to clean their rooms spotlessly. My son is not so consistent. My partner also expects them to shovel snow, but my son doesn't always do a perfect job.
Every time my partner gets angry, he wants to sell our house. Sometimes I want to stay with him; other times I want to get my own place and go on with my life.
THE UNWANTED ADVISOR SAYS:
There’s nothing wrong with being strict, but there is something wrong with someone who’s a constant “noodge” and who just can’t be satisfied. That’s what your stick-up-the-ass boyfriend sounds like. Sorry his dad was hard on him, but he should have learned from the experience that it’s not the best way to raise kids. Sadly, people whose parents didn’t show them much affection don’t learn how to show any to their own kids. I feel sorry for his daughters if something happens to their mother. (On a side note, what does being of Russian descent have to do with “respect for adults?” Are you saying somehow that some people have the ethnic right to be unlikable? I call bullshit on that one. Once you come through Ellis Island, drop that shit at the door.)
It sucks that you two own a house together, because that makes a breakup really complicated and messy (it’s probably just me, but there’s NOTHING else, at least from your letter, that would make me want to stay with such a person). And his constant threats to sell the house sound like a child’s ploy of holding his breath until he gets what he wants. Tell him to buy out your half at the original price, then he can try to sell it for today's market price. Good luck to him with that.
Your first responsibility is to your kids and you have to follow your parental instinct. You should follow through on punishments, if only to send the message that you mean what you say. But you should not be unreasonable, and if you’ve told him not to be so hard on them, and he refuses to change, it might be time to kick Krushchev to the curb.
DEAR AMY: I could not help but chuckle at the tale in your column of the grandmother who praises her other grandchildren while visiting the daughter-in-law's children.
Our grandma always did that. She had six daughters, and when she came back from visiting her other grandchildren, we always heard about how talented, attractive and brilliant our cousins were.
"Why can't you be more like them?" she would ask.
However, our mothers were close. They visited one another often, and we went along, amusing ourselves by relating the things Grandma said about the others.
It was one of the more enjoyable aspects of our childhood.
Now, we are all grandparents. I will never forget the day I called to tell my grandmother that I was a grandma.
"How does it feel to have your granddaughter be a grandmother?" I asked her.
"Don't you ever say that again!" was her reply.
Last summer we had a cousins' reunion. Many of us had not seen one another in over 50 years. We had a wonderful time, and most of our stories were about all the things that Grandma said so long ago.
We don't know why she did it, and it really does not matter. She visited with us and noticed us, in her own peculiar way.
—A LOVING GRANDDAUGHTER
THE UNWANTED ADVISOR SAYS:
Glad you got such a chuckle out of it, but it does matter, and it matters enormously. Parents/grandparents who compare kids unfavorably to other kids are setting them up for years of self-esteem issues, because there’s no way they’re going to be “more like their cousins.” That’s because they’re not, you know, their cousins. Every kid’s different, and while it’s OK to correct and discipline kids when it’s necessary, you’re pitting one kid against the other to compare them personally.
It's simply ducky for you and your cousins that you avoided that situation, but most kids are not that lucky and it builds family resentment. And most kids would rather not have granny visit with them at all or notice them in any way, peculiar or otherwise, if she’s gonna pull that shit.
Of course, many old people just want kids to do things in a way that meets with their rheumy approval, and they’ll use any method in their yellow, dog-eared book to achieve that end.
I wonder how much they’d like it if their grandkids said to them, “Why can’t you be more like Johnny’s grandma? She’s dead.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are a very noticeable family, as our children are black and my husband and I are white. As such, we draw an inordinate amount of attention.
While this was manageable when the girls were infants and couldn't really understand what was being said, now that they are getting older and are acquiring language, we are trying our best to learn how to field some of the questions that we get. While we are very happy with how we formed our family through adoption and are always happy to discuss our experience, preferably out of the girls' earshot, what leaves us stammering are questions such as "Where'd you get them?" "How much did they cost?" "Are they real siblings?" "Is their family dead?" "What'd they die of, AIDS?" "Couldn't you have your own children?"
I've tried asking with the slightest of remonstrance "Excuse me?" but, of course, that just led them to believe that I couldn't hear what was being asked, and the question was repeated even more loudly.
We want to equip our children with the tools to deal with these sorts of people, as they will be encountering them throughout their lives. And this is their story, their personal information being asked. I would never think to ask someone with a newborn, "So, how much was the hospital bill?" or "Do they all have the same father?" And, for the record, these are my own children.
On the other side of the coin are the generally very well-meaning people who say, "God bless you for saving those children," or, "They'll have such a better life now."
We merely wanted a family, we didn't adopt to "save" anyone, and I can't say that they will have a better life. Yes, there are things that we can provide that their family couldn't. But they also lost their family, their country, their language and their culture. Their life will be different, but I can't say that it will be better, and I don't ever want to dismiss what they have lost.
I also never, ever want them to feel indebted to us. They owe us nothing, or, at least, no more than any other child owes a parent, and I feel that these questions could easily make them feel like they should be grateful or thankful for being adopted.
What is the gracious way to handle these questions so that we can model for our children the appropriate responses?
THE UNWANTED ADVISOR SAYS:
You sound like you have a terrific attitude about parenting and are very patient and kind.
You’ll need to ditch those qualities temporarily while you deal with these rude and nosy bastards.
People such as the first group, who ask such shockingly offensive questions right up front, have thrown down the gauntlet and set the tone of the conversation to follow. So don’t worry about being rude when you respond by asking, "What the hell kind of a question is that," or my personal favorite, the more potent, “Were you born in a fucking cave?”
The well-meaning ones are also a little misguided, but not malicious. You can still have fun with them, though. Simply say, “Oh, we’re not saving them—we’re using them right away!”
DEAR MARGO: I’ll bet you’ve heard this before, but it’s a first for me. While putting away my husband’s laundry, I came across a packet of letters shoved into the back corner of his drawer. They were in a rubber band, without envelopes. These were definitely love letters — some with lipstick kiss prints at the bottom, but not signed with a name. Because of a few references, I know they are relatively recent. None of them, however, referred to my husband by name, merely as "Darling" or "Babycakes."
I decided against pretending I had not discovered them and handed the packet to my husband when he came home from work. He seemed quite nonplussed, then said they had nothing to do with him … that he was merely "keeping them for a friend." And I told him I was Marie of Rumania. I need to get to the bottom of this and would like your opinion as to whether I am jumping to conclusions.
— HOPPING MAD
THE UNWANTED ADVISOR SAYS:
First, let me ask: do you normally put away your husband’s laundry? If so, it’s reasonable for him to expect that you would find the letters in the back of that drawer, unless he keeps his underwear in the freezer. I’m guessing that he wrote those letters himself to make you jealous. Lipstick? “Babycakes?” Gag me with a spoon. This guy’s been listening to too many Connie Francis records.
You jumped to a conclusion, all right, but the wrong one. You should have asked him where he bought the lipstick and where you could get some.
(P.S. Are you Marie of Rumania?? Can you introduce me to the Ceaucescus? I’ve always wanted to have tea with dead historical figures, however despotic—minus the stench of decay, of course.)