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Ask Ellie: It's not a grandparent's role to offer parenting advice

Advice: Being a loving grandparent is a valuable role, but interfering with parenting is not part of it

Dear Ellie: My wife and I, seniors, spend the winter months in a sunny locale. Our married children and grandchildren often visit us there. The children of our youngest daughter and her husband are under age six, so we help them out.

The family flew down with my wife, while I drove several days earlier to pick them up at the airport. Their father periodically travels a few days for work. I learned that he was planning to golf with friends while his children and wife would be with us. He’d help settle everyone during the first week, then join his golfing buddies — a mini vacation away from his family again.

Their toddler currently refuses routine naps. She falls asleep on car rides or in the stroller then, awakened, has extended temper tantrums. My wife and I both feel a more routine nap schedule would be better. But it’s hard to suggest anything to young parents who know everything so much better than the older generation.

After my son-in-law returned from his golf vacation, the two older kids and their parents went out for an ice-cream treat. I stayed back alone with the napping baby. My wife was visiting elsewhere. When everyone later returned, the three-year-old was out of control. She’d missed the ice-cream treat while falling asleep in the stroller. Amid ensuing chaos, I suggested alternatives on how to deal with her.

My son-in-law shouted: “This is my daughter and how I’m dealing with her is only my business. Step back or this won’t end well!”

I instantly removed myself silently. Though it was my birthday and we’d planned a dinner out together, I wasn’t going to join. My daughter understood and expressed her sorrow. I only said, “Grandfather doesn’t feel like it right now.” Her husband and I stayed mutually distant.

But when they’d left, I felt badly for my daughter and her children. I decided for their sakes to push aside my unresolved feelings about my son-in-law and join them. The evening was mostly saved. He acted like nothing had happened.

So did I. The next morning, both of us very civilized, handled travel logistics and flight schedules. I even managed to hug him goodbye, which he initiated.

How do I handle this going forward? I feel it was inappropriate for him to threaten physical violence no matter how irritating my correction attempts may have been. His response was a lot for me to forget. I feel that he owes me an apology.

But there’s been no acknowledgement of what happened. My wife missed the actual shouting scene but I’ll describe it for her.

What’s your take on this situation?

Still Upset

Your relationship with this daughter’s family depends on your response. Yes, he should apologize for his threatening comment. But your interference in his dealing with his screaming youngster was a mistake. It was time for soothing both child and father, or backing away to leave them to settle down. He knows his child better than you do. Periodic travel days do not make him a bad parent.

Many young parents (not all) do “know everything so much better than the older generation.” They read current parenting advice, follow best practices advised by doctors, social workers, teachers, etc. Raising children during decades of changes, e.g., in technology alone, has given them insights and direction previous parenting years never had available.

Being a loving grandparent is a valuable role. Tell your son-in-law you regretted the incident. You’ll have done the right thing, and he may realize it.

Reader’s Commentary regarding “Sexless after 50” (Feb 8):

“I understand the wife’s disinterest in sex though her husband of 30 years is still sexually interested in her. She has no working libido at 65. But that’s no reason to not lovingly care about her husband’s sexual needs. She says she loves him only in the abstract.

“She doesn’t get the rush she did as a younger woman, but that doesn’t mean she can’t give him the warmth and satisfaction to help him feel closer to her through sex. There’s no pretense in giving to someone you love. She can choose the timing most comfortable to her.

“When he’s gone, she may wish that she’d been more flexible in ways that please him, as well as herself.

“I’m a woman, 84, missing my partner terribly, but with no regrets about making him feel wanted and sexually desirable even when he was an old man in his 80s.”

Ellie’s tip of the day

Loving grandparents can help families by example, not by lecture.

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