LOS ANGELES—I feel bad when people my age complain about estranged relationships with their parents. They can’t talk to their moms and dads and, quite often, don’t even want to be in touch with them. Unless there is abuse happening, I can’t understand this idea of estrangement. You all ignore each other for years just because you don’t share the same ideas or voting habits?
I’ve always been close with my parents, despite so many differences.
A good relationship requires work. Mom and Dad didn’t understand us when we were listening to A Flock of Seagulls or that brat down the street who talked us into bleaching our hair and they don’t always understand us now. Who can blame them? Sometimes we are so obsessed with ourselves and our rotten, but loveable kids, we forget that we, too, are rotten and not always so loveable. We retain water and debt, why not patience or the ability to visit for longer than ten minutes with the people who gave us life?
When today’s senior citizens think about their middle-aged children, I’m sure they’re surprised. My parents, and my friends’ parents, truly believed once we got past piercing our noses, staying out after curfew, and dating mechanics, we’d all begin to like each other.
But it’s not always our fault either. Older folks can and should make an effort. I’ve listened to my peers’ complaints and they sometimes have a point. Look, I’m not above trying to help out my own generation, but we must discuss what you, the older generation, can do as well. My parents get it right, so how hard can it be?
Here are some ideas.
1. Put on a shirt. This makes lengthy conversations, whether on Skype or in person over meatloaf, more appetizing. We know you can’t do much about all the nose hair and gas, but you can cover yourself. Please do.
2. Host a happy hour. If you’ve got some heavy news to throw down, serve something tasty. Don’t just sit there staring at us; put something in our hands and give us something to stare at while the news sinks in. For example, buy a round if death is imminent, or if you’re finally kicking us out of the guest room.
3. Lower your voice. Just because you’re deaf, doesn’t mean everyone else is.
4. Blame it on hackers. Technology is scary and so are your emails after a Friday night down at the Legion. Those five paragraphs you sent everyone, sharing more family secrets than an episode of Jerry Springer? Pretend your email account was compromised and, from now on, lay off the tequila before you go online.
5. Ease up on the criticism. Ignore our wrinkles, love handles, and every other shortcoming you can see a mile away with those super-duper bifocals. We aren’t perfect, but we’re doing our best. Telling the grandkids about our childhood indiscretions does not encourage anything other than a violent episode with that toilet scrubber you use to scratch your back.
6. Find something to like. We are in the same peer group now so pretend you like us. When was the last time you said, “You’re a terrific parent” or “Good job” or “That looks great on you”? Begin discussions with a statement about how great we turned out and offer us a homemade cookie. Then maybe we’ll pretend to be interested in how your sofa smells like grilled cheese.
7. Just listen and smile. Treat your middle-aged child like a child in middle school. We’re more alike than you know.
8. It boils down to this – stop reminding us that we’re just a few short years away from becoming you. Now, who’s buying?