Q: I love my son and daughter-in-law, but I'm worried about their 10-month-old daughter's health. The house is piled deep with trash, there's moldy food stuck to the carpet, and dirty diapers are left lying around everywhere. My granddaughter is constrained to an infant seat to keep her from getting into these messes even though she's old enough to start crawling. Should I express my concerns over these troubling health conditions?
Jim: In most cases it's best for grandparents to keep their advice to themselves until asked. But if the situation is as unhealthy as you've described, it may be time to intervene.
So what can you do? It might be a good idea to begin by enlisting the help of another adult -- preferably someone your son likes and respects -- who can join you in advocating for your granddaughter. Raise the subject gently but as straightforwardly as possible. Help your son and his wife see that this is more than just a question of personal preferences and different "styles" of housekeeping, but that they are, in fact, endangering the health and well-being of their child. Make yourself available to help with the cleanup and to offer assistance where needed.
If they won't listen, or if you don't see significant improvements within a reasonable amount of time, you may need to contact your county's agency of Family Services. Social workers will advise you on the various options available. Among other things, it's clear that your son and daughter-in-law need practical training in the fundamentals of child-care. Mandatory counseling may also be necessary, but this is something for skilled professionals to decide.
The important thing is for you, as a grandparent, to do everything you can to enlist the support and community services necessary to raise your son's family to a higher-functioning level.
Question: I've always tended to express myself in a wry, ironic way. It's all a joke, and I don't mean any harm by it. But I'm wondering if my sarcastic style of humor might be potentially damaging to my teens. What do you think?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: This can be a complicated subject, but on the whole parents need to be careful about the way they use sarcasm. This is especially important when dealing with teenagers. There are two major problems related to teens and parental sarcasm.
First, sarcasm can hurt feelings, and words uttered in a "humorous moment" can cause ongoing pain later. You don't necessarily need to place an all-out moratorium on playful sarcasm, but there should be boundaries. Give your children the right to tell you when it bothers them.
The second pitfall is more subtle. Sarcasm can mask sensitive or vulnerable feelings. Imagine a father watching his lovely 16-year-old daughter come downstairs. He might say, "Honey, you look beautiful tonight." Or, if he tends to be sarcastic, he might quip, "Man, you were such an ugly little girl! What happened?" Same underlying point, but one is obviously much more complimentary than the other.
One last point: As parents we need to remember that we reap what we sow. You may call your "style" of humor sarcastic, but when the tables are turned and it comes back at you from your teen, you'll probably call it "disrespectful." It never hurts to say what you mean and mean what you say.
After all, a teen's world is tough enough. They probably get plenty of barbs and arrows at school or on the playing field. Home should be a refuge from that kind of treatment -- a safe haven from hurt and a filling station for high-octane edification.
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.
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