As I write this, I am in St. Joseph, Mo, my parents home town, visiting my grandmother. Grandma Gray, as I’ve always known her, is now 94. Though she lives in an assisted living center, she requires very little assistance. She still gets around pretty well, exercises daily, and is as sharp as tack. One of the greatest gifts in my life as been that she has lived long enough for me to know her as an adult as well as a child. I brought my two young children with me for this short trip. My daughter, who is almost seven, loved every moment of her time with Grandma Gray. My son, who is four, certainly had fun–generally–but seemed to actually bounce off the walls a time or two. All in all, it’s been a good visit and I’m so thankful I came.
That hasn’t always been the case for my visits with my grandmother. Don’t get me wrong. I love her dearly. I always have. And she is a genuinely nice and caring person–to strangers. Among family, she can sometimes be harsh and judgmental. She has smothered me with disapproval and criticism. Throughout my twenties, even though I was college-educated, gainfully employed, married and managing my own finances and household, she treated me like a child. Nothing I did was good enough. And I’m the kind of person who continually strives to be not just good enough, but perfect. I’m the kind of person who feels criticism deeply. I can’t tell you the number of times she would give me some task to do while I was visiting. She’d have me put up wall paper trim or rehang the curtains or frame some photos. Jobs that weren’t big, but that she couldn’t manage herself. Things I would gladly do for her–except that she’d stand over me, watching, criticizing and huffing with disapproval.
This attitude has never been limited to these menial tasks she gives me, I merely use them to illustrate a point. All my life she has disapproved of my weight (I’m not obese, but a good twenty pounds over weight). And don’t even get me started on my career … no wait, too late. I’m started. She didn’t like romance novels. Thought they were smut. She once told me my book made her sick to her stomach. (Honestly, I knew she wouldn’t approve of the premarital sex in them and begged her not to read my books. I even considered not telling her my pseudonym.) Once she asked how much I made per book. Idiot that I am, I told her. For years after she introduced me by saying, “This is my granddaughter, Emily. She writes smutty novels, but at least it pays well.” As if those two things weren’t enough, as a nice little cherry on top, she never trusted my opinion. My husband and I could give her identical advice and she’d ignore me completely and then jump on board the second he suggested the same damn thing.So you can see why–even though I love my grandmother and cherish her many good qualities–I haven’t been eager to visit.
But an interesting shift has happened in our relationship over the last few years and I think I have my children to thank. I think–regardless of my age–she never saw me as an equal until I had kids. Somehow, having kids, magically made me into a person worth listening to. Or maybe, now that I’m a mother, I finally have things to say that she’s interested in hearing. Either way, I’m glad for the shift in our relationship. (It helps that she’s changed her attitude about my books, but that’s a topic for another post.) I’m so thankful that she lived long enough for me to know her as an adult. For the past seven years, we’ve shared a unique camaraderie. We are both part of the great sisterhood of mothers. Okay, so maybe it’s not unique. I bet nearly half the people in the world are mothers. Maybe new is a better word. However I describe it, I’ve enjoyed it immensely Finally, she treats me like an adult. Today, she even took financial advise from me. It feel like I’m ushering in a new era.
Do you have any difficult relatives? How do you manage them? Has your relationship, like mine, changed over time?