A friend once received a gift from her 16 year old daughter; a sign that said, “Be nice to your children, they will choose your nursing home!” She laughed, and turned around and handed it to her mom, who lives with them and said, “Grammy should put this in her room.”
Many of us have tumultuous relationships with our parents. Most of us have considered how our parenting is similar and different from how we were raised. Some of the choices I make for my kids feel like an equal-and-opposite reaction to the decisions my parents made about my upbringing. For example, I’m an only child…
I don’t know about you, but I am determined to make completely different mistakes than my parents made with me. Throw another a dollar in the therapy jar!
Anyway, I’m struck more and more often by the truth that relationships flow constantly in each direction. My experiences with multi-generational families in my work have made me realize that our kids learn a lot from watching our adult relationships with our parents.
I grew up far from grandparents and extended family, and always assumed I’d move away when I was an adult, which I did. Despite all my friends who talked about moving back, and mostly did, it never occurred to me to move back home after college. I really like my parents and enjoy spending time with them, but when I was growing up you moved for work, not family connection.
We’re lucky enough to be raising our kids in the same neighborhood with my husband’s mom. And there was never a better grandmother. In our quest to teach our kids respect, and responsibility towards those in our family, she helps us (which doesn’t even touch on all the help she gives us day to day) by just being here. Our children learn that we invite her to stuff, have her for dinner, ask her counsel. We stop by, help each other, honor her as best we can.
It’s a gratifying relationship, but it’s selfish too. This is our best argument for how we want our kids to treat us someday, how connected we hope to be.
My friend who got the sign from her daughter? Her mom lives with them, and my friend hopes she always will. Far more powerful a message than being nice to our kids; how we treat our parents will influence how our kids choose the home in which we someday are nursed.