My husband and I have been avid readers of your blog for the past few years. We generally agree with most of your advice, and constantly lament the new issues that our children and grandchildren face. Our question is regarding how our son and his wife are raising our grandchildren. They have this new-age mentality of rarely disciplining them, and they’ve adopted a “stay away from no” attitude. The hardest part isn’t even watching them fail miserably at raising their children — it’s when they come to us for Shabbos. Instead of being the “fun” grandparents, we’re constantly admonishing them for basic things. “Don’t read at the table when others are sitting with you. Don’t put your shoes on the couch. Don’t talk with food in your mouth.” Not only are the grandchildren beginning to resent us, but our son is threatening not to bring them over since we’re too strict. Please advise.
DS and RS
Ouch. As someone who knows a few parents utilizing this “new-age” parenting style, my heart goes out to you. It’s so frustrating to watch people raise their children in such a dangerous manner, and it’s even more painful when it’s your own family. Answering this question is tricky, since I’ll be relying heavily on my non-existent psychology skills.
I’m going to share some points and hope that they help you decide what to do. As always, these are only thoughts and suggestions. The nature of this column is that I don’t allow detailed questions, and as a result I’m missing a lot of relevant information.
- Frequently, people raise their children using the opposite methodology of their parents. In other words, if you or your daughter-in-law’s parents were extremely strict, they might be trying to do the reverse. I’m not assigning blame, just trying to help you understand where this behavior is coming from.
- It is extremely important that you don’t speak negatively about how they are raising their children. Not to them. Not to your friends. Certainly not to your grandchildren. Resist the urge to make any snide remarks. It’s not worth it.
- It would be best if you were able to somehow ignore the many issues that arise when they come for Shabbos. You can try to choose some simple battles, but really be as easygoing as possible. I do understand that many grandparents would have a very hard time dealing with this.
- If it aggravates you to the point that you can’t help yourself from commenting, it seems that you shouldn’t be having them over. Just don’t invite them. If they ask to come, be very polite but firm. “We absolutely love having you for Shabbos. However, while you have every right to raise your children in the way you feel is best, there are certain things that don’t go over so well in our house. As long as you’re OK with letting us nicely tell the kids that they need to follow a few basic rules in our house, we’re looking forward to having you.”
- If they’re not OK with that, it’s fine. I know it’s frustrating to not have them come, but it’s very simple. Either you need to ignore the lack of discipline so you can see your grandchildren, or you need to make a statement. To be fair, restaurants have rules (no shoes, no service). Airports have rules (no liquids on the plane). You’re allowed to have rules in your own house.
- If you are invited to them for a Shabbos, think carefully before accepting. Their house means their rules, so you don’t have the right to get involved. If it’s too difficult to join them without causing issues, it’s probably better to pass on the invitation.
- I would encourage you to invite the grandkids without the parents whenever possible. Your son and daughter-in-law might be hesitant at first, but free babysitting and a Shabbos off will eventually win out. This isn’t an opportunity to do a 24-hour parenting blitzkrieg. However, it’s a great chance to give your grandchildren structure in your house without the parents giving each other knowing glances.
- At the same time, kids don’t enjoy being disciplined, especially if they don’t get it at home. You need to make sure to balance it out. Load up your house with yummy treats. Prepare an exciting itinerary for Sunday so they want to come again. The goal is that they should be associating your house with warmth, love, and, of course, fun, while the rules are just a minor inconvenience.
- I know I mentioned this already, but never say to them, “This might work in your parents’ house, but it won’t fly here!” Not only are you insulting their parents, but you’ll be mixing up the kids even more.
- If you strongly believe that your grandchildren are becoming unruly because of the lack of discipline, you can always contact their rav. Let him know your dilemma, and make sure he understands that you’re not getting involved and don’t want your name mentioned. There’s not much he can do, but he’s in a better position to help than you are. Remember, don’t speak negatively about your son and daughter-in-law’s parenting style. The focus of the conversation is your grandchildren and what can be done to help them get some much-needed discipline.
- Lastly, although you’re obviously frustrated, I can’t condone your statement of “Watching them fail miserably at raising their children.” While some people are better parents than others, it’s so important that we respect the way other people run their houses. We can disagree, but we still need to be civil. While you might not have meant it in a hurtful way, I’m sure if your children read it, they would be very hurt.
Wishing you and all of my readers a g’mar chasimah tovah and a year of simcha and gezunt and nachas.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.