A study published recently in "Scientific Reports" showed that as women age, they tend to be closer to their adult daughters than they are to their husbands. The husbands came in second, but adult sons were a close third. With Mother's Day fast approaching, those findings got me to thinking about how our parent-child relationships evolve over the years. When the kids are little, we are tasked with being their life guides. Yet as time goes by and our offspring come into their own as grown-ups, a paradigm shift can occur. Our progeny may have experiences as adults that will mold them in ways we never anticipated. If we refrain from being judgmental, we just might stand to learn a thing or two from the way they live their lives.
There's an old adage about teachers that goes "By your students you'll be taught." I suspected that the same phenomenon could be true for parents. When I broached this subject with several other Boomers, they wholeheartedly agreed and we came up with some clear ways we've been enlightened by our grown children.
Don't Be a Slave to Tradition
The first Thanksgiving after my older grandson was born, my daughter and her husband did not prepare a turkey with all the trimmings even though his parents had flown in for the holiday. The baby was barely two months old and as my daughter sagely said, "He's not going to eat the meal anyway." I was supremely impressed by her easy-going attitude, and her ability to keep her priorities straight at a time when the newborn needed to be first on her list. I had always been a slave to tradition even if that meant spending too much, working too hard, and skimping on sleep. My head was full of "shoulds" and "musts." Set the table with the good china and the silver and the crystal. Pull off a menu worthy of a photo spread in a women's magazine. Dress up and dress the children up, too. Now, better late than never, I'm adopting my daughter's healthy attitude. Of course over the years, as that first grandchild and his younger brother have become little boys who sit at the table, my daughter has begun to cleave to tradition a bit more closely. But last Christmas when the kids started squirming during dinner, she let them have snacks rather than urging them to eat the entrée. Good for her. We all had a lovely time as a result.
Be Happy in Your Own Way
One of the Boomers on my ad hoc panel for this article tells me that she has come to understand that her son is content with a lifestyle she would never have thought he'd enjoy. He's not at all driven and he's happy with a life away from the big city where he was raised. My own son is like that, too, and when I visit him I always return home feeling less frenetic, more peaceful, and more willing to savor each day as it comes.
Take What You Can Get
The perfect job, the perfect relationship, the perfect retirement plan, the perfect whatever. My Boomer friends all said they had been lifelong strivers but that their kids had taught them to ease up on expectations. I can relate. When I started dating after my divorce, I had a mental checklist for Mr. Right. Needless to say, no one ever measured up. Eventually, both of my kids had a little talk with me. Unless he's an axe murderer, they said, give him a chance. Maybe he's only Mr. Right Now, but what's wrong with that, especially at this time in your life? Why not just relax and have some great times together? And that is exactly what has come to pass.
Have a Sense of Humor
Several people mentioned this, and I definitely concur. My daughter has always had a knack for being laugh-out-loud funny even – or perhaps especially – in the face of adversity. My son's wit is subtler but equally cheering. Both of them can get me giggling when I start taking myself too seriously. I think my resolution for Mother's Day 2012 ought to be to look of the bright side of life in the same way that my children do. If I can accomplish that, they will have given me the best present a mother could ever receive.
Sondra Forsyth is a Senior Editor at ThirdAge.com.