I’m sure that everyone has heard or read horror stories about those awful in-laws. You know the ones I’m talking about: Those who just can’t, or won’t, stay out of their children’s’ business. The ones that insist on offering unsolicited advice at every turn and sometimes even go so far as trying to take over raising their grandchildren.
Having been the victim of the mother-in-law from hell, I learned a valuable lesson early in my life. I learned how to butt out – – stay out – – and keep my big mouth shut! It is a pity that more parents, in-laws and grandparents don’t seem to be able to do the same. With that in mind, I thought I’d share an “Insider’s Guide to Being a Good Parent, In-Law, and/or Grandparent.” Do with it what you will.
Insider’s Guide #1: Stay out of your child’s business. Remember you raised your children to be independent, self-sufficient individuals. If you have done your job properly, they will generally make good decisions. Of course no one is perfect – – including you – – so there is always the outside chance that they might stumble from time to time. It is not your job as a parent to step in and fix their problems. It is your job to be a support mechanism. If and when your child needs you, they will let you know. Until then, mind your own business; not your child’s.
My mother had one solid golden rule: Don’t offer advice unless you are asked you for it. I respected her for that. She never jumped into the middle of my husband’s and my marriage. She never told me how to raise my children. She never offered her unsolicited opinions. She was always there with open arms and outstretched hands if I needed assistance. However, she believed that I had the capability, courage, and fortitude to take care of myself. Nothing ever meant more to me, except of course her unconditional love, than the respect and belief she exhibited in me.
Insider’s Guide #2: Learn to love your child’s spouse or significant other. This can be a hard task to mange. However, I cannot count the number of parents that I personally know who lost their children forever because they refused to accept their child’s choice in love. In many ways, this suggestion echoes the first one. If you as a parent have taught your child all of the right things like self-respect, self-sufficiency, and independence then they should have the capability of making viable choices, even in love. Notice I said “should.” The fact of the matter is that love doesn’t always make a great deal of sense. Pheromones sometimes come into play and oftentimes lust will get mistaken for love. Therefore, sometimes children will make poor decisions in the area of love. Hopefully, these will be temporary; however, no matter what it is still their decision to make; not yours. They will learn soon enough if they have chosen poorly and they will correct the problem. Your interference as a parent will only strengthen their resolve to stand true to that bad decision just to spite you. That will not serve anyone well.
Case in point, when she was younger my daughter was a bit of a rebel. She loved doing things that she knew would push her father’s and my buttons. Consequently, at one point she announced that she was “in love” with a boy that she knew without a doubt her father and I would hate. Now I will admit that we did try to sway her decision early on. However, once she had dug in her heels and made it perfectly clear that she wasn’t about to listen to what we had to say, we just stopped talking. We didn’t exactly give her love affair unconditional support but we didn’t fight it either. The strategy worked and before we expected it to happen she had dumped her paramour du jour in favor of exactly the type of young man we knew would treat her with the respect, dignity, and love she deserved. It wasn’t easy for us to take that risk; however, it paid off in spades.
Insider’s Guide #3: Don’t expect your child to be a mirror image of you. While it is obviously important for parents to be role models and guides in their children’s’ lives, it does not mean that we have the right to try to remake our children in our own image. Who says we got everything right?
Growing up I had a close friend whose father was a minister. From the moment he was born, Terry’s father automatically assumed that his son would also become a minister. Even in kindergarten, I remember Terry announcing that he was going to be a preacher. When his teacher asked him to explain what that was to his classmates, he couldn’t. He just knew that it was what he was supposed to grow up to be. Everything he did in life, every class he ever took, and every move he ever made was geared toward that end. Finally, he entered Bible College. His father was proud. His mother was ecstatic. But Terry was terrified and within less than a year, he had dropped out due to a mental break down. Not to be one to give in, however, he fought his way back to health and within a couple of years he was right back in Bible College, where he remained for only a few months before dropping out once again. Broken, discouraged, and totally uncertain of his purpose in life, this once wonderful, vibrant, intelligent young man – – our class valedictorian – – was working in a car wash. Gone was his spark and any inkling of the boy I knew growing up. All that was left was an empty shell. Although, it was never his father’s intention to do so, he had set his son up for failure; a failure from which Terry never recovered.
Insider’s Guide #4: Recognize your in-laws for the special people that they are. If you can’t do that as a parent, you are going to miss out on some of the most wonderful experiences of your life. Learning to love – – or at least pretend to love – – your child’s spouse of significant other is one thing, but actually “recognizing” that individual for their own unique qualities is something else altogether.
Case in Point: My son-in-law is one of the most kind, considerate, loving human beings that ever walked the face of this earth. I learned that about him early on. After all, he had excellent taste: He chose my daughter to be his wife. But it wasn’t until a few years later that I really understood the depth of this man’s love for my daughter; enough so that I knew she was safe in his care. Taking a page from my mother’s book, I chose not to interfere in my daughter’s life in any way. She is more than capable of handling herself in any situation. I knew that and I believed it. Still, a mother always has that special little nagging fear in her heart that someone might hurt her child. I lived with that fear for years. As much as I love my daughter I know that she isn’t the easiest person to get along with. She is tough, opinionated, and stubborn; not that I can imagine where she would have gotten such traits. She will push and push and push a person away from her just to test them; to see if they will still love her anyway. My wonderful son-in-law has never failed one of those tests. What more can a mother ask for? Likewise, my son who is little more on the sensitive side, managed to find just the right woman to be his mate. I trusted her, early on as well and she has also never failed to prove me right. She offers her support and love at every juncture but she doesn’t let my son get away with anything. She is the perfect mixture of strength and love. Had I not accepted my son-in-law and daughter-in-law for who they are, I would have missed out on two of the greatest joys of my life.
Insider’s Guide #5: Your job as a grandparent is to be fun!You have already been a parent. You have already suffered the anxiety and torture of adolescent angst. You have already made every mistake in the book. You don’t have to repeat everything with your grandchildren. They are your children’s responsibility and they are your children’s problem. What grandchildren should be to you is pure, unfettered, untamed, inexplicable joy. Your role as a grandparent is to love, support, embrace, encourage, and enjoy your grandchildren. I am convinced that there is no greater gift on this earth.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children with my entire heart and soul and I cannot conceive of anything I wouldn’t do for them. But we had to go through the tortures of the damned to come out on the other end together. I don’t have to do that with my grandchildren. They are there for my hugs and kisses and laughter and love. Then I simply send them home to mommy and daddy for the rest. I earned that right and I intend to enjoy every moment of it. I learned that lesson from both my grandmother and great-grandmother. I cannot recall a time that I needed either of them when they failed me. But neither did they try to take my mother’s place as a parent. Instead they just opened their arms and offered me pure, unadulterated love, every single day. I want to be that for my grandchildren. I want them to look back someday and think of me in that same special way.
While there are a lot of other things that go into being a good parent, in-law, and grandparent, I can guarantee you this: If you just start with these five guidelines, you are well on your way to total and complete success!