Hi, Carolyn: I’m having such a hard time staying out of my son’s situation. He and his girlfriend just moved into an apartment, but can barely pay rent. They have an 8-month-old, a little dog, and just got a tiny kitten. They lived with us for about a year but got tired of us “helping” or “telling us how to do things.”
I’m sorry, I’ve had three kids, so I do know more about babies. I think about what could go wrong all the time; I worry constantly! I give a lot of money to my son to help with everything.
He is starting a new job soon, but not sure if he will stick with it. How can I help without controlling and worrying so much? Being a mom/grandparent is so hard. I have five boys, but this one is the one I worry about the most.
Help Me Help Them
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“I’m sorry” is “no offense” lite: It basically means you’re not sorry and you know what you’re saying is likely to offend.
Of course you know more about babies! You had three! A parent of a 1-year-old knows more than a parent of a newborn, too, but that doesn’t give the more veteran parent leverage to butt in for all of eternity. Despite “what could go wrong all the time.”
With your firstborn, you had zero experience as a parent. The best way to help your son is never to forget this fact, and please, please back off this couple. Let them learn about babies the way you did, the way everyone eventually does who ever rears a child.
Yes, there has always been a place for wisdom to be handed down from older to younger generations, but by your account you’ve given this couple months of in-home training (whether they wanted it or not). Now let them use it.
That is a lot to ask, understandably, when you haven’t seen persuasive signs your son will be able to take care of himself. But you are part of an entrenched cycle that perpetuates this problem. He wobbles, you rush in to the rescue, he never learns to stand firmly on his own – or gets crucial assurance from Mom that he’s capable of it.
To help him now you have to stop helping him. Even the money needs to taper off as the new job begins.
That also means you need a better way to manage your anxiety than fussing – which apparently hasn’t brought lasting improvement to you or this family anyway. It’s even possible you have an anxiety condition independent of your son that his circumstances merely aggravate. I suggest a screening; ask your regular doctor where to start.
In the meantime, add something to your schedule that makes constructive use of your energy – a hobby, a volunteer gig, yoga or other exercise, therapy. Or bring your knowledge and experience where it’s welcome; provide child care at your church or community center, or volunteer at your local hospital, or train to become a doula.
The one exception to the stop-butting-in rule is if your grandchild is at risk of serious harm. In that case, though, you don’t rush in with unsolicited advice; you get qualified help. The hotline at Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, is an accessible place to start.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.