Rabbi Ross. My husband and I are at wit’s end. Our son is married with 4 kids, and is doing a miserable job with them. They have no manners, don’t eat properly, and get away with everything. When they come to us in Florida, it’s like WW3. Can we tell him and his wife to shape up? We are this close to disinviting them. Please help! Private in FL
As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a habit of over-analyzing these questions. When I read your email, I noticed that you didn’t refer to your son’s wife as your daughter-in-law. Actually, you left her completely out in the beginning, and only mentioned her in passing at the end.
I’m going to go out on a limb, and suggest that you are blaming her for these issues. Your son would never raise children like this, it must be his wife who is having such a negative influence upon him. Maybe I’m reading too much into this. In any case, there are three points I would like to make.
Point one is illustrated by parents that smoke. I learned that there are generally two types of children of smokers. The first type is disgusted by cigarettes, and won’t go near one. The second type smokes. When our children grow up, they act similarly. Some children love the way their parents raised them, and emulate their parents. Other children convince themselves that their parents did a horrible job, and they take an entirely opposite approach to parenting.
This doesn’t mean the original parent didn’t do a great job, it just means that your child didn’t agree. There are many similar manifestations of this phenomenon. I know a boy whose mother was a neat freak. He promised himself that he wouldn’t marry someone as “obsessive”. He’s happily married, but his home is not what you would call neat. Is he happy about it? Only time will tell.
The fact that you’re not happy with the way your son is raising his children isn’t shocking. You probably think that you did a better job, and perhaps you did. However, these are his children, and he has the right to raise them as he sees fit – together with his wife.
Point two is about the mistakes that parents frequently make. When I became a Rebbe, I was told, “Good Rebbeim make mistakes every day; great Rebbeim make new mistakes every day!” The same holds true for parents.
A big part of being a great parent is recognizing your mistakes and learning from them. Maybe you shouldn’t have raised your voice or gotten so annoyed. Possibly you should have gone back to your child and given her a kiss goodnight, or just allowed him to take that extra snack.
Children are resilient. It could be that you were too easygoing or strict initially, but, if you gradually change your methodologies, it’ll be fine. While it’s never fun observing your children make mistakes while raising your grandchildren, nevertheless, these mistakes are learning experiences. Hopefully, your son will realize that he’s making mistakes, and turn things around.
You can go over to your son and daughter-in-law and let them know that you’re always available if they have any parenting questions. You can say, “I think we did a pretty good job, judging by the way you turned out!” After that, let it go. Don’t keep repeating it, and don’t drop any hints.
The third and final point is about your home. You didn’t move to Florida to have your grandchildren wreck your house and embarrass you in front of your friends! You can firmly tell your son and daughter-in-law, “In this house, there are certain rules that must be kept. Otherwise, you can rent a hotel, and we’ll gladly join you and help babysit.”
They might resent this. They might even be upset at both of you. That’s fine. If you let them walk all over you, you’re making the same mistake they are.
On the other hand, when they are staying by you, you need to be careful not to get involved with parenting issues. You can insist that they don’t wear shoes in the house, if that’s your rule. But you shouldn’t tell your grandchildren to chew with their mouths closed, or how to dress.
It’s a fine line to walk, and sometimes it can get a bit complicated. The trick is to clearly delineate to yourselves where that line is. A suggestion would be, anything house related is fair game, anything manners or behavior related is off limits. You can create your own battle line, but whatever you do, stick to your guns.
I am deliberately not discussing the opposite issue here, namely grandparents getting overinvolved, or spoiling their grandchildren. That’s a completely separate article, although some of the underlying issues are certainly similar.
Wishing you (and your children) Hatzlacha.
Have a good Shabbos
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.