Archive for the 'family' Category


childish vs childlike

Reader S. M. writes:

People have been accusing me recently of being childish. I don’t think I’m childish; I think I’m fun. What’s the difference so I can enlighten my accusers?

Dear S.M.:

I think we need to make a distinction here between acting childlike as opposed to childish. Acting childlike includes all the things we enjoy children doing; being childish is all the crap we hate that children do. People who are childish actually can’t tell the difference. So if your accusers are childish themselves, they’re probably accusing you of the same, because they’re impatient and annoyed by anyone who isn’t in line with their ideals of adulthood.

Slide down my rainbow into my cellar door and we'll be jolly friends forevermore more

Kids love rainbows! Image: digitalart /

In my opinion, being childlike is actually ideal. In fact, various religions promote being childlike — Buddhism for one, and even Christianity with that whole “faith like a child” thing. People who are childlike are definitely fun, but also calming, innocent, and interesting.

People who are childish are not.

So here’s a list of the childlike (traits we like in children) and the childish (traits we hate in children). Check off which ones you’re showcasing at any given moment, and decide for yourself if you’re being one or the other. (If you’re being childish, you might try working on being more childlike.)

CHILDLIKE: Boundless curiosity. People who are childlike never quit asking questions about the world around them. They want to know why things are the way they are, how things work, and where things go, and every answered question leads to a million new ones. It’s a purely innocent desire to know the truth, rather than the more adult drive to prove someone else wrong.

CHILDISH: Inability to comprehend. Have you ever watched a kid just NOT get something, over and over? Something so easy to understand, like gravity or liquid volume, and yet somehow the kid just can’t change their worldview enough to grasp it. The kid has an excuse — it takes time to learn certain things, and there are stages of development. Adults, however, don’t have that excuse — we’re all capable of comprehension and learning, but many of us just avoid it. Being stuck in your own worldview with absolutely no curiosity to learn anything new is a very boring problem to have.

CHILDLIKE: Unselfconsciousness. If you ever get a chance to see really little kids (I’m talking 4-year-olds or younger) performing at a dance recital or musical, take that chance and treasure it. Kids have absolutely no concept of how dumb they look doing something, so they’ll just do it, right along with the rest of the group, as best they can. They’ll wear whatever costume you put on them and just give it a whirl.  They’ll sing their hearts out, even though it’s all off key and off beat. Childlike adults don’t care what other people think — they do what they do without batting an eyelash, whether it’s sing karaoke, wear bright colors, or dance at a wedding. They don’t care how they look; they care that they’re having fun and trying.

CHILDISH: Crippling fear. When I was about eight years old, my grandfather took my sister and I to a haunted house fundraiser for the local high school. After he’d paid our entry fee, we started to go in… and I just couldn’t. Even though I knew rationally this was a fun house built by teenagers, I couldn’t bring myself to walk through it, for fear of what lay ahead. You watch children be afraid of jumping in the pool or riding a bike and you think how much of their lives they’ll miss out on if they don’t get over that. Childish adults are crippled by this kind of fear — fear of rejection, fear of the future, fear of commitment, fear of the unknown, and even though they could probably rationally talk themselves out of it, they just can’t seem to do it.

CHILDLIKE: Selflessness. Sometimes children do the most selfless things ever, without even thinking about an impending reward. As babies, they flirt with you just to see your reaction. They share everything they have, offering you the food in their hands, just to see what happens. This is partnered with their lack of self-conciousness to make them utterly charming.

CHILDISH: Lack of empathy. Young children actually have no concept of another’s feelings or sentience, and so they can be completely, destructively selfish. They throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. Kids grow out of it. Adults with no empathy readily engage in similar tantrums over not getting what they want. These are the road ragers, the guy yelling at the old man in the TSA line at the airport for not taking off his shoes, the impatient asshole in line behind you at the coffee shop. No empathy, no patience, completely childish and unbearable.

CHILDLIKE: Making everything a game. Kids just want to have fun, and therefore, they will find the fun in anything. Even in the absence of video games or technological gadgets, kids will pick up sticks, leaves, and dirt to play with, or just invent an imaginary kingdom all to themselves. They play all the time. And they laugh at everything. Childlike adults find the humor in things, and will invent fun if none exists around them.

CHILDISH: Being bored. Kids who are used to being stimulated all the time often complain of being bored. Without a video game console in front of them, they suddenly lack the imagination to make up a game of their own, and they whine about it. Adults who get bored are often similarly incapable of finding stimulation within themselves. Sometimes old adages are true: only the boring get bored.

