QUESTION: My son and daughter-in-law have stopped asking me
over to their house, and they decline my offers to have them and the
grandchildren over for a visit. I think it is because I disagree with
my daughter-in-law's parenting style. She is overly permissive. I
have not seen my grandchildren in six months, and I only live 12 miles
away! What can I do to improve my situation? I miss my grandkids desperately!
ANSWER: It is likely that you have pushed
your daughter-in-law away by challenging her authority as a parent.
While you are no doubt well-meaning in your actions, you will need
to accept the limitations of your role as a grandparent. And in order
to heal the rift between the two of you, it is likely that an apology
for stepping over these bounds is in order.
It is easy to forget how vulnerable a new mother can
be in her role as a parent. We have all made mistakes, but the key
is to respect the younger generation in making their decisions, even
if you disagree! Keep in mind, however, that not only have times changed,
but information and research on what contributes to a child's emotional
health and growth has also developed since we had our kids.
It is sometimes the case that grandparents (especially
grandmothers!) can feel highly criticized when our own adult children
take a different approach to child-rearing. Ask yourself if this is
your situation. If so, it will help to acknowledge that the parental
decisions you made were right for you, but may not be right for your
son and his wife. And keep in mind that the job of each generation
is to improve over the last. This means that it is the job of the
next generation to criticize how we raised them! After all, how else
might they improve upon a good thing?
Try not to take this personally. Allow your ego to
step aside and make room for their turn at decision-making. Do not
give advice unless you are asked specifically to do so. And even then,
preface your feedback with an acknowledgment such as, "Parenting can
be very difficult, and sometimes there are no absolutely right answers,
but this is what worked for me." Offer your compassion, rather than
judgment. And express your differences in a spirit of sharing rather
than competition for the "right" way to do something.
Here are a few suggestions to help you approach this
impasse. First, write a letter or arrange to speak with your son about
the fact that you believe you have stepped over your bounds in criticizing
their parenting style and want first to apologize. Ask that they give
you a second chance to adapt to your role as grandparent. Acknowledge
that they have not allowed contact, and that you do not wish this
to continue. Be clear that you are open to feedback and to respecting
their parental choices.
Meanwhile, continue to send birthday gifts and cards
to grandchildren and parents through this hiatus of contact. Doing
so clarifies that you are not the one taking distance, and that you
remain available for contact. But do be prepared to change your approach!
Sometimes we try to love our children by telling them
what to do, thinking we are helping them avoid difficulties. It is
understandable that you have strong feelings about how your grandchildren
are being raised. But instead of giving advice, try to embrace the
role of a midwife, someone who assists a woman in labor. Consider
that your role is to support them on their journey through parenthood,
rather intervening or second-guessing their decisions. After all,
it is their turn to be the parents!