Q. "My parents visited us at Thanksgiving. My husband's parents came for Christmas. And both want us to go see them this summer, which we usually do.
"I hate to say this, but after this last round I'm not sure I ever want to see them again.
"My parents gave the children candy and toys and let the kids do whatever they wanted. When we objected they said we were too strict.
"My in-laws shushed the kids all the time, corrected them for the slightest thing and told me I didn't discipline them enough.
"Each visit had at least one small scene a day, though we held back and -- who knows? -- maybe they did too. However, nobody held back enough, and there was a colossal scene near the end of each visit. And although there were a lot of apologies afterwards, the damage was done. The children were basket cases when they left, and so were we.
"This has happened on every visit. So this time we wrote both sets of parents before they came and told them we wanted their company but that they had to let the children live by one set of rules -- ours. They agreed, and then whammo! When they arrived it was as if they had made no promises at all.
"It's really hard for my husband and me to talk to our parents in person about these problems, since they still treat us as children. Although they are basically nice people, there is no such thing as a give-and-take conversation with them. They not only tell us how to handle the kids but what to do with our lives and how to spend our money, until it drives us bananas.
"Finally, we realized that we would never put up with friends who treated us like that. We shouldn't stand it from out parents -- even if it means an end to these visits. And yet I hate to deprive the children of their grandparents.
"I know our folks will never change but is there any way to endure them a few times a year?"
A. There was a grande dame in Middleburg who would mutter, "God gave us our family; thank God we can choose our friends."
Friends, however, are only part of the picture. No matter how many we have, and how fine they are, our relatives are always with us, in our hearts and our minds. The more closely they're related, the harder it is to ignore them without feeling guilty or sad. You can no more turn away from the memories you made together than you can erase the daily news.
Every day you live with a person there is an involvement on both sides -- an investment -- and the bonding between parent and child is one of the deepest investment a person ever makes.
A parent and child can generate more joy and anger in each other, more pride and shame, than either side would ever suspect, and it takes years to minimize these reactions -- especially the negative ones.
Almost all of this is based on how they talk with each other -- either with their actions or their speech -- and if the speech is changed, the actions will change too. Even now.
Your speech is conditioned by all the exchanges that have gone before, and what you say affects what they say -- and so it goes. If you and your husband want your parents to treat you differently, you'll have to recognize that although they are 100 percent responsible for their behavior, you are 100 percent responsible for yours, and this is what you can change. If you talk with them differently, they will have to answer in a new way, too.
There's a good new book that explains how, called "Mother, Father, You" by Carol C. Flax and Earl Ubell (Wyden Books, $12.95). If Thomas, Mary Lou and Francis dealt with "Momma" the way this book advises, the comic strip would be dead in two weeks. "
The book is based on the techniques developed by Carl Rogers, the therapist, and gives line-by-line examples to keep a conversation from turning into a scene. It's stilted at times, but it reads like good sense and, at the least, good manners.
You'll learn what to say when a parent tries to put you down, manipulate you, judge you, trivialize what you say or even block confidences.
For your own peace of mind, it's time to get on good terms with your parents -- as good as you can get, anyway -- and in this process you'll learn how to talk with everyone, including your children. It's human nature to talk with them the way your parents talked with you when you were young. So unless you make some changes now, you're looking ahead to a family rerun.
Much of the advice you'll get in this book also is found in "Parent Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon (Plume Books, $5.95), another disciple of Carl Rogers. In this one the parent learns how to be authoritative, rather than autocratic or permissive.
Because this technique is hard to learn without practice, you may be interested in the P.E.T. workshops sponsored by the Mt. Vernon Center for Community Mental Health. There will be three 8-week, 24-hour courses given -- two in the day and one at night -- at various locations starting in January and February for $60, including materials. Abby Sternberg, at 360-6910, can tell you about it.
The pay-off should be big, because it will help you exchange ideas with your children as they get older, and with your parents now. For the smallest change you make invites some change in return. You don't play Ping-Pong by yourself.
Correction: Dr. Morton Davis and his colleagues will teach vision therapy free to parents and teachers at their office, 4905 W. Cedar Lane, in Bethesda, from 8-10 p.m. on Jan. 28, not Jan. 26, as reported here last week. To reserve space, call 530-6300.