CHILDLIKE: Honesty, at the risk of sounding or looking stupid. Kids who admit they don’t know something, or don’t like something, or feel sad about something, are awesome. Adults who aren’t afraid of being honest are similarly awesome. Honesty about feelings is probably most lacking in our adult society — whether it’s love, hate, fear, or sadness we’re feeling, we often won’t express it.

CHILDISH: Lying to hide something embarrassing or incriminating. Little kids who deny that they’ve done something, even though it’s obvious to everyone around them that they did it, are vexing. Adults who do it go to jail most of the time. People who can’t own up to their mistakes just get into more trouble in the long run.

So, dear readers, what goes on your lists of childlike vs childish behavior?


political familial emails

Reader B.C. writes:

You wrote about what to do if a coworker sends you a political email you’re not interested in, but what about if it’s a family member? My uncle keeps sending out these awful, spammy fowards about ridiculous conspiracies (usually political ones) that have been disproven on so many times it’s not even funny. But he’s still my uncle, and I don’t want to be disrespectful. What should I do?

Dear B.C.:

Just as I said for political emails from coworkers, my advice continues in this case to be: delete delete delete. If you don’t read it, it can’t bother you. If he sends exclusively spam, you can even create a rule (in most email services) to send his stuff directly to your spam folder or even to delete it immediately so you never even have to know it arrived in your inbox.

pillow fight

If only all political familial debates were solved this way. Image: photostock /

This will work as long as he doesn’t ask you about it. Most people who send out spammy emails don’t have time to ask you about it, though; they’re too busy looking for the next political conspiracy to be able to discuss what they actually sent out.

You can, if you want to, think of it this way: He believes so fervently in these conspiracies, and is so excited by them, that he wants to send them out to everyone he loves, so they can share in the warmth he feels. Clearly his trust in your beliefs is misplaced, but at least you know he loves you.

On the other hand, he could be sending them out because he believes they are so true that they will convert anyone. In which case, his belief in the power of conspiracy emails is misplaced, and there’s nothing you can do. As we all know, the pendulum of belief swings both ways — as much as he can’t convince you to believe his tripe, you can’t convince him not to believe it.

This is because belief in conspiracy has nothing to do with fact. Most beliefs have very little to do with fact, actually; they’re based in opinion and interpretation, but not fact. When you admit that this is the case, you become a lot less likely to insist that everyone share your beliefs. And you may even be willing to shift your beliefs when new facts are presented, if you ever get around to listening to them. But this is generally not true of beliefs you hold most dear and are most willing to fight for. In fact, I would argue that the more fervently you believe something, the less likely you are to allow facts to interfere, even if they directly refute your belief. And I would argue that this is true of everyone, not just your wackadoo uncle, and you’re probably guilty of it, too.

I’ll bet he talks about this stuff at the dinner table, or at family reunions. In which case you and your family probably exercise the age-old trick of changing the subject. Or you all chime in and have wonderful fights, including throwing mashed potatoes at each other. This is what makes families fun. But I doubt the latter scenario. Generally, in order to keep things civil, most people opt just to change the subject, and I have absolutely no problem with this.

If you really want to start a fight with him, you can send him the Snopes articles that disprove his chain emails. I’m going to guess he hasn’t discovered the BCC function, and therefore you can even reply to all of his friends and family members who have been subjected to his spam. This will not accomplish anything beyond probably embarrassing him and/or making your ego feel better, though. He’s not going to be convinced, I assure you, and he’s going to be mad you’re arguing with his “truth”. If you’re not the kind of family that throws mashed potatoes at each other “all in good fun” during an argument, then this is not the route I would suggest.

You could also ask him to quit sending them to you, which, once again, could make things awkward. I’d say you should be nice about it, and tell him you don’t read them, rather than telling him that you hate his political views and think he’s crazy. No matter what you say, though, he will believe that the truth of these emails is what’s bothering you, and he is not very likely to recognize that his “truth” is really annoying to everyone else, which means he may send them to you even more fervently. (Backfire!)

But I think you’re probably better off just realizing your uncle’s nutjob opinions aren’t going away with your wonderful reason and logic, and you’re better off just ignoring his spam. Delete. Delete. Delete.


xmas gifts for your mother-in-law

Reader N. K. asks:

Christmastime is coming, and I am in full gift-hunting mode. What do you get for the new mother-in-law you’ve only met a few times? She likes quilting and hunting — that’s all I’ve got. I am completely out of ideas here.

Dear N. K.:

Congrats on having a new mother-in-law, I think! That’s pretty exciting.

