Okay Elderly Aunt, I have a question for you. My parents watch my youngest child for me maybe once a month. They have a “news” program on a television in their home during almost all waking hours. I am strongly opposed to my child being exposed to the inaccurate and divisive vitriol that this media company is known for. How would you address this, while also expressing appreciation for the childcare?
Long, long ago, when the Elderly Aunt was somewhat more combustible than she is now, she was hired to work in a hot-bed of noodleheads whose feet were firmly stuck in the past. As the Elderly Aunt’s job was to change some of organization’s stick-in-the-mud practices, it was, as you can imagine, a situation guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of everyone involved.
The old way is the right way! The noodleheads would shout at her. You are wrong to try to change things!
And the still somewhat combustible Elderly Aunt would respond heatedly, No, you are wrong. Let me do what I was hired to do! You fuddy-duddies cannot cling to the past and expect this organization to remain relevant!
At the same time, the Elderly Aunt also worked with a wise colleague named Susan. One day after a heated conversation with a particularly difficult fuddy-duddy, she marched into Susan’s office, and said, So-and-so is impossible! He will not change and try doing things another way! Either he goes or I do.
Susan tut-tutted, smiled empathetically, and uttered these three words: Use “I” statements.
Huh? said the Elderly Aunt. What are you talking about?
It’s human relations 101, Susan said.“You” statements promote conflict, “I” statements promote conversation.
Talk about a light bulb going on! That was the moment the Elderly Aunt grasped that the language she used in difficult conversations either augmented or helped to diffuse the tension.
It is the Elderly Aunt’s opinion, dear reader, that the situation you are addressing is potentially as combustible as the one she dealt with long ago. Probably more so, in fact, as family and politics are involved, and both have seething undercurrents. As to how to addressyour parent’s habit of exposing your youngest to a News Network That Must Not Be Named, it seems to the Elderly Aunt that your choices are clear:
- You can maintain peace in your family by saying nothing and instead concentrating on the neutralizing the influence of Such-and-Such News in your child’s head.
- You can minimize the risk of open conflict by taking your mother’s hand, giving it a squeeze, smiling, and saying, “Mom, you and Dad are wonderful to look after your granddaughter/grandson, and I’m so happy to have her/him spend quality time with his you. And I do understand that you and Dad are huge fans of Such-and-Such News, and I’m not trying to change your mind about that. But the thing is I am not a fan, and so I’d like to ask you to please switch to another station or (better yet, in the Elderly Aunt’s opinion) turn off the TV when my youngest is with you.
Should you go with Option #2, the Elderly Aunt has observed over the course of her long life, that the initiator of difficult conversations sets the tone in more ways than just her choice of language. With this in mind, the Elderly Aunt always makes certain she goes into these conversations relaxed, cheerful and optimistic that everything will work out fine. And more times than not, it does.
Sadly, if your parents have become zealous members of an ideological tribe and believe it is their sacred duty to recruit your youngest into the fold, there’s nothing you can do other than remain calm, cool, and non-accusatory in the face of their nonsensical response to your perfectly reasonable request— and then either fall back on Option #1 or seek alternative childcare.
Alas, even the Elderly Aunt could not control her parents. And neither, dear reader, can you. What we can control is the level of damage generated during our interchanges with them. In the Elderly Aunt’s experience, as long as she remained calm, difficult parental discussions rarely mushroomed into accusatory set-tos that were still causing tension at the next Thanksgiving dinner.
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. To get the Elderly Aunt’s advice on an issue that’s been intriguing or bugging you, email your question to email@example.com with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).