By Karen L. Rancourt, PhD | Next time you feel compelled to give a little parenting advice to your adult child or her/his spouse, remembering three little words can make a big difference. |
A grandmother who was scolded by her daughter-in-law for interfering with her parenting asked me, “When does giving advice become interfering?”
The simple answer is: You are interfering whenever your daughter-in-law says you’re interfering. Yes, you have good intentions, and yes, you have lots of experience to bring to the table, but what matters is that your daughter-in-law thinks you interfered with her parenting.
This reminds me of a scene in the 1989 Batman movie where the characters Alicia Hunt (Jerry Mack) and Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), the Joker, are standing in front of a mirror. Unsolicited, Hunt compliments Napier by saying in a sultry voice, “You look fine.”
Napier/Nicholson drawls in reply, “I didn’t ask.”
“I didn’t ask.” The Joker didn’t ask. The daughter-in-law didn’t ask.
I advised this hurt and confused grandmother to talk with her daughter-in-law. As tempting as it might be to explain why she’d said what she said, I suggested she say only: “I owe you an apology for interfering with the children. You didn’t ask for my opinion. I am really sorry.”
Then, I explained how her daughter-in-law might respond: “I wasn’t really upset about what you said; I was upset about something else.” Or, “I know you meant well, but saying that in front of the children made me the bad guy and you the good guy.” Or, “You’ve been doing this more and more, and I’ve wanted to talk to you about it.” Or, “Apology accepted. No big deal.”
Regardless of her DIL’s response, the grandmother’s apology helped clear the way so the two could come to an understanding about welcomed and unwelcomed advice.
Whenever you feel the urge to give unsolicited advice to your grandchildren’s parents, remember those three words: “I didn’t ask.” It could stop you from saying and doing things that your adult children might interpret as interfering with their parenting.
Karen L. Rancourt, PhD, writes an advice column for parents and grandparents at Mommybites.com and is the author of Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Helping Young Parents and Grandparents Deal with Thorny Issues.