DISCLAIMER: The Zamboni Lady is not a doctor, nor does she play one on TV. She is, simply, a busybody who wants to know everyone else’s business. The advice, while well-meant, is not meant to substitute for legal advice or protection, indicate a definitive way to live one’s life, or in any way imply that you should take her advice any more seriously than you would the advice of the bestie of your bestie, given out over a long and tear-soaked evening of nachos and margaritas.
Bad advice. It’s everywhere.
Though the following isn’t bad advice so much as it is advice not to make waves and cause a potentially embarrassing family problem, which all things considered isn’t all that terrible (who needs a rift?), but then again…the family in question seems like they need a verbal kick in the ass.
I really felt like the lady who wrote this letter was looking for someone to commiserate with her. And I? Am just that gal. 🙂
Here is the letter as it appeared in an advice column:
Dear Advice People: My husband is a high-ranking officer in the military. He has worked hard to achieve his current position and is highly respected.
The problem is, his family treats him like a child. In a few months, there will be a formal ceremony to mark his change of command. My in-laws will be in attendance, and they are certain to embarrass him. They insist on calling him by his unusual childhood nickname (he cringes every time). They talk down to him and give him gifts meant for children, such as books for teen boys (last Christmas), a small child’s backpack (last birthday) and now a child’s piggy bank, which they intend to present to him in front of his unit at the ceremony. These gifts are not intended as jokes. My husband is always gracious on the outside but horrified on the inside.
Is there some way to remind his family that he is indeed an adult and has certainly earned the right to be treated like one? — Proud Military Spouse
And Zamboni Lady says:
I’ve italicized the advice this woman was given, with my responses in regular, rant-friendly font.
Dear Spouse: It is difficult to change ingrained behavior without the cooperation of all the people involved.
No kidding, it’s difficult! Especially when the people involved are infantilizing control freaks. Part of the process of being a relative (aunt, parent, older cousin, sibling, similarly aged cousin, childhood friend, whatever) is accepting that your relationship is going to change with taste and propriety as you both get older. Stevie McPoopypants might gain control of his bladder and probably won’t always love dinosaurs. Unless Tooter goes into the world of fashion design she’ll probably lose interest in Barbies. ShellyBelly won’t want to be ShellyBelly any longer, dig? Look…I have a niece with an embarrassing childhood nickname. Should we slip and call her that hated name (which I think is adorable but hey, it’s her call)…even when there’s wine involved, and it’s late at night, the doors are locked and the windows shuttered…we still have to face her wrath. And that’s OK, because her decision to not want to be called an embarrassing childhood nickname in no way reflects on me. Unless I’m the asshole who keeps calling her a name she can’t stand.
Your husband apparently has determined that the best way to handle his parents is to leave things as they are. That is his choice.
His parents have apparently decided the best way to handle their son is to pretend he’s never grown up. Books for teen boys? Child-sized backpacks? I get your anger, sister. There’s some serious neural misfirings there. Assuming they’re not mean, terrible people whose only joy in life is derived from humiliating their son, I have to ask: do they realize he’s an adult? Do they know he doesn’t have the same taste in things he had twenty years ago? Is his room still decorated in the Lone Ranger wallpaper of his youth? Did nobody read The Dead Zone? Don’t you people know what happened to the infantilized Frank Dodd?
While we appreciate your desire to be supportive and protective, you might also be adding to his stress because your reaction is one of anger and embarrassment.
Yeah, advice people, you’re right. It’s not the toy piggy bank they want to give him in front of a room full of the soldiers he commands that stresses him out. It’s the wife who wants to see his parents give him the respect they would any other adult that causes him anguish. Yup. You troublemaker.
Ask your husband whether he wants you to talk to his parents.
OMG, advice people! You’re infantilizing him all over again! This is like saying your mom should call the mean kid’s mom to talk about that unfortunate incident on the playground. (Nuh-uh, Mom! Don’t call!) Honestly? My guess is “talking” to his parents will be equally as effective as talking to the cat about learning how to drive. I don’t think it will result in anything good. Here’s how I picture it:
Wife: Hi, inlaws? Yes, this is your DIL. I’m fine, thanks. Listen, you know how you always get “Bob” gifts more suited for a nine-year-old? And he hasn’t actually been nine in a really long time?
Inlaws: What are you talking about?
Wife: Well, you know how you get him age-inappropriate books and toys and things, right?
Inlaws: No, dear. He’s always liked those things.
Wife: Well, actually, that’s where you’re mistaken.
Inlaws: I’m afraid I don’t understand, dear.
Wife: Some of those things are a little young for him, see? And it’s embarrassing. And you call him “Snoodgiepants” in public. That’s embarrassing.
Inlaws: Do you PRESUME to tell me how to behave with my own son?
(this is where the trouble starts, because what do you say? “Yes” = WW3 territory, and “No” = defeating the entire point of opening this dialogue)
Annnnd so on, until you’re so frustrated you hang up on them and drink gin straight from the cat’s bowl, while they call your husband behind your back to tell you what a busybody you are. If they’re the arrested-development, controlling weirdos they seem to be, then take care that you don’t get painted as the interloper trying to ruin their happy family. The last thing you need is for them to try and tear at your marriage, too.
If he says no, we urge you to separate their behavior from your husband’s reputation. His patient tolerance of their inappropriateness says many positive things about the strength of his character.
I’ll give them this. Everyone has flaky relatives they have to deal with. Unfortunately for him, his happen to be his parents, but he seems to have grown up well despite them. The problem is, the person who really needs to say something to his parents, is him. It is ultimately his decision as to how he conducts his relationship with his parents. No matter how much you may hate it (and I hear you) and no matter how much they piss you off (and I’m with you), it’s his call. Let him be the adult in this situation, and decide how his parents are to be dealt with, without your stepping in.
Advice grade: C-. Ultimately reasonable advice (let him conduct his own relationship with his parents), but doled out in a really dumb way