Here’s a mistake I’ll never make again: Scheduling my five-year-old’s flu shot on the first day of Grandma’s visit.
My mother had been looking forward to a joyful reunion with her sweet and loving granddaughter, whom she only sees a few times a year. We had planned an afternoon of fun and treats, just as soon as we made a quick stop at the pediatrician’s office.
But that’s not how it went down.
My kid is deathly afraid of needles, and immediately after receiving the dreaded shot, she regressed to the toddler era, melting down into an epic tantrum that seemed to last forever. She screamed and flailed, refusing to leave the doctor’s office. The collateral damage was Grandma, who got kicked in the ankles while trying to coax my feral offspring into the car.
Tantrums suck. A tantrum with my mother watching to see how I’d handle it? So much worse.
I wanted to be calm, using empathy and redirection like all the books say. Instead, I wound up snapping at my kid and throwing her lollipop out the car window as we drove away from the doctor’s office, totally at my wit’s end.
When my daughter was finally calm, my mother looked me dead in the eye and pronounced, “There is something wrong with her. She needs to see a child psychologist. You should see someone too because your parenting is inconsistent and inappropriate.”
That was a real low moment in our relationship. Her criticism stung—a lot—and yet, it didn’t sound accurate to me. I mean, yes, my kid was way out of line, but it was an extreme situation for her. I should never have scheduled the shot on a day when we had special family plans, and I’ll take the blame for that bonehead parenting move. But my gut tells my kid doesn't have psychological problems, nor am I failing at parenting on a regular basis.
The problem was, criticism from my own mother carries way more weight than, say, an internet comment on one of my blog posts. I couldn’t let it go. And I fleetingly wondered, was she right? Was something so awry in our family that professional help was warranted?
It seems like our kids' grandparents, especially those who live far away and don't see us often, may struggle with figuring out their roles in our lives.
I reached out to a few of my mom friends, tentatively sharing the story. I was a bit embarrassed—what if they agreed with my mother, or thought I was a big loser? To my great relief, my friends were not only supportive but had some surprisingly similar stories of their own. (Note: I have changed their names to protect the guilty grandparents)
“My 10-year-old was ignoring his grandmother,” said Leslie. "She pulled me aside and said I must be bad parent because I was raising an asshole.”
“Years ago, my mother had some training as a therapist,” said Jamie. “So she felt totally justified telling me that my son wasn’t just a picky eater, he must be anorexic. Sigh."
“My mother-in-law said something about my son having an ‘intense’ personality with some ‘anger issues,'" said Christine. "And then she kind of laughed and said, ‘I wonder where he gets THAT from.’ So it was a dig on me and my son. Thanks, lady.”
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“We were visiting my parents, and I’d promised to take the kids to the museum, but we ran out of time,” said Katie. “My dad accused me of never keeping my promises with my kids. My parents only see the kids about 10 days a year, so how would they know? That really got my blood boiling.”
What struck me about all of these examples was how quick the grandparents were to diagnose, label and criticize, when a helping hand would have be so much more effective, and appreciated.
It seems like our kids' grandparents, especially those who live far away and don't see us often, may struggle with figuring out their roles in our lives. For many years, they made the rules. But now we do. Maybe it's weird for them, being relegated to bystander in the raising of our children.
I'm still trying to figure it out. In the meantime, my friend has a theory that our parents use our kids to try to correct their own parenting mistakes from the past, so it’s all one giant case of projection.
Now that’s some diagnosing I can get behind.