Dear Amy: My husband and I went to visit our oldest son and his wife. They have three children, ages 6, 9 and 11. The youngest girl screams at the top of her lungs when she does not get her way. She also hits her mother when her mother tries to correct her. The oldest child baits the others to stir up trouble. The son hits his sisters with anything he picks up and never does what he is told. The house is in a constant uproar. The children are out of control at home, but are perfect at school and are excellent students.
I am a retired teacher with 26 years of experience teaching children from early childhood through sixth grade. I have had a lot of training in behavior modification. I know how to get these grandchildren in line, but everyone says I should say nothing.
My other two children tell me their brother will not take my advice well. The children act this way because they can get away with it. These grandchildren do not treat me the way they treat their parents. They cannot be happy living in this environment.
If these children were my students, I would recommend parenting classes for their parents. I want to have a good relationship with my son and his wife. I want to be a loving grandma. What should I do?
Dear Grandma: This is a common situation. But if these children are great at school and great when they are with you, then maybe you should let their parents run their chaotic household the way they want to, until they ask you for help or advice.
The father of this pack was raised by you in your household. He knows the difference between his childhood household and the one in which he is raising his children. He also knows that you are a skilled and experienced teacher.
You should spend as much time as possible with these children – one-on-one and in a group – outside of their home.
You should not suggest parenting classes. But you could say to these parents, “I had three children, too, and know it can get crazy at home. As a parent and a teacher, I’ve seen it all and I could probably help you and the kids with some behavioral issues. Let me know if you want me to try, and we can talk about it.”
Dear Amy: My mother-in-law gave my 10-year-old son a Christmas gift of tennis lessons. To me, she said, “I knew you wouldn’t like it.” I wanted to say, “Then why didn’t you get him a different gift!” Instead, I remained quiet.
I have nothing against tennis. Our daughter plays several sports and we cheer her on. Our son, however, is not sports-oriented. He loves to hike, be active and play guitar. We cheer him on equally. If she’d asked, I would have loved to have her help in paying for his guitar lessons.
My mother-in-law loves competition and sport, especially golf and tennis. I know she would like to connect with her grandkids this way. She has given our kids tennis rackets in the past. They just don’t seem to have an interest in tennis or golf, and our parenting style is to let our kids choose their activities.
How do I respond to a tone-deaf gift that is more about what she wants than what he wants? And also respond to the slight I feel that she got him a gift she knew in advance I wouldn’t like?
Dear Taken Aback: Your mother-in-law knew that you wouldn’t like this gift, but I assume she is hoping that your son would like it.
He should thank his grandmother for the gift and give it a try! If tennis doesn’t turn out to be his thing, you can tell your mother-in-law, “I know it can be hard to find ways to connect with the kids; ‘Bradley’ is really into music lately, so he might enjoy guitar lessons. If you ever want a recommendation, feel free to ask.”
Dear Amy: “Debating DNA” received news of an unexpected half-sibling through DNA testing. I was adopted many years ago. I used DNA testing to track down some members of my biological family. The results have been pretty mixed; but I prepared myself for that.
No Longer Debating DNA
Dear No Longer Debating: When tracking down previously unknown family members, it is important for people to emotionally prepare themselves for just about anything.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.