When our children were young and living in our house, we made decisions about their lives--where they would go to school, how they would dress, whether they would be allowed to drive our car. As parents of adult children, that's no longer our terrain, and that can be painful when our children make decisions that run deeply counter to what we would do.
It can be especially hard to take when the decisions involve our grandchildren. A friend told me about a man in her memoir-writing class. He talked about how his daughter's only child, now 13, was gifted in math and science. To the grandfather, his granddaughter's mind worked in the same way his did and he enjoyed working out problems with her. When she applied to and was accepted at a competitive school for math and science, he was thrilled--his beliefs in her potential were confirmed and he could see the school as a launching pad for a brilliant career.
His daughter saw things differently. She thought it was more important for her daughter to continue at the religious school she had been attending since kindergarten. There was no argument the grandfather could present to his daughter that would persuade her that the math-science school was a golden opportunity, that religion could be taught at home--how much more of it did she need after eight years of it?--and that it was foolhardy to throw away this chance of a superior education.
And yet, there it was. No was no. He was helpless to change the course of his grandchild's schooling--he who had always put a premium on education and seen it as the way he, as an immigrant, had been able to make his way in the world.
It's a tale of frustration. Maybe the writer's workshop will be cathartic, help him work through his feelings by writing about the offending events. One thing that can't be reworked, however, is that he doesn't have the standing to make the choice. And that's what can be so anxiety provoking about being a grandparent. We may see our children making a mistake in the way they are bringing up our grandchildren, but they are the parents and all we can do is hope to be kept in the loop of what's happening. If the stake's are high enough--and the grandfather in this case thought they were--we can double down on persuasion and reason. But in the end, we have to limit the amount of conflict we take on.A few days after I heard this story, I came across a metlife survey that asked grandparents about the values they hoped to pass down to their children and grandchildren. Not too many surprises here: most of us--88 percent--want to pass along honesty, then came good behavior (82%), self-sufficiency (70%), higher education (69%), and good health habits (68%). We may have more input in these values than we do in day-to-day decisions. So maybe we're not as helpless as we think.