When You Don’t Care for the Parenting of Your Grandchildren

Should You Step In or Stay Out?

Call the professional counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County.

Maybe you live near your children and their families, and you are privileged to see your grandchildren on a regular basis.  Maybe you live far away and only see your children and their families a few times a year.  Either way, it is unsettling when you see things with your own eyes, or hear things from your grandchildren, that lead you to question the parenting skills used in your grandchildren’s upbringing.  Should you talk with your child and his or her spouse, or should you do whatever it takes not to interfere?  Well, it really depends on what the issues are that are causing your concern.  Of course, if you have reason to believe there is mental, physical, or even sexual abuse present in your grandchild’s life, you should never waiver in notifying the proper authorities.  This may cause discontent in your family; but you may just be saving a child’s life.

As one example, let’s say that you are spending two weeks at your child’s house so you can spend quality time with your child and his or her family.  It’s dinner time, the food is prepared, the table is set, and everyone is present to enjoy the meal together.  Your grandchild looks at the food provided and pushes the plate away, refusing to eat what was served.  Then your grandchild looks at the Jell-O that was served to him or her in a small bowl, and because it was orange-flavored Jell-O instead of cherry-flavored Jell-O, your grandchild throws a second fit.  How you would have handled this outburst when you were raising your children is very different from how your child handled it.  You probably would have said something like, “This is what’s for dinner.  You can choose to eat it or leave it, but there is nothing else being served.”  In total contrast, in response to your grandchild’s outburst, your child allows his or her screaming child to choose from something different for dinner and offers several choice, from cereal, fruit, pasta, yogurt, or pizza.  You are probably outraged at your child’s willingness to give in to your grandchild rather than making him or her eat what was prepared.  Should you voice your opinion?

As another example, during a visit with your child and his or her family, it is close to 7:15 p.m., on a school night, and your 7-year-old grandchild was told that in 15 minutes it will be bath time, story time, and bedtime.  Your grandchild seemed agreeable.  When 15 minutes passed and it was 7:30 p.m., your grandchild was told to turn off the television and get ready for bath time.  The child begs to stay up another half hour in order to watch “just one more show” on TV.  When your grandchild was told, “No”, the whining and crying began.  Again, when you were raising your children, you would’ve turned off the television and escorted your child to the bathroom and followed through with what you told your child.  Your child, however, approaches the child, hugs him or her, and says, “Come on now, Honey.  You know it’s bath time.”  The child says, “But Mommy…  But Daddy…”  And on and on it goes from there.  A half an hour later, the child is in the bathtub and rather than putting the child straight to bed, the child still is rewarded with story time.  In your eyes, your grandchild won and the adult in the situation showed weakness.  Should you voice your opinion?

“Should I Say Something?”

In both of these examples, you should bite your tongue.  You raised your children; now it is time for your children to raise theirs.  As much as you want to rant and rave, there will be no positive outcome as the result of you voicing your opinion.  What you need to realize, as a grandparent, is that your child and your son-in-law or daughter-in-law have no interest in hearing your unsolicited advice, opinions, stories, or life lessons from your own experiences in raising children.  Think about how your own parent may have offered “free” advice following the birth of your first child.  Think about whether or not you liked it.  Imagine these people are not your relatives; suppose a friend was telling you about this type of behavior in his or her family.  What advice would you give to your friend?  It’s always better to step back a little and think things through before voicing your concerns or offering advice whenever it comes to parenthood.

Discipline should be issued by your grandchild’s parents; not by you, and you should follow their lead whenever possible.  That doesn’t mean the kids should come to your house and drink out of the milk carton, throw food, or jump on your furniture.  When they are at your house, they need to follow your rules.

No matter what your opinion is regarding the parenting of your grandchildren, unless there are issues that specifically affect your grandchild’s physical or emotional well-being, it is better to be careful what you say in order to maintain a decent relationship with your child and your child’s family.  Your role is to support your child’s family, not intervene in their decisions.

A Few Other Points To Remember

Never criticize your child’s parenting skills, especially in front of the child.  Follow their rules as often as possible.  Try focusing on the good things you see your grandchild’s parents doing, such as being firm but fair.  Commend them on things that are working well or when you see a happy family unit in their homes.