But other than that, I think the stress that comes with trying to find relatives gifts is pretty common over holidays. In our modern era, you spend even less time with in-laws and even first cousins than generations past, so it’s no wonder we hit Thanksgiving with no clue what to get people.

However, I am of the mind that a gift should reflect the giver as well as the recipient. So before you go trotting off to buy your new mom-in-law something you know nothing about, consider things that would make her think of you, too. Furthermore, you two have one more thing in common: your spouse is her off-spring. You might consider him (her? are you in Hawaii?) when you get the present, and I would definitely recommend getting his/her opinion or going in on a gift for her together.

I’m going to take you on a tour of what you could get and what each item would say about you and your relationship to mom-in-law.

In order of difficulty, from least to greatest:

A gift card to or Target or anywhere generic.

What it says: I don’t know you, I admit this, here’s some cash.

Why do it: Honestly, you don’t know her. And you won’t be getting her something she hates.

Why not do it: It could come across as lazy and careless.

Gift card or certificate to nearby quilting or gun store.

What it says: I kind of know you, like, enough to know that you like quilting and/or hunting, but not well enough to get you something too specific.

Why do it: Because I have never seen a gift certificate to a gun store before.

Why not do it: Once again, it could give off the “I really don’t care” vibe.

Empty boxes

I would not recommend giving empty boxes, even if they are pretty. Image: Francesco Marino /

A subscription to a hunting or quilting magazine.

What it says: I know your hobbies, and I’ve done a bit of research into what folks who do your hobbies probably read.

Why do it: Keep that magazine industry alive! Starving writers need their $20-per-article pay checks!

Why not do it: She may already have a subscription to every single hunting/quilting magazine that exists. Or she may hate reading.

Scented candle, bubble bath, bath set

What it says: I know you’re a girl, too, and while I don’t know that much about you, I know this is stuff that I, at least, would like to have. Also, I care greatly that you schedule some relaxation time.

Why do it: Everyone could use a scented candle or other bath accoutrement from time to time.

Why not do it: It can be generic. Also, what if she hates smelly stuff?

Quilting instrument you know every quilter needs

What it says: I know you love quilting!

Why do it: Every quilter needs this!

Why not do it: What if she already has it?

A gun.

What it says: I’m crazy.

Why do it: Shock value, only. Or to send a message to your mom-in-law that you MEAN BUSINESS.

Why not do it: I don’t think you can technically buy guns for other people, really.


moms and money

Reader P. J. asks:

who does mom's yard work?

Image: Michal Marcol /

My mother-in-law lives alone in an enormous house and has no income, although she does have enough in savings that she can live comfortably for a while. We’ve tried really hard to get her to move into a more manageable house, because the one she has needs a lot of work — yard work, roof work, floor work, etc. My husband and I live pretty far away from her, and we both work and don’t have time to take care of little details for her. We found out she just grossly overpaid for some lawn work (full disclosure: none of us could come over and do it for free), and I’m worried she’s going to spend her savings unwisely because she just doesn’t know how much certain things are worth. What can I do?

Dear P.J.:

This is a really tough one. The problem with taking care of adult parents is that they’re adults. Your m-i-l has been making her own life decisions for decades now, and unless she lives with you or is under your protection due to mental or physical infirmity, you don’t really get much of a say about what she does, even if it’s wrong. Part of being an adult in this modern age is living far away from your parents, which can be both a blessing and, as you know, a curse.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about monitoring her expenses. She’s going to have to decide how to spend her money, especially if it’s on work that she can’t get her kinfolk to do for free. (Which, btw, could be seen as mooching — I don’t think you’re wrong or a bad daughter-in-law to tell her she has to find a professional to do work for her.)

However, you could ask her to call you whenever she’s about to make a big purchase or pay someone for work so you can discuss how much she ought to pay. Make sure she knows to do it BEFORE she pays them or has them come out. Also help her with the estimate process — if she doesn’t know how to Google how much she should pay, do it for her. You can be a help from a distance without having to give up your entire adult life to go do her yard work for her.

Hopefully this arrangement won’t hurt her pride too much. If she’s unwilling to ask your advice or help on these things, maybe you can recommend that she talk these issues over with an accountant, or even a trusted family friend. But I think if she’s willing to ask you to do her lawn or housework for her, she should be willing to accept your advice on paying someone to do it.

I think the biggest takeaway from this is that you can’t feel guilty or responsible for her decisions if she’s in her right mind and is a capable adult. If she had Alzheimer’s or another debilitating illness that kept her from being able to do her own research and make intelligent decisions, then perhaps you should feel you have to step in. But adults make bad decisions all the time, and you have to let them do it, even if they’re your mother-in-law.

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