Hi, Carolyn: I’m a wife and mom of two elementary-age boys. My mom lives near us and is a hard person to be around. She is negative, especially to my kids.
I want to have a relationship with her that isn’t based on negativity but I don’t know how. We invited her to an event last night with my family, and she made snarky comments about what my kids were wearing and snapped at them, among other things. It ruined a special evening for me. I feel guilty that I don’t enjoy the time we have with her since she is getting older.
I understand your concerns — negativity’s hard to manage, grandparents aren’t around forever, check —but I am mystified by your priorities.
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No. 1 has to be your children’s emotional health, and you barely graze it here. What about their self-worth after having such nastiness routinely directed at them?
How you feel matters, but it’s a distant second.
And how a typical grandparent scenario is supposed to play out isn’t even on the radar screen of what matters.
So here’s a clippable list of suggested priorities with a relentlessly negative grandparent:
(1) How your kids feel.
(2) “This item intentionally left blank to make a point.”
(3) How you feel.
(4) How the grandparent deserves to be treated.
One practical application, for example, is that when she says something nasty about what your kids are wearing, you say, calmly, “What an unkind thing to say to children. You owe them an apology.” And when she refuses, “That’s your prerogative — and mine is to end this outing. Kids, stay with Dad, I’m taking Grandma home.”
That tells your boys that they deserve civil treatment and that you have their backs when they don’t get it. And, it sends Mom a message.
If you can’t even wrap your mind around addressing your mother this decisively — chances are she ill-equipped you to stand up to her — then I suggest you begin your journey through this problem in the office of a skilled family therapist.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.