If you feel that your grandchild is suffering from questionable parenting, or if you just need to get some things off your chest, contact the counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County.  Our team of trained professionals are here to help you get through the rough times in your life.  Call today at 949-220-3211 to schedule an appointment, or make your appointment using our online tool.  Maybe talking with someone who isn’t attached to the family will help you to see things in a different light.

The Valentine’s Day Dilemma

Let the caring counselors at the OC Relationship Center help you keep your hearts connected.

For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul. ~ Judy Garland

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it, you can’t avoid it. It seems the moment stores put away their Christmas merchandise, it’s replaced by aisles of Valentine cards, chocolate and heart-festooned teddy bears. Your email stuffed with reminders from your local florist urging you to get your order in early. Even kids are expected to pick up one of those ubiquitous boxes of cheap Valentines to exchange with their classmates while munching on pink-frosted cookies. The indoctrination begins early!

Maybe It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Of course, crass commercialization is a common complaint about all the holidays we observe. The sense that we need to buy something in order to properly celebrate always seems to overtake the original spirit of the holiday. Valentine’s Day is a perfect example.

It’s problematic on a few other levels, as well. For one, it’s hugely annoying—if not downright offensive—to single people, who are likely to feel left out in the cold when they stop by the market on February 14 for a few groceries and find themselves confronted by dozens of procrastinators queued up in the check-out aisle clutching last-minute rose bouquets.  Moreover, is it really any more exciting for those bouquet-bearing men (and women)? When you’re buying or receiving a gift that seems mostly to serve as fulfilling an obligation that is advertised in every store window, it’s just not as special as an affectionate gesture that comes when least expected.

It’s the Thought That Counts

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with following what can be, after all, a fun tradition of presenting a romantic gift to your partner on February 14. However, for sheer spontaneity and reminding your partner how much they mean to you, remember that Valentine’s Day comes but once a year, while thoughtful gifts, gestures and words have nothing to do with a date on the calendar.

In fact, no matter how many gifts we give to commemorate holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, I still think the “just because” gestures are by far the best. They never have to be grand or expensive—just thoughtful.

For instance:

  • ŸMake a mental note when your partner mentions a book they’re dying to read, and surprising them with it the next day.
  • ŸIf there’s something they enjoy collecting, make a point of looking for something to add to the collection whenever you’re out of town.
  • ŸWhen their favorite team wins a big game, surprise them with a commemorative t-shirt.
  • ŸBe creative. I knew a wife whose husband never stopped rooting for his college teams in spite of the fact that they were perennial losers in almost every sport they played. Yet if you asked him what his favorite gift from his wife has been, he’ll tell you that it was the team flag she gave him one year as a show of solidarity.

These gestures not only show that you’re always thinking of your partner but that you know them better than almost anyone. It shows that whatever small effort you made, you made it without any prompting at all.

Home for the Holidays

Let OC Relatinship Center help you sort out your holiday stress.Does this sound familiar? His or her mother is coming for the holidays, and all you hear in the weeks leading up to the visit is, “We need to start cleaning up before my mom gets here.”

For one couple I know, “John” and “Lisa,” this is an annual ritual, and hardly a festive one. John’s mother has high expectations for how a household should be run, and his wife doesn’t share them, which causes John a lot of stress. Lisa resents the insinuation that she’s a poor housekeeper.  In her opinion, a house should be clean but can still look like people actually live there.

For many couples, this is not necessarily a problem related to visiting relatives, they—and the stress of the holidays—can exacerbate it. Why? If one partner grew up with parents who placed a high value on orderliness, they may worry they’re not living up to their expectations and fear being judged. For the other partner it can be even worse: Lisa, whose own parents are more laid-back-about housekeeping, feels she’s being accused of downright slovenliness.

Worst of all, things come to a head at the holidays mostly because of household conflicts that go unaddressed throughout the year, building toward a full-blown argument at the worst possible time. When asked to spend some time getting the house ready for John’s mother, Lisa is ready with a counter-offensive. “What about all those tool boxes scattered in the garage that you never seem to use?” she demands to know. It doesn’t take long for the conversation to become an angry tit-for-tat: He points to the laundry room, where clothes tend to pile so high it’s hard to distinguish between what’s dirty and clean. In truth, both had some bad habits that allowedclutter to accumulate or messy areas to become overwhelming. However, it’s always easier to see someone else’s mess than your own, which is how fights over housework often get started.

