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Parents, Grandparents Disagree
On Importance of School

QUESTION: My ex-daughter-in-law gives "lip service" to the importance of education, but is lax about sending my two grandchildren to school. They are out a lot for illness, but when that happens, they are always going somewhere. I believe if the children are sick they should stay at home ... not go to McDonald's or Burger King. They are 9 and 11. It worries me that they aren't taking school seriously.

ANSWER: Your situation is a difficult one and needs to be handled with great sensitivity. You are a concerned grandparent. Grandparents sometimes have a vantage point beyond the younger generation because they enjoy less pressure in their role and can see a larger perspective. No doubt your views hold some validity. Still, your observations might benefit from a bit of research to confirm the conclusions you have drawn.

Talk with your grandchildren about their school activities. Find out how they are doing in school, what activities they enjoy, and how often they miss school.

Approach your ex-daughter-in-law with curiosity and warmth, rather than judgment. She will pick up the meaning of your tone more than your words. So you may need to search yourself for the positive ways she nurtures her children before engaging in a dialogue about their education. Once you develop a rapport, start with your shared belief that education IS important. Direct the conversation towards the children. Ask how they are doing in school. Find out what subjects are their favorites and which areas are difficult. Steer the conversation in the direction of what can be done to either support or develop their academic pursuits.

If your grandchildren are performing well at school, your perspective may change. If they are doing poorly or having difficulties, your discussion could prove helpful. If you are right to assume that illnesses are preventing them from learning due to absences, offer a helping hand, rather than criticism. It is possible, too, that your ex-daughter-in-law is struggling with single motherhood and would accept some helpful suggestions if they are not aimed at criticizing her. Establish yourself as a potential resource. (Perhaps you could be available to help by bringing over meals, to decrease a reliance on fast food!) Bring up your concerns only after you have communicated a positive intent to help and made some efforts to show your willingness to get involved. But use a soft approach, rather than a harsh one.

Do not underestimate your influence as a grandparent. Let your grandchildren know the value of education and help steer them towards educational activities. For example, the birthday gifts you buy can serve educational needs. And paying for special classes or tutoring can make a big difference in a child's perceptions about education and improve academic performance. Spend time with your grandchildren individually, if possible. If you are at a great distance, develop email or other communication to create an ongoing dialogue with them. Offer your help by having a relationship with them that allows you to pass on your values by discussing the opportunities open to them with an education. A grandparent can motivate ... and inspire!

Express your concerns with a genuine intent to involve yourself in the solution. Remember, one person can make a difference in a child's life. That person can be a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a teacher, or a friend who has the child's best interests at heart and believes in that child. That is why so many successful adults answer the question "Who was the biggest influence in your life?" with "My grandmother!" or "My grandfather!"

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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