Q: What's the best way to handle grandparents who play favorites? My parents are partial to our oldest child, and our youngest child has noticed and is beginning to ask questions.
Jim: Your first priority is to affirm and reassure your youngest. Let your child know that you've seen signs of favoritism as well. Avoid blaming the grandparents, but make it clear that this is an issue that needs attention.
Hopefully you can address it by means of a good-natured, non-defensive discussion with your parents. Begin by telling them how much you appreciate their interest and involvement in your kids' lives, and point out some positive contributions they've made to your children's upbringing.
Once you've set the right tone, explain your concerns. Let them know that while you're certain that they've always acted from the best of intentions, some of their words and actions have nevertheless been hurtful to your youngest child. Ask them to help you find a way to counteract this unintended effect.
They may deny the charge of favoritism, in which case you should thank them for listening and let the matter drop. It's possible that after a period of sober reflection they'll come to see the sense of your words and quietly make the necessary changes.
If, however, they react in anger, there may be deeper boundary issues below the surface. If so, you may want to invite them to discuss the problem with you in the presence of an objective third party -- a good friend, a disinterested relative, a pastor or even a qualified family therapist.
Finally, in extreme cases where grandparents refuse to cooperate, it may be necessary for you to limit the amount of time they spend with your children -- at least until they begin to take some positive steps in the right direction.
Q: How can I, as a father, counteract the influence of our self-centered culture and teach my kids to be grateful?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: A famous philosopher once said, "Gratitude is the mother of all virtues." If that's true, then you're doing your kids a huge favor by looking to cultivate this attitude in them. Here are three suggestions:
-- First, point out the sacrifice and positive contributions that others make in our society: the fireman or police officer who risks his life to protect us; the public official who diligently serves to better our community; missionaries who leave the comforts of our country to help the poor and needy. And so on.
-- Second, model thanking others for what they do. Let your kids hear you telling your wife what a wonderful meal she cooked. Let them hear you thank the motorist who lets you in front. I'll never forget the morning my father had me wait with him so we could thank our garbage collector. I was about 10 years old when he explained that garbage collecting was a demanding profession. He said, "Greg, do you think anyone ever thanks them for their hard work?" You should have seen the look on their faces when a father and his young son stood in the cold of the early morning to say thanks and to shake their hands.
-- Third, teach your children to give back. Gratitude and appreciation is encouraged when your kids make a charitable gift with their own money. As a family, find a volunteer activity you can do together. Take presents to an underprivileged family during Christmas.
By taking these three steps, you will be cultivating in your children one of the best things you can give them: a thankful heart.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.