Words matter: When we talk to our adult kids, when we talk to our Grands and, most especially, when we talk to our adult kids about our Grands aka their children. Some of us, it seems, blur the line between parenting and grandparenting. We may even stumble into that biggest of verboten areas: telling our kids how to raise their children.
On her website, Empowering Parents, Debby Pincus hands out some advice that keeps the parent/grandparent line sharp. Her basic point: "Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, and if it’s coming from one’s own parents or in-laws, it will most likely be heard as criticism."
Similarly, one word that's been raising a ruckus in parenting circles and on advice columns and grandparenting blogs (such as Susan Adcox's grandparents.about.com), is "my"--as in the grandparental use of "my baby" or "my darlings" to refer to our Grands. Some parents--usually the moms--take umbrage at our presumption of possession. The children are, of course, theirs. For grandparents who like the warmth of the use of "my" to refer to their Grands, there's a common sense recourse. Ask the mom whether she minds or how she feels about it. Ditto-- particularly for grandmothers -- the use of a grandparent name that edges too close to being the mom, such as Big Mommy or G-Mommy.
In her column on this point, Adcox acknowledges how irritating our commandering of the parental role might be, but she also suggests the parents in question could back off a bit. After all, we play an important role in our grandchildren's lives. Adcox suggests we say something to the effect that, 'We're not perfect. Be prepared to forgive us as we make some missteps.'
A reader of Carolyn Hax's column on that point also has a personal response. "I've also upset my daughter-in-laws (as well as my daughters) by saying "my baby." When hit with the inevitable "It's not your baby," I respond with, "Of COURSE that's my baby. Just as much as YOU are, my little (insert silly nickname here)!" Amazing things happen during that exchange. Mom stops feeling threatened, "Granny" lets Mom know she will always be there and Mom realizes that Granny loves her just as much as she does the baby. It doesn't hurt to throw in, "Can I do something for you so you can get some rest?"
It's all about balancing those boundaries.