Q: We have 10 grandchildren, spread between three of our kids. They all live within an hour’s drive, so we see them often. We want to be involved in their lives and to be good influences. Our problem is with the parents. None of them are receptive to any advice or information we try to give or share. At least four of the grands have major behavior problems, for example (and all of them lack proper manners). It’s obvious to us that the real problem is parents who don’t know how to exercise effective authority, but any suggestions fall on deaf ears. One child has been diagnosed with an “oppositional” disorder. The parents have been told he can’t help behaving the way he does, but he’s no problem at all when he’s with us, even for an extended stay. This is beginning to cause tension (and some conflict) among us. What should grandparents do when children won’t listen to good advice?
A: One option is for you to pack up and move. I’m serious. Your fundamental complaints are echoed by grandparents all over the USA. Now, people don’t ask my advice if everything is hunky-dory, but the number of tales of grandparenting woe I hear as I travel the country strongly suggests that such distress is ubiquitous.
I think a good part of the problem is a lack of respect for one’s elders. Young people today don’t seem to grasp that respect means more than simply being polite; it means honoring the wisdom that usually comes with age. Certainly there are grandparents who don’t qualify, but most people older than 60, myself included, will tell you they’ve acquired more wisdom in the last ten or so years of their lives than they did in all the years prior.
Progressivism — the philosophy as opposed to the political bent, albeit they are related — dominates American thought these days and has since the 1960s. It is anathema to a progressively-minded individual that tradition might trump modernity (at least occasionally), that an old way of doing something might be better than the new way, that a longstanding idea might be more correct than a recently-minted one. These days, parenting progressivism rules. Those of us who represent the old way are often simply tolerated by the young. Often, we are regarded as if we’re all teetering on the brink of dementia.
The example you give of your “disordered” grandchild is emblematic of the problem. Even though the notion that certain childhood behavior problems arise from such things as “biochemical imbalances” and “brain differences” has not been (and I don’t think will ever be) proven, the new explanation trumps the probable truth: to wit, the child in question has not been properly disciplined. The fact that the child is reasonably well-behaved when his parents aren’t around unequivocally disproves the pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately, when it comes to children, pseudo-science trumps common sense these days.
So, back to your original question: I hate to be the pessimist — it’s really not my nature — but no grandparents have ever told me that something they said to the parents of their grands caused a lightbulb to come on and that everything’s been just peachy keen ever since. Not being valued for your wisdom is painful, for sure, and the likelihood of the parents in question ever apologizing for their disrespect and beginning to listen to you is slim to none.
You can keep your mouth shut. You can wait patiently, hoping the parents will someday come to you in desperation. You can say something like, “You know, we have some experience raising kids and are more than willing to share our experiences — what worked and what didn’t — with you anytime you feel the need.”
Or, you can pack up, move away, and enjoy to the fullest the years you have remaining. It’s worth considering. You’ve certainly earned the right.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.