Not everyone has been disappointed about being unable to have the family over for Xmas. As part of a get together on Zoom over the festive season, where I knew only a few of the attendees, one woman was sounding-off about how thrilled she was to be able to avoid her in-laws this year.
They had a strained relationship at the best of times, but recently she’d suspected the grandparents of manipulating her two children and sowing the seeds of discontent. She was tired of the competitive edge and being made to feel resentment and anger. What a difficult situation.
She realised that couldn’t criticise their grandparents to the children, that would put the kids in an impossible position. She knew that using them as weapons in a fight between grown-ups would destroy both relationships. This was a good start, so I drew on a piece of advice that a wise man once imparted to me. Go to other extreme: kill them with kindness (metaphorically speaking of course!).
The next time the whole family were together, she could take a deep breath and refuse to rise to the bait. In this position, it's wise to try to discuss rather than defend, to respond with a lightness of touch and good humour. It’s likely that the situation is not as big a deal to the children as it is to her, and she would do well to take a leaf out of their book and resist the urge to become too emotional.
Usually, children have a deep-seated loyalty to their parents, so she should have faith in them and in her parenting. The children’s relationship with their grandparents is theirs and theirs alone, they need a chance to navigate it on their own terms. My suspicion is that they wish only to keep the peace, and that if the three of them in the immediate family are working towards that aim, perhaps it will succeed.
I was recently reminded of ‘The Liver Birds’ the 1970s sitcom starting Nerys Hughes and Polly James (check) as a couple of flat sharing girls carving out their own lives in Liverpool. I was around six when it first came out. I remember sitting at the top of our stairs with a pal from school ‘playing’ the girls. It was my life’s ambition to move to a city and share a place with a girlfriend. It’s commonplace now, but at the time such an arrangement was anything but. The Liver Birds were so different from any other portrayal of women on television at the time. They were my heroines, showing me that I didn’t necessarily need to marry a man to get out of the familial home and on with my life. I loved them.
When I was a little girl, these were the words I dreaded hearing coming out of my mother’s mouth. They always heralded a difficult topic, and were a signal for me to be on my guard. Mostly, whatever it was Mum wanted to talk to me about was never as bad as I had imagined it might be.