A Grandma Who Needs Grandma Lessons

Toy PortfolioOn January 10, 2014,  Carolyn Hax’s column in the Miami Herald caught my attention, “MIL Disregards Mom’s Wishes.”

Wow, does this Grandma need Grandma Lessons!  In this case, however, so does Carolyn Hax. Here is what “Tired Mom” wrote:

Dear Carolyn: My mother-in-law asked me for Christmas gift ideas for my 4-month-old son. I said I thought he was too young for electronic toys and asked for something simple, like blocks, board books or a teddy bear.

She bought him a “baby laptop” that lights up and plays music, saying: “Well, I didn’t have time to travel back to the 1950s to buy him blocks.” I am very upset that she not only completely disregarded our wishes but also insulted our choices. My husband agrees with me and does not understand why his mother did this.

 We firmly believe in the importance of creative play. Both my husband and I have had this discussion with her several times. Our choice may seem a bit strange, but I feel like she should respect our wishes regardless of whether she agrees. I do not want to hurt her feelings, but I am considering returning the gift.

 I also feel this situation is symbolic of a much larger problem. She questions every decision we make as parents and is constantly making snide comments about our choices. I am tired of fighting these battles with her. Any advice? – Tired Mom

Carolyn Hax  really takes an ax to this Grandma (get it – hax—ax):

Dear Tired Mom: Yeah. Duck.

 Kidding, or thereabouts. You’re right about a larger problem, but it’s larger even than the snide-comment problem. She could so easily just accept your child-rearing approach at face value. I mean, you’re asking for blocks, not explosives. Instead, she’s reacting to your choices.

 On top of that, she’s handling her reaction poorly. She isn’t, for example, attempting a reasoned argument against buying blocks – maybe, “I know you want to make good choices for Baby, but I’m concerned it’s going too far – I’d like some leeway to have a little fun.” That’s something you can work with, even if you strongly disagree. Instead she’s sniping and undermining. You can’t work with that.

 Such lashing out reveals that she’s in shaky emotional health.

 Your new family unit is what threatens her, of course, not blocks. She’s feeling obsolete, maybe; or beneath your (perceived) hoity standards; or like the loser in a (perceived) competition for her son’s attention. Or all three.

On line, Carolyn Hax suggests drawing a baseline for grandma, decide what lines are uncrossable, and then exclude grandma when she crosses the line, while ignoring minor affronts,  or

To save your strength and accrued goodwill for enforcing those lines she can’t cross. You’ll need it, whether you return gifts, call out her sniping or, worst case, limit visits.

 You and your husband are in charge. Good bosses are flexible, fair, fierce.

NO!  No limiting of grandma time with grandchild!  Why must we attribute ill motives to the grandma?  She just needs grandma lessons.  Her big mistake was not to listen to what the parents of the grandchildren want.

After this Grandma’s rule of “Never Say No,”  comes, “Always Listen to the New Parents.”  AND the big one, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing!”

The new parents are raising YOUR grandchild, but it is THEIR child.  Of course, we know better.  We grandmas have much experience having already made the parenting mistakes.  However, they have their turn now and we must listen, and say nothing.  Compliment the good and ignore the bad.  After all, the grandchild will still grow up fine.  Don’t we know by the time we reach long (we never say old) years that we should not sweat the small stuff.

Harsh words from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law  or vice versa NEVER work.  The harsh words are remembered  longer by one than  the other thinks.  If anything needs to be said, it should only be said to one’s own child or through the child of the mother-in-law.  They already know their boundaries and how to deal each other’s harsh words.  There is less chance for long term grudges.

Why harsh words or actions at all?

Instead of the harsh words to a mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law can explain that they are making their own way and want things done their way.  Instead of giving choices to the grandma who needs grandma lessons, institute an Amazon wish list on her Amazon account you have created for her and for the grandchild.  Tell her you are making life so easy for her, she just needs to click on her choice on the list the daughter-in-law also created.  Or, ask the budget, and tell the grandma you will save her time and effort and shop for gifts in that budget and even wrap them for her!  If the daughter-in-law does not like being in the presence of grandma, the daughter-in-law should limit her contact with the grandma, not limit the grandchild’s contact.  Have grandma’s child be the one to take the grandchild for a visit more of the time.  The daughter-in-law now has some free time.

This daughter-in-law made the mistake of not creating the boundaries and not being  proactive and specifically directive about presents.  At least, turn the grandma onto Toy Portfolio and get award winning toys! If you don’t have the time or inclination to do more, at least limit the purchase to any platinum award winning toy.  Or, say that what is really needed is a contribution to the 529 plan for college.

The reality though, is that any harsh words or actions in a family are not in the best interests of the grandchild.  The grandchild should have the benefit of the love of grandparents in his or her life.  We do not get to pick the spouse’s family – or do we?  The daughter-in-law chose to marry into the family, and now there must be acceptance that every family has its own issues and quirks.

If the daughter-in-law feels she must return a present, do so without a word.  Proactively, prepare and do things differently for the next gift occasion.

And for the grandma mother-in-law, if you want that warm and fuzzy relationship with the grandchild, make life easy for the parents, especially for the parent who is the in-law.  Parenting is hard.  Learn to listen to the new parents, and do what they want you to do when they want you to do it.  Choose compliments and saying nothing otherwise.  Remember the ultimate goal of spending time with the precious grandchild.  Or you too may suffer the harsh remedies Carolyn  Hax recommends.

This Grandma would rather look for the family win-win and





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