A few weeks ago, I posted an observation from Meghan Leahy on the limits we should impose on ourselves. That is, we should not offer our adult children advice on parenting their children--unless they've asked us for it. In that post, a grandmother was concerned about the chaos of her grandchildren's bedtime. In this post, it's mealtime issues and a 2-year-old's tantrums. Like the grandparent upset about bedtime routines, the mealtime-worried grandmother is dealing with an adult child whose marriage is falling apart.
So here's Megan Leahy again, this time in answer to a grandmother concerned about the way her son is handling his 2- and 5-year old children. The grandmother has an up-close view of the family dynamic because her son is getting a divorce and has moved into her and her husband's home where, a few days a week, he has custody of and takes care of his two small children. The grandmother complains about the son's lack of parental discipline at mealtimes--he allows the 2-year-old to have ice cream before dinner or an ice pop for breakfast. The grandmother cannot abide the way this small child throws tantrums "to get her way, and her dad always gives in." She has been holding her tongue but says it's getting increasingly hard to do so. Here's Meghan to the rescue:
"I can feel your grandparenting (and parenting) frustration loud and clear. Many of us have been in situations where we want to yell, “Just say no to the darn kid!” But we don’t, because we know it could embarrass and undermine the parent, make a bad situation worse, divide loyalties or start a heated disagreement in front of the children. Holding this frustration in is you staying mature. And trust me: Many parents can (and do) lament how their own parents nagged, lectured and shamed their parenting choices. It really is a relationship killer, so good on you for holding your tongue."
Is there a middle ground between telling her son what to do and keeping her lip zipped? Leahy thinks there's room to have her say:
"Because he doesn’t have the kids half the time, maybe you could take him out to dinner and just listen to him. Let him vent about the divorce or single parenting or whatever is on his mind. I could be wrong, but I bet he knows that the ice pops, wasted food and whining aren’t great, but he could be too overwhelmed to see it clearly or know what to do about it. By offering a compassionate, nonjudgmental ear, you free your son to put down his burdens for a bit, and when people do that, they are more likely to find the courage to do something different."
Leahy acknowledges that these parenting "mistakes" are unfolding under the grandmother's roof, and doesn't that give her a say in how to deal with her grandchild's tantrums? Leahy suggests the grandmother make herself scarce when meltdowns are going on.
"Go for a walk with a friend, go to another floor or put on some headphones. Do anything to make yourself feel less provoked.
Some people may read this and feel affronted: “It is their house, and the grandparent needs to hide?” Well, yes and no. I am suggesting that judging, critiquing and losing your cool in the moment are not going to work out well for any relationship in the house. Instead, stay out of it (in the moment), and find another way to support your son. You can keep your boundaries, just don’t do it during the tantrum or while eating."