Silence or counsel?

My mother hardly spoke of it. But when she did, even in old age, hurt haunted its telling.

On a Sunday morning, right after worship, Mom took my two brothers and me to visit her parents. I was in second grade. One brother was in kindergarten, and the other was three.

The Adams’ farm was our Disney World. It thrilled us with live acts starring chickens, dogs, pigs, and cows. Its mud and muck, ladders and lattices were playgrounds. Adventures always awaited in the barn, haymow, machine shed, and an assortment of outbuildings.

But not on this day. Mom warned, “Do not leave the house. Do not get your good clothes dirty.”

Of course, my kindergarten-age brother and I chafed under being tortured in my grandparents’ living room by adult conversation. When we realized that Mom was fully engaged with her parents, we tiptoed toward the door and eased into the backyard.

We were escapees for only a few minutes. Transformation to ragamuffin doesn’t require longer. Our shoes were caked with mud. Our pants glowed with grass stains. Our white shirts had smears of something unspeakable. Mom’s voice shattered Adventureland. “James Allan! David Dean! Get in here this instant.”

Punishment should have been swift and painful. But Grandpa stepped between Mom and us. “Fran,” he said, “you should have realized this would happen. If you didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty, you should have had them change.”

An instant later we were on our way home. Grandpa saved us from the hurt of a spanking, but Mom experienced the hurt of feeling disrespected and shamed by her father.

Mom’s story urges me to evaluate how well I show respect for my daughters’ parenting. My daughters are great parents. I admire their wisdom, commitment, and sacrifice. However, from time to time, I do feel I have advice to offer. Then I struggle with choosing counsel over silence. I know my Savior’s advice about “speaking the truth in love” and saying “what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:15,29). Gratitude for his grace prompts me to honor his words, but applying his advice is challenging.

Several questions help with that challenge.

  • Is there a risk of significant harm? (By the way, I’ve never answered that question with yes.)
  • Is this the right time and the right situation for sharing my “wisdom”?
  • How can I give advice in a gentle way that shows love and respect?
  • Have I put the best construction on the situation? Do I understand the backstory?
  • Have I asked, “Is there a way I can help?”
  • Is this a difference in parenting styles or is this a parenting problem?
  • Have I taken my emotional pulse?
  • Have I asked Jesus for advice? Have I talked this over with my wife?

Now it’s your turn. Parents and grandparents, have a conversation.

James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their 10 grandchildren.

Oops! Grandma gave Garrett a sucker.

You’ve decided not to give your children any sugar until age three. Your friends get it, but your parents—not so much: “Is this a millennial thing? You ate sugar when you were little, and you turned out all right.”

You chuckle at the teasing, but you give a gentle reminder when you leave little Garrett with his grands one afternoon: “No sugar, remember?”

Still, Grandma gave Garrett a sucker. Sugar on a stick. The telltale artificial coloring is still on his lips when you get back. Now what?

You could blow up on the spot: “What did you do?”

You could go all passive-aggressive: Say nothing and never ask the grands to babysit again.

Or you could wait a couple days and then have a little talk, having the spouse whose parents did the deed take the lead. (If that spouse is afraid to stand up to Mom and Dad, you might have bigger problems than Garrett’s sugar intake.)

Here’s one way this conversation could go.

Set the scene: “Mom, Dad, can we talk about something a little difficult?” (This preemption gives your parents the chance to be noble, to be big. It also sounds serious—Do you have cancer? Were you fired?—which makes the real topic almost a relief.)

Say what happened: “Garrett ate a sucker at your house.” (A little gentler than “You gave Garrett a sucker.”)

Explain how it made you feel: “That disappointed us so much. This sugar thing is important to us. It’s not the end of the world that he had a sucker. We’re not mad. But we want to go back to our no-sugar policy.”

Make a request: “Can you back us up on this, even if you don’t really agree with it?”

Notice what’s not happening in this conversation:

  • You’re not attacking them: “How could you do this? You just don’t respect us.”
  • You’re not patronizing them: “We realize you don’t know as much about sugar as we do.”
  • You’re not arguing the policy: “We’re right about this. Sugar is bad.”

You don’t need to convert them. It doesn’t matter whether they agree with your no-sugar rule or not. Because the real point is this: You’re the parents. God gave Garrett to you to train up in the way he should go (cf. Proverbs 22). While you’ll always honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and be open to suggestions—my parents gave me tons of excellent parenting advice, and so will yours—you’re allowed to determine your own parenting procedures.

Chances are, at the end of your 30-second speech, they’ll agree to respect your wishes. Then you can quickly smooth the rough edges by offering a face-saver: “On another topic, do you think we have to be worried about Garrett’s rash?” Or maybe even wrap it up with a little comedy: “Glad that’s settled. Let’s all have some cake!”

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it? Please share your thoughts at forwardinchrist.net.

Stand firm, even if it’s not popular

“You sure make parenting hard!”

That’s the statement I heard from another parent as I finished explaining to my young child that we were running to the grocery store. My child didn’t want to stop playing, but we needed to go. My friend insisted that a child should not have to do something he didn’t want to do if it wasn’t fun for him. I calmly replied that a quick run for milk was just one of those things we sometimes do as part of a family. No surprise that as we were walking to the car, my son screamed, “You’re not a fun mommy!” Wow. Pop that aspiration!

This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that my parenting would be undermined. While the circumstances were not terribly important, the principles were. I have seen firsthand that sticking to principles in the early years has payoffs in the later years. It was important for my son to hear and learn some important lessons.

He needed to know that how other people’s families run was not his concern. He did not need to hear his mother pass judgment on someone else’s parenting. Whatever I may have thought privately was not the business or worry of children. As a classroom teacher, it was often evident when children heard gossip from their parents’ lips. What my children needed to know were the rules for our family and our house. Other kids’ parents were quite often more fun and less strict than my husband and I were. Entering a parenting popularity contest ensures somebody is going to win at the cost of somebody else losing.

Dealing with contrary forces outside our home was at times difficult as well. Many times we found no need to address the undermining with our children because our stance was clear and consistent. Our children were smart enough not to waste their breath. Sometimes we did find it necessary to affirm our rules to other adults in light of their questions or actions. We tried to point out what we did without becoming defensive or critical. Again, our concern was with our own family, not theirs. On occasion, it was made clear that the house rules of another family were in direct or dangerous conflict with ours. This passive form of undermining sometimes resulted in limiting exposure to these homes or children. It meant opening our home to social interaction with our children’s friends. This had the unintended reward of getting to know and love our children’s community.

People are more receptive with your parenting choices when you show love, especially to their children. When we were asked why our children got along or why they were respectful, the door was open for a joyful testimony to the goodness of God’s love and forgiveness.

Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Sam. They have three children and seven grandchildren.