Ask Someone Else's Mom by Susan Writer

Daughter-in-Law's Short Fuse Is a Big Worry

DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: Please help. I’m asking advice about whether to interfere with the way my grandchildren, ages 9 and 7, are being parented. I’ve witnessed my daughter-in-law (DIL) undermine my son many times. He says no to something, and she gives it to them anyway. I say nothing.

My 9-year-old granddaughter has some behavioral issues, and they often complain about it. I found out recently that they took away a gift I gave her for Christmas (as a punishment) and planned to donate it. The rationale from my DIL was that they wanted to take away something that was meaningful. I said nothing.

Most recently, I was there for a (safely distanced) birthday dinner for my DIL. She found some paint on an upholstered dining chair and went into an all-out rage at my granddaughter. It was an accident. All of their chairs are upholstered, and my granddaughter loves to paint. My granddaughter was crying hysterically, left, and went upstairs to her bedroom. My DIL then justified her behavior to my son and he said, “It’s okay babe. I understand.” I said nothing.

You can probably guess that I’ve seen my DIL lash out at him also. I say nothing.

My ex-husband was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive. I don’t get involved with my son’s marriage or comment on how he is being treated, even though it’s hard to stay quiet. However, I’m having a difficult time with the most recent event. My son comforted his wife. No one comforted the 9-year-old. It’s messed up.

To be fair, my DIL did apologize to my granddaughter during dinner. It was a half-baked apology. One that started with, “I’m sorry, but…” I said nothing.

My son and the grandkids are being verbally and emotionally abused, as I see it. What advice do you have? --- CONCERNED GRANDMA

DEAR CONCERNED GRANDMA: Parenting a child with behavioral issues can be a challenge for the calmest of parents. If your daughter-in-law tends to be high-strung and demanding, it sets the stage for an even more difficult time, and may be contributing to the behavior.

My hope is that what you see is only part of the childrearing conversations between your son and his wife. In any case, it’s unfortunate when one parent contradicts the other in front of the children. Inconsistency can be a dangerous thing, especially if a child is already struggling emotionally or developmentally. This may be what the children have come to expect, and your stepping in to offer criticism or advice stands a good chance of backfiring in any number of directions.

You didn’t mention if your abusive ex-husband is also your son’s father. If so, your son should have a good sense of the effects of that type of personality on a whole family. He may be thinking that keeping the peace with his wife is one way to avoid further tensions in front of the kids. They’re old enough, though, to be aware of who’s calling the shots, and that may be why they try to go around Mom through Dad.

As painful as it may be for you to witness, I believe you’re right to continue your non-interference policy with your son’s and daughter-in-law’s marriage and parenting style. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t discretely remind your son of how difficult it can be to live with someone with a dangerously short fuse, since you’ve been there, done that.

Once the world’s more open again, and if it’s something you’re able to do, what might help is frequently offering to take the children out of their house. Time away from a tense home could be a big help for all involved — especially if the kids know there’s a safe haven available to them, run by a supportive, loving adult.

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