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When Grandma Gets a Pass

One of my biggest fears before becoming a mother was whether I would be able to speak up for myself or my children. I worried that someone might say something to my children that was not in line with my parenting philosophy or my worldview and I would stand there mutely while seething inside.

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Turns out, I am a mother who is willing to speak up. When the cashier at Target told my daughter that she should be careful not to get fat, I responded by saying that we don’t measure worth by weight in our family. And when the man in the gym parking lot told my son that “big boys don’t cry,” I told him straight up that tears are gender neutral and that my son had permission to feel all of his feelings. Just like my daughter.

It’s been a liberating experience to tap into this willingness to speak up to strangers, busybodies and well-intentioned friends who offer my children a view of the world that I don’t agree with. My worries were all for naught—with one tiny exception: grandparents.

I just can’t bring myself to correct any of my children’s grandparents. Luckily, they haven’t said much that I find objectionable, but there have been moments when I came this close to saying something to one of them about something they were saying to my kids, but I stopped myself through sheer force of will.

I’m simply unwilling to stage a showdown with the people who raised me and my husband.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell one grandmother to lay off about my son’s long hair or the other one to zip it about my daughter’s spirited public displays of emotion. I couldn’t do it. I can’t correct a grandparent. There is some invisible line between me and them that keeps me from contradicting them in the moment. At some point later (once they’ve left the room or the state), I usually have a conversation with my children letting them know that I don’t agree with some of the things that their grandparents say. But it’s not the same as an in-the-moment confrontation. I’m simply unwilling to stage a showdown with the people who raised me and my husband.

I’ve got plenty of rationalizations for why they get a pass. For one thing, they all live a few states away so our time together is precious, and I don’t want to muck it up with messy interactions about the best way to handle a tantrum or the proper table manners for a 2-year-old. And because they live far away, the danger of them influencing my children with ideas that I disagree with is only very slight. But it’s also about respect. My parents and my husband’s parents raised us and contributed in countless ways to the people—and parents—we are today. So, while I don’t agree with some of the things they say around my children, they get a pass from me in the name of respect, honor and gratitude.

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But that guy in the parking lot? No way—he’s gonna get a mouthful from me if he tries to instruct my children about who can and cannot cry based on gender. I’ll save my confrontations for him.

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