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.