QUESTION: I don't like the way my son and his wife are raising their kids. I don't want to interfere, but shouldn't I have a say in what's good for my own grandchildren?
Juli: There is an excellent chance that your son and daughter-in-law know that you have some concerns about how they're raising your grandkids. Young parents harbor a lot of doubts of their own and quickly pick up the vibe when a close friend or relative disapproves of their parenting. Your son and his wife are likely to be more defensive and withdrawn from you the more they pick up on your concerns.
Whether or not you realize it, you potentially have a fair amount of influence in their parenting. They may even welcome your perspective and opinion -- but only if they first feel safe with you.
Influence is a tricky thing. When you overreach with it, you lose it. A lot of parents and in-laws are too forceful with their opinions and unsolicited advice. This causes a young couple to distance themselves in order to ward off potential criticism.
Your greatest influence is your presence with your son, his wife and children. Even if you never mention your concerns or offer advice, the way you carry yourself, show unconditional love, and the character you model will leave a tremendous impression.
My encouragement to you is to build a trusting relationship, particularly with your daughter-in-law. Find ways that you can genuinely compliment her as a wife and mother, remembering that motherhood can, at times, be an exhausting marathon. Show her that you care about her as a person, and as difficult as it may be, let go of your concerns for now. The day will come when she is desperate for a word of advice or wisdom. She's far more likely to seek you out if you have built a trusting relationship than if she feels threatened by your disapproval.
QUESTION: My family recently joined a church. My elderly father has no use for religion, and he's trying to convince my kids that they're wasting their time. Should I prevent them from seeing their grandpa?
Jim: We'd advise that you set firm boundaries with your father and make it clear that it's your right and responsibility to oversee your children's spiritual growth. He doesn't have to like the fact that they're attending church with you, but he needs to respect your decision.
At the same time, I can empathize with your desire to maintain a good relationship with him, especially for the sake of your kids. Growing up, I didn't have any grandparents. There's evidence my mom and dad may have been part of the witness protection program (no joke!), and so extended family was nonexistent. I would have loved nothing more than to have someone to call "Grandma" and "Grandpa." With that in mind, it would be tragic if you and your kids were to become estranged from your dad over this issue.
The challenge, then, is to arrive at a point of compromise. Make it clear to your dad that you love and respect him, and that you want your kids to be able to spend quality time with their grandpa. But also make it clear that you need to make your own choices as a parent, and that if he has concerns about your family's spiritual path, he should take them up with you, not the kids. It won't be easy, but with honesty, open communication and respect from both parties, there's no reason your kids can't continue to have a fun and healthy relationship with their grandpa.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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