The good news is that there are some easy fixes that can reduce the stress, even this time of year. If you and your partner have similar arguments, here are a few tips to try:

  1. Communicate early and often when a part of the home feels out of control. For Lisa, what looked to her like junk in the garage got under her skin, but her non-confrontational nature made it difficult to express that. For John, the clothes on the laundry room floor bothered him, but since laundry was Lisa’s domain, he was reluctant to complain. Yet the issues kept creeping up anyway. John would gripe about never being able to find a clean pair of socks. Lisa would suggest that straightening the garage would be easier if she could just dump half of John’s stuff on the curb. Instead, each of them needed to come out and say, in a non-confrontational way, what bothered them. The best way to guarantee your gripes will remain unanswered is never to air them in the first place.
  2. Work on troublesome household chores together. Sorting and folding laundry together can be a pleasant-enough chore done together while watching a favorite TV show in the evening, while, tackling the garage together actually helped this couple feel closer. Approached this way, chores were no longer “his” and “hers” but a more neutral “theirs.”
  3. If you have kids, involve them. At first Lisa balked at having the kids straighten the playroom, probably because her parents rarely held her accountable for her own childhood messes. But once they tasked the children with picking up after themselves in simple ways—clothes in the hamper, toys in the toy chests, and so forth—she felt a lot better about having extra pairs of hands. She also felt good about teaching her kids good habits she’d never really learned herself while growing up.

Best of all, once John’s mother arrived for the holidays, Lisa felt less like she’d been working to please a picky guest than someone who’d joined with her husband to make their house more functional and pleasant to live in year-round.

The holidays should be a festive time of joy and togetherness, not a source of tension between you and your partner. If you find yourselves rehashing the same holiday squabbles each year, consider seeking the help of a relationship counselor to get it worked out once and for all.  The Orange County Relationship Center counselors look forward to connecting with you.


Are You Arguing About the Kids … or Each Other?

Let the OC Relationship Center help you sort it out.Have you and your partner or spouse ever disagreed about rules, discipline or other decisions related to your children? If your answer is no, chances are you have a very short memory. If your answer yes, however, that means that you’re normal. After all, couples disagree over the best way to load the dishwasher—why would something as infinitely more complex and emotional as raising children be any easier?

One challenge is that people often bring many of their own childhood experiences to the way they decide to parent. Some believe their parents did all the right things and want to emulate them. Others think their parents did all the wrong things and want to raise their children in the opposite fashion. But since those are based on personal and individual experiences, you have two people bringing conflicting sets of emotional baggage into child-rearing.

For example, say one parent grew up with a mom who almost never let him eat sweets, so he thinks his spouse is destroying their kids by letting them eat ice cream for dessert every night. But she grew up eating ice cream every day as a child, so she doesn’t see the problem with it. She thinks he’s too strict, while he thinks she’s too indulgent. Ultimately, they’re making little or no progress toward setting clear rules.

As with most disagreements about how to raise children, the goal should be to make it about what’s best for them and acknowledge that whatever you think worked, or didn’t, in your family, does not necessarily make you the expert. Avoid letting it devolve from a disagreement about ice cream into a fight over whose parents were better, smarter or nicer. Entering such highly charged territory is not conductive to making a good decision about your own kids in the here and now. Instead, simply try doing a little research about kids and sugar—and in this case, there’s plenty of solid scientific information out there—and work out a compromise based on what’s healthy and reasonable.

Other parents have issues with unresolved anger towards each other that surfaces in arguments about child-rearing and turns their kids into unwitting pawns. Let’s imagine a couple, Kate and Jon, who are arguing over where their children should attend school. Kate favors a private school, because she has a dim view of the public schools in their neighborhood, while Jon thinks the local schools are fine. Instead of doing any objective research into the pros and cons of the various schools they’re considering, they hurl accusations. Kate tells Jon he doesn’t care enough about the kids’ education. Jon accuses Kate of being snobbish and overprotective.

