Loud parents, silent grandparents create problems across generations

It’s an intergenerational problem: when to shut up, and when to speak up. Two takes, both worth listening to, came up on blogs of the same day last Friday. Writer Susan Goldberg vents for millions of abused passers-by in a protest published in the New York Times Complaint Box:

We see them everywhere. And if we’re being honest, we have all had the same frightening and ignoble urge to smash their heads in with a brick. I am speaking about those smug and uber-informative moms and dads who do their parenting in public places — aggressively and at the top of their highly educated lungs. They are easy to recognize, decked out in natural fabrics and larded up with the self-importance that comes from foisting “teachable moments” on an unsuspecting public.

Vibrating with earnestness and a gravitas that can seem eerily out of proportion to the setting, they pollute the public airspace as they loudly instruct their artisanal children on topics like sharing, Unicef or the water table — all the while glancing about furtively to make sure that people have noticed how very patient and loving and role model-y they are. Unable to let any educational opportunity go unexploited, they are famous for holding up checkout lines while they explain commerce and all the denominations of American currency to sleepy and uninterested toddlers.

While I may desperately wish that they would shut up, or at the very least use their “inside voice,” it is not because I am morally opposed to displaying one’s parenting skills for the approval of strangers. I myself was a young mother once, and I remember quite clearly the thrill of maternal showboating. What bothers me about this generation of parental windbags is their painful lack of subtlety; when they speak to little Cassidy or Aidan, it is at an almost nuclear volume. I may have been a showoff, but I like to think that I did it with panache. I spoke softly and intimately to my children, as if my words were intended only for them, as if I were indifferent to the gentle Madonna-in-blue-jeans image I presented.

And in almost the same breath, the good doctors Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roizen proclaim, on their RealAge blog, that silence can be bad for your health, specifically once you get past the age of the parents cited above:

No doubt that loud noises are bad for you, wrecking your hearing and even driving up your blood pressure. But silence can hurt you, too — at least when it’s what you don’t say to your doctor. Don’t fall into these clam-up traps:

You think something “isn’t worth bothering anyone about.” We know a 50-something guy who kept hoping that the shortness of breath he had while walking up the hill to work was just going to go away. Fortunately, he got himself to the hospital . . . where he survived his heart attack. We know you don’t want to hear something’s amiss, but it’s better for you to hear it when you’re standing than for others to hear it when you’re about to go 6 feet down.

You think your appointment is over when you leave. You don’t get to ask your doc questions only after you’ve forked over your co-pay. Too many people leave their appointments and then say, “I wish I’d asked . . . whether I can have wine . . . when I can have sex,” and other essentials. Don’t rely on Dr. Google! Smart patients call or e-mail and ask!

You think that if the doctor didn’t bring it up, it’s not important. We can do lots of things, but mind reading isn’t one of them. We don’t know that you’ve been having erectile dysfunction, chest pains, or an overwhelming desire to speak in Klingon unless you tell us. We don’t know what that last one means, either, but if it’s bothering you, mention it. Speaking up may be the healthiest move you’ve made.

Goldberg’s rant stirred plenty of speaking up from all sides. The question remains, though, when the over-parented toddlers reach grandparenthood, will they remember to speak up for themselves?

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