Even jerks may have something to give a child
Q: Wouldn't it be neat if all grandchildren stood "to gain love, insight, continuity and perspective beyond measure" from grandparents (to quote your Jan. 14 column)?
Unfortunately, they can also gain passive-aggression, disrespect and manipulative tendencies, a skill set that should really be earned in, say, middle school instead of at Grammy's knee, don't you think?
My in-laws aren't abusive. On the other hand, they slag off on my parenting skills when I am within earshot. They don't respect the boundaries my husband and I have set (i.e., not bringing the kids home on time after outings, and not letting the kids call us if they're going to be late). They say they want more time with the kids, then don't follow through when we invite them over.
Are we grandchild-withholders? Yes! Yes, we are, because we can't trust my in-laws not to speak disrespectfully about me, because we can't trust them to bring the kids home in a timely manner, because . . . we can't trust them.
It's not black-and-white. All grandparents do not fall into the category of "abusers" or "saintly elders." Some grandparents are . . . kinda jerks. It happens, and when it happens, you do what you think is best for the family.
A: Absolutely. And sometimes, what's best for the family is to let the jerks see their grandkids.
Within limits, of course — outings, for example, aren't mandatory.
I drew the line at abuse not to make things "black-and-white"; quite the contrary. Abuse is my narrowly defined exception to what I consider the rule, that most people — since that's all grandparents are — fall within the huge range of gray.
Of course you don't want your kids learning passive-aggression. But just because they witness it doesn't mean they'll adopt it as their own, and just because your folks model passive-aggression doesn't mean that's all they have to teach. Your kids also aren't immune from learning some doozies from you, their vastly more influential model.
It's your duty to teach your kids healthy ways to interact; provide them with gentle and age-appropriate guidance when they're exposed to unhealthy behaviors — in grandparents, peers, anyone; and to keep your own frailties in mind and in check during this process.
But you also have to give your kids a little more credit, and yourself a little less: Kids, in general, are quite capable of making their own nuanced judgments about the adults in their lives, and that doesn't just include grandparents, but parents, too.
Please note that not one of the benefits I listed — "love, insight, continuity and perspective" — is exclusive to good behavior. A rotten Grammy can give a grandchild all four. Knowing one's grandparents helps decode one's parents, which is a crucial step in knowing oneself.
As an exercise in perspective, consider your own future. Do you think you'll be a perfect grandparent? Probably not. But I bet you envision yourself as a good one, better than your in-laws are.
It's also a safe bet your in-laws think they're perfectly good grandparents — even correcting their parents' errors. What jerk ever thinks s/he's a jerk?
So please embrace the idea — now, while your kids are still kids — that at least one future son- or daughter-in-law might think you're a jerk. How will you like getting shut out?