Family Food Fights: Communication Skills May Save the Holiday

Posted on Tue, Jun 02, 2015 @ 06:35 AM


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Today's guest post is contributed by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008), and Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). A resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, Dr. Nemzoff also speaks and blogs about intergenerational relationships.

 

Q: All my children and grandchildren are gathering for a week at a beach house we rented in Florida. We all get along well, but I worry that differences in lifestyle will lead to tensions. One of my daughters eats only organic foods, another is a vegetarian and allows no meat to touch her table, and the third eats anything in sight. Obviously, each set of grandchildren is brought up with very different dietary practices. My six grandchildren range in age from 3 months old to seven years. My fantasy is that we will have wonderful meals together as I believe that sharing a meal is a great bonding experience. For me, cooking for my family is a way to show them my love. But I fear that our table will turn into a battlefield. We have not all been together in several years, so I have not had the opportunity to confront this situation before.

A: You will not be able to please everyone, so don’t try. Instead facilitate a conversation amongst your children, which will help you all figure out how to manage. Let all your children know that you desire to have some family time, and ask for their suggestions as to how this might be accomplished. Make it clear that you are trying to respect the needs of each of your daughters and their families. You are not trying to change anyone’s practices.

While all three families have agreed to spend their break with you despite their different culinary needs, the dining table is a most contentious place in your family and therefore not the best place for family bonding. You might need to forego your dream of meals together, but you enjoy your higher goal of unifying your family by bonding in other ways such as playing games, going for walks, or going on a trip to the beach.

In order to make sure this week is pleasant for all, you must raise your concerns in advance either with each child individually or with all of them by email or conference call/video chat. Ideally, two of your daughters might agree to be strictly vegetarian for the week so you could all sit down in the same room. However, this compromise may not be acceptable to your daughters and their husbands. You will not know unless you ask. The following are five essential questions that must be answered for this experiment to succeed:

  1. Can we come to a compromise or do we need to have family times that do not involve food?

  2. Who will buy the food and for whom?

  3. Is everyone willing to pitch in for the expense of organic foods, or are you willing to just buy organic for the whole family?

  4. Are the others willing to follow each other’s most restrictive rules? If not, how will the kitchen be managed?

  5. Are the carnivores willing to forego meat for a week?

  6. Are the vegetarians comfortable eating in the same space where others are eating meat?

You may find that your daughters come up with some innovative ideas just like they did when they were young. In any case, this is good practice for all of them and their families as they negotiate our complex society.

Sometimes we need to modify our dreams to achieve them.

_______________________

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal MA and is reprinted with permission.

 

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Tags: relationships, communication, extended family, holidays

Relationship Advice: Help! My Grandmother is Dating

Posted on Mon, May 04, 2015 @ 06:36 AM

Dating GrandmaToday's guest post is contributed by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008), and Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). A resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, Dr. Nemzoff also speaks and blogs about intergenerational relationships.

 

Q: My 72-year-old grandmother is dating and the family is up in arms. Some of my aunts find this unseemly, though my grandfather died three years ago. My uncle is worried that this man will take all her money, which isn’t a lot. My cousins worry she will be too busy for us. I think my grandmother has a right to live her life. Any suggestions on how we might integrate this man into the family?

 

A: While it’s always wise to plan ahead, a few dates won’t necessarily lead to a long-term commitment. Some of your family members’ worries may be premature. However, it’s never too early to reflect on the complexity of extended family relationships.

Three years is long enough to mourn. Your grandmother has fulfilled her obligations to her husband. She is entitled to choose life. She is to be commended for not sitting around moping in her loneliness. Instead, she is being proactive in attempting to enrich her life. At the same time, she is relieving the extended family of the sole responsibility for her happiness. After all, with life expectancies high, she might have 20 or 30 more years. Why should she not have daily companionship?

Rest assured, it is not uncommon for adult children of any age to be miffed when their parents are not available on-demand. Many adult children fear abandonment when their parents have a new love interest. There is a two-year-old in each of us that expects our parents’ full attention, even when we are adults. Your grandmother has put a lot of time into the family. It is unlikely that your grandmother will forsake her children and all of you.

Family members express their love in many ways. The concerns of your aunts and uncles indicate that they care about their mother. Like parents, adult children can be overprotective and out of date. On the other hand, like parents, some of the children’s concerns have validity. 

Whether your grandmother marries this man or a different one, it’s time to make sure your grandmother’s financial affairs are in the order she wants them. Estate lawyers can help her protect whatever money she has, if she so desires. This will not only make your uncle feel better, it also gives your grandmother a chance to talk about other end of life issues. Paradoxically, though she is choosing life, it’s an opportunity to talk about death.

Fortunately, we live in times when women are more than the matriarchs of their families. They are also individuals. Your grandmother is both a loving presence and a person in her own right. Value and respect her for both her contributions to your family and to herself.

 

_______________________

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal MA and is reprinted with permission.
 

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Tags: grandparents, extended family, dating and relationships

Relationship Advice: Dealing With an Overindulged Daughter-in-Law

Posted on Mon, Apr 13, 2015 @ 03:57 PM

Indulged daughter in lawToday's guest post is contributed by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008), and Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). A resident scholar at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, Dr. Nemzoff also speaks and blogs about intergenerational relationships.

 

Q. My son is engaged to a nurse from a wealthy family that gives her whatever she wants. I think it’s overindulgent, and fear that she will expect my son to support her in the same manner.

 

A. Just because parents give their children financial assistance into adulthood does not mean that they are necessarily spoiling them. Each family deals with money in its own way. Some parents believe they “spoil” the kids if they give them everything. Others, particularly families with disposable income, feel it is their joy and duty to share whatever they have to make their children’s lives easier.

The danger of giving too much money to children is that they will lack ambition. The girl in question is a nurse, which is hardly the profession of a spoiled brat. It seems that whatever her parents did with money, it did not squash her drive to achieve. She trained for a profession that is demanding and requires nurturing skills.

While to you she may seem entitled, she and her family may view it differently. Many parents these days subsidize rents and give money to their children while they are getting established in their careers. There are many motivations for financially helping one’s children.

You may fear that you will lose your son if he becomes enveloped in a family that can provide so much. Focus on the wonderful things you have to give the couple. While her parents may provide financial assistance, you can provide love, for example. Don’t assume that her parents are trying to manipulate your son. They may just be sharing their good fortune.

You may fear that your son’s fiancée will force him into debt, since she is used to a higher standard of living. Every couple must confront differences in lifestyles.

Monetary differences in lifestyle are no different than cultural divergences. Just because her family deals with money differently from yours does not imply that they are wrong and you are right. Harping on the dangers of having too much money will only alienate you from your son.

Instead of worrying and judging, try to enjoy this happy time in your son’s life. Your son is a grown man, and he must make decisions in his life.

 

_______________________

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal MA and is reprinted with permission.

 

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Tags: family relationships, in-laws, extended family