I was upstairs, getting my youngest to bed and listening to my mother-in-law complain about our dishwasher. She was loading it, which is always appreciated, but the criticism? Not so much. She kept saying “unacceptable.” My wife was in the kitchen with her, explaining that it still works, and that we didn’t have money for a new one right then. But she wouldn’t drop it. With each clank of that wobbly, chipped up thing, she told my wife that she deserved something better.
And yes, I will admit, our dishwasher is a hunk of garbage. And yes, my wife, my family, does deserve something better. But we can’t afford better right now. I’m sure anyone with small children who is reading this can understand. The dishwasher came with the new larger house we bought about a year ago. When we moved in, it looked pretty nice, but after using it for a year or so, we discovered that it wasn’t installed properly, and so now every time we open the door, half the thing tips out and smacks the ground, chipping up the front and causing dishes to shift and roll forward. The springs, or something, are bad on the door too, so if you’re not careful it will flop down and hit you in the knee.
But like my wife said, it works. And between our children needing braces and youth sports and our minivan breaking down, we just haven’t had the money to get a new one.
Not that any of that matters to my in-laws, or my parents, for that matter. It never does. I’m in my mid-30s and my wife and I have been married for over a decade. When I was in college and my wife was working full time in retail and I was waiting tables in the evening, my mother felt she needed to discuss with me how the two-bedroom house farmhouse we could hardly afford wasn’t acceptable, and that I needed to be doing more for my family.
After college, it took my wife and I almost two years to get approved for a house loan on a small 1,000 square foot home. It was a huge achievement, and when we showed it to our parents, they told us it was too cramped and unacceptable. They couldn’t understand how we would want to live in something so small. Once we finally moved into a larger, newer, nicer home in a much better part of town, I got to listen to my mother-in-law discuss how we should’ve never bought a used house.
Between raising children, maintaining a marriage, and getting through school, my wife and I have clawed our way into establishing ourselves, and with each step, we have been faced with criticism from our more established parents. And frankly, it sucks. We have always provided our family with a clean and safe place to live. We have always had reliable transportation, healthy food on the table, clean clothing, and health insurance. But none of that seems to matter to them.
And when I think about all the snide comments, I cannot help but wonder if our parents have forgotten where they were at this stage. When my mother was in her early-20s, she lived in a shady trailer park in a rough part of town with my older sister and her first husband. I know my in-laws lived in a rural, rundown, farmhouse similar to the one my wife and I rented when we first got married. I’ve seen pictures of their family cars, and so I know they weren’t stellar.
What I’m trying to get here is a simple truth: it takes time to get established. Years and years, actually, so parents and in-laws, next time you visit your child’s home, think about where you were at this age. Realize that you didn’t have it all together quite yet, either. Then keep your criticism about housing size, appliances, vehicles, or whatever to yourself.
Realize that your children are working very hard, and please don’t expect them to be further along or in a better place financially than you were at that same time. And don’t compare them to where their siblings might be, because each journey is different. Don’t apply your standards and understanding of life and living after raising a family to where your children are while raising children. Unless the situation is truly dangerous, keep your tips and suggestions to yourself. Realize your children would probably love a larger house or better appliances or a newer vehicle if they could afford it. But until they can, they are living within their means, and frankly, that’s a huge accomplishment that you should be proud of.
So next time you’re visiting your children, take a step back before you comment on that usable, but slight off-balanced and mismatched washer set, or the carpet that has seen a few too much traffic, or the van with the dent in the side, but still runs pretty good, and think about where you were at that same time. Think about the struggle and how long it took you to get where you are, how hard you had to fight and scrimp and save, and then shut it.
Please and thank you.