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Dear Care and Feeding,
My grandson is 5 years old, ahead in all areas except social behavior. I see a lot of red flags in how he is being parented, all in the name of positive love and affirming his “feelings.” Consequently, he has a very low tolerance for frustration, can tantrum his way into what he wants, is encouraged to “exchange” hugs and kisses for candy, and is often rescued from any complaints of boredom by parental entertainment.
As grandma/mother/mother-in-law, I try not to comment. I do respond to him differently, but I’m not sure this is even noticed. How much should I say? He is already in early intervention services because of being kicked out of multiple preschools. How do I speak up to adults about what I’m seeing?
—Biting My Tongue
While unsolicited MIL/grandma advice can be a point of tension for many families, it is also (in my humble opinion) part of what it means to be or to have such a figure in your life. It is literally your job to give your child and/or their partner your thoughts on parenting; the wisdom of those who came before us is the very foundation of all societies!
Of course, there are good ways and not-so-good ways to offer those thoughts, and there are parents who will just refuse to listen to them no matter how they are presented. You can’t decide how your words will be received, but it seems that you have more than enough evidence that your grandson’s parents could stand to make some adjustments and/or receive some support. Let them know that you adore your grandbaby, who is a wonderful little boy, and that you have previously held your opinions back out of respect, but you have some concerns and you would like to try to be helpful.
Your relationship to your child and how you parent them will be a big factor here. If you’ve encountered any similar behaviors, do you have any thoughts on how you addressed them? It’s important that your suggestions are based on things that have been proven to be effective with children, not just societal ideas about what kids “should” or “should not” do at your grandson’s age—even if that means admitting that some of your own tactics of days past were less than ideal. Also, is there anything about their own upbringing that your child may be responding to with what you perceive as overindulgence of some sort? For instance, if they did not feel heard or felt that they were constantly bored, some of that may be manifesting in their own approach to parenthood.
Let your grandson’s parents know that you want to be part of the solution, not an additional headache. Ask them what they feel like their challenges have been and how you can be supportive. Make yourself available to listen. Understand that they may be trying some approaches that they believe in fully, even if they leave you confused, and respect their efforts. Give them space to let you in; nudge, don’t force. Best of luck to you.
More Advice From Slate
I have two daughters, 11 and 4. My 4-year-old is potty-trained and will use the bathroom when she’s with me, whether we’re at home, the store, a restaurant, etc. However, she refuses to use the bathroom with anyone else, including teachers at preschool and close family members, such as her grandmother.