Eventually, through therapy, they discover some of the underlying causes of the conflict: Kate is frustrated that her husband’s income makes it difficult for them to either to afford the private school or a move to a more exclusive neighborhood. Jon in turn thinks Kate is overly judgmental and admits he also resents the pressure he faces as the family’s sole breadwinner. The fight over schools has less to do with what’s best for their children than their personal wars that need to be resolved.

Those are just two examples, but there are countless more, from setting a teenager’s curfew to agreeing on consequences when rules are broken. But as many variations as there are in the ways we argue over child-rearing, the answers are often the same: (1) Try to resolve them with facts, not emotion; (2) be aware when your problems as a couple are bleeding over into decisions about your kids; and (3) present a united front wherever possible. This will prevent your kids from feeling caught in the middle, while helping you perform one of the most important jobs you have as a parent: setting a good example of how to overcome conflict in a rational and positive way.

If you need help finding healthy resolutions to your child-rearing conflicts, please give us at a call at 949-220-3211 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the OC Relationship Center are here to help you.

Powering Down to Tune In

Do you dread that moment at the start of a flight when the attendant instructs you to “please turn off all electronic devices”? Not yet, you think, I just need to check my email again to see if my meeting has been rescheduled! Or, I was about to make a brilliant play on Words with Friends!

Smartphones call to us

For a lot of us, electronic devices have become constant companions. Sometimes the thought of taking a break from texts, emails, and late-breaking news updates can actually produce anxiety.

It’s often been reported the effect all of this has on children, with video games, texting and constant use of social media robbing them of valuable time that could be spent on imaginative play, reading, and actual face time with other human beings.

Yet adults—and their relationships—are also impacted when we are constantly plugged in. I remember when a friend took his son on a Boy Scout camping trip and immediately updated his Facebook status to read, “Making s’mores with my son and our friends!” I couldn’t help but wonder how much he could be enjoying the campfire and good company if he was simultaneously engaging with his iPhone.

It’s become such a common scenario that there are even television commercials about it, with one cell phone brand promising to let a man surreptitiously watch the big game under the table during a romantic dinner while his spouse or partner is none the wiser. It’s supposed to be funny, but the “joke” is on the partner, who was hoping for an evening of intimacy. When you think of it that way, it’s not so funny after all.

Here is a question to ask yourself if you worry that your love affair with electronic media might be a threat to your real-life relationship: Do you set boundaries when you’re spending time with your partner or spouse? Just because your friends and coworkers can reach you anytime, anywhere doesn’t mean they should. But it’s not their job to figure out when it is or isn’t an appropriate time to ask you for an expense report or fill you in on the latest gossip. It’s your job to tune it out by simply turning off your cell phone, tablet or other device-of-choice. Only then can you truly communicate with your spouse or partner, discuss what’s happening in your lives and enjoy each other’s company. It’s called being in the moment.

You’ll also avoid the risk of offending your spouse or partner, who can hardly be blamed for wondering where your priorities are if you’re taking calls or checking emails when you’re out having dinner or cuddled up on the couch with a glass of wine.

On the other hand, if he/she is equally guilty of always keeping one eye on the cell phone when you’re together, that could point to more deep-seated issues in the relationship. Do you actually want to spend time together, or are you just going through the motions and using the intrusion of outside calls or emails as a way to avoid talking about difficult problems? Have you been neglecting the relationship for so long that you have little of substance to talk about? In those cases, technological distractions are a symptom rather than the cause of the problem.

This can be an invaluable wake-up call that it’s time to start tending to the relationship itself again, whether that means working through some things you’ve been brushing under the rug, finding some common interests to pursue together, or even spicing things up in the bedroom—another area that could be neglected if you’re spending too much time on the Internet.

In an age when so many people are substituting Facebook for time spent sitting on the porch to chat with the neighbors, it’s easy to see the conundrum: technology can make our lives more convenient, but it can also undermine real-life relationships. Don’t let your relationship with your spouse or partner become one of them. After all, it’s as easy as the touch of a button—the “off” button—to power down for a while so you can truly tune in to the person who’s right there in front of you.

Technology interfering with your relationship? Let us help. Call our licensed counselors at OC Relationship Center today at 949-220-3211 or book via our convenient online scheduler.