Q. I don’t get to see my 10-year-old grandson and my 4-year-old granddaughter as much as I once did because they live two hours away and also because I’m now caring for my mother who is elderly and has dementia. Nevertheless, I quickly said yes when my daughter-in-law asked me to stay with my son and their children for three days so she could visit her brother.
I was sure that everything would go well because I’ve stayed with the children many times, both at their house and mine, and I’ve never had any problems. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky this time.
My grandson had gotten into trouble at school the week before, so his parents had taken away most of his privileges before I got there and I was told exactly what he was — and was not — allowed to do. But he kept asking me if he could have those privileges again and, of course, I couldn’t let him have what he wanted. I told him that I loved him, however, even if I didn’t love his behavior, but that wasn’t good enough. He still got very upset each time I said no and then he would talk back to me which he had never done before. This turned the whole weekend into a battle.
I am upset because my son and daughter-in-law put me in such a difficult position and also because I don’t know how to act with my grandson anymore. I’ve always exchanged letters with him after my visits, but I don’t know what to say to him now.
How can I move our relationship forward and in a positive way?
A. Whatever you do, don’t let the connection between you and your grandson wither away. Children need as much stability as they can get, especially when they’re on the brink of puberty. Although your grandson knows how much you love him, he also wants the same easy relationship that you want and for good reason. It will let him talk with you about that incident at his school and find out whether it was
just another bump on the road of life or a great big spike that will poke him for the rest of his life.
You can get your relationship back on an even keel if you ask your grandson for his side of the school story and if you also apologize to him for not asking for it sooner. Nothing pleases a youngster more than an adult who admits her mistakes.
It will be even better if you put your apology in writing so your grandson can read your note many times and if you call him to talk about the incident, since it is much easier for a 10-year-old to tell you what he did than to write about it. And when he does talk, be sure to listen to him quietly and carefully, without judging him or telling him what you think and without siding with his teacher, his school or his parents either. A good grandmother doesn’t interfere unless the situation is quite dire.
If you give your grandson the sympathy and understanding he needs, the anger that plugs his ears will melt and then he’ll begin to look at his experience more objectively and to think before he acts. Although your grandson can learn these lessons from you and his parents, he will learn them better and faster if he gets there on his own.
You should, however, talk with your grandson about his general behavior and ask him how he would feel if he did something so bad or so embarrassing that it got on the six o’clock news or even worse, on Facebook, where he’d be seen by every one of his friends. And this just might happen in a year or so. Many pre-teens are around 11 when they shoplift or smoke for the first time and they often do this when they’re with a friend who has gone astray. That’s why it’s so important for your son and his wife to know all of your grandson’s friends quite well and to see that their boy is well-supervised in these changing years between 10 and 16. This supervision might come from babysitters and activities at first, to keep them out of harm’s way, and then by part-time jobs and a slew of demanding chores, to keep them extra-busy. And busy teenagers get into much less trouble than the ones who have a lot of free time.
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