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Dear Emuna: Meddling Mother
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Meddling Mother

Why doesn't my daughter appreciate that all I want is for her to be happy?


Dear Emuna,

Since my daughter had her very first baby (she now has three), I have tried to be helpful and advise her in ways that would make her life easier. However she decided that most of my advice was out of date and, since she is a pediatrician, she felt she knew better. Unfortunately, now that the children are 10, 8 and 4 years old, she is struggling to do her job part time and to control their disobedience, bad table manners and fights each night over homework, dinner, and bedtime.

I watch with great sadness the stress that my daughter is under. If I try to help or if she sees me managing the children well (because I am much stricter), she becomes aggressive with me. Her husband is also very soft with them and most of the time leaves the discipline to my daughter.

How can I make her understand that I only want the best for her and that my managing the children isn't about trying to prove that she is a bad mother or that I am trying to say I told you so? That is what she believes and it causes big arguments. All I want is for the children to be happy and to know what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. I want to see a peaceful house and my daughter less hassled.

- A Truly Caring Mom

Dear Mom Who Means Well,

I believe you when you say that “all you want is for the children to be happy.” I believe you when you say that you “want to see a peaceful house and my daughter less hassled.” The problem is I also believe you when you say that you want your grandchildren to “know what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.”

And therein lies the problem. Your daughter doesn’t want your advice. She has made that very clear. She has also made it clear that every time you try to give her advice or act against her wishes, she gets angry. Yet you still continue down this destructive path.

Perhaps you are right. Perhaps their lenience has led to disobedient children. But perhaps you are wrong and there is another cause entirely. Either way, it is irrelevant.

Your daughter is a grown woman, capable of making her own choices and clearly desirous of doing so.

You may really want what’s best for her, but that’s certainly not how she experiences it. She hears only constant criticism and attack. I’m guessing that makes you a less than desired guest.

My best advice is (ironically) to stop giving advice. It’s not your job. And stop trying to manage your grandchildren’s behavior. That’s not your job either. You had your time; this is hers.

You have one job now – for your daughter, your son-in-law, and your grandchildren – and you should be grateful. It’s a job that’s a lot easier and more hassle-free than the one you have taken on.

Just give them constant love and support; ONLY love and ONLY support. You might even to be surprised to find that it makes more of a difference than anything else.

Dear Emuna,

My good friend is going through "secondary infertility". She mentioned it once, but we don't talk about it. I am expecting my third child and I want to know how to approach the subject. Do I say anything to her, or just let her figure it out and deal with it in her own way. It pains me a lot to know that she and so many others are going through infertility issues and I would hate to do anything to make it harder. What is the best way to approach the situation?

- Sensitive Friend

Dear Sensitive Friend,

Firstly, I recommend this article which deals with this issue to both of you.

In addition, I don’t believe it makes for deep relationships if you ignore the proverbial “elephant in the room”. On the other hand, you are correct in wanting to be sensitive.

I think it’s a mark of friendship to raise the topic at a private, quiet time and let her know you’re available to talk about it if she wants to. She should neither feel pressured to reveal her thoughts or stifled. You should communicate that you are interested but you don’t want to pressure and the ball is in her court. It’s a delicate middle road.

Additionally, you can’t hide something you have that you know she would want very much, be it a job, a husband or a pregnancy. Since they can’t be hidden anyway, you only deepen her pain by making her the last to know. You heighten her sense of “otherness” but not treating her normally.

You should continue to confide in her but tact and sensitivity demand that it not be a constant topic of conversation. How nauseated you feel, how hard it is to cope, the traumas of sibling rivalry – these issues should probably stay off the table. Your desire (need?) to vent is outweighed by the pain it will cause.

As with all speech, common sense and sensitivity should be your guide.

Dear Emuna,

I was just wondering how you always know the right answer to so many different people's different issues. If a friend or relative asks me my advice, I am always unsure how to answer appropriately and fairly and you are just so good at it!

-- Your Biggest Fan

Dear New Best Friend,

It’s nice to have a fan and I really appreciate your kind words. However, if you read through the responses to many of my answers, you will soon see that not everyone agrees with you – or me. I guess that makes life more interesting (and certainly provides entertainment for my children!)

However, I do have one important tip for advice giving. The more uncertainty you have about an issue, the more humility you have about the topic, the better your advice will be. It sounds paradoxical but it’s true. With age, comes wisdom. Or, as our sages say, “Fifty is the age for advice.” I speculate that this is because we are less clear of what’s right, less eager to state our opinions with absolute certainty, more aware of the complexities of individual psyches and family dynamics.

We are also less willing to give potentially life-altering advice – leave him, marry her, remove those children from the home – since we realize we don’t have the full picture or that we will not be the ones to bear the consequences. Not to mention the fact that the responsibility for someone else’s life is a serious and awesome one not to be shouldered lightly. Who really knows what’s better for another human being? That’s the Almighty’s domain.

I look back on my 25 year-old self who “knew everything” (or better yet my 16 year-old self) and laugh ruefully. The only thing I know for sure now is that I don’t have all the answers.

November 13, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 9

(8) Bobby5000, September 8, 2017 3:12 PM

suggestions for family members

I have a family member whose daughter was building a home and she had some sensible suggestions for her daughter. However, the daughter was told, this is a mess, a catastrophe, you should have checked this, done that, which created obvious discord. I asked the lady, why don't you start with some compliments, about the wonderful way she manages a job and children, end with a compliment, and make your suggestions softly. My relative thought for a moment and said, "she's my daughter, I don't have to treat her like that, I can say what I want."

And that's frequently the problem, there is a strange belief that family members should get worse treatment, more criticism, less pleasantness than strangers. I don't ask my wife to treat me like a king, just treat me as well as you treat your casual acquaintances one man said.

Nancy, October 25, 2017 2:16 PM

To commenter #8 Bobby5000

Are you sure you have not been eavesdropping on some of MY family members?! Lol!!

(7) Anonymous, June 12, 2014 6:40 PM

I'm also a mother in law

I'm also a mother and mother in law. I have six grandchildren.
I NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER tell my daughter in law or my daughter what to do with their children. The way to do it is, call the grandchildren, take their hands take them to another part of the house, or outside, and tell them "let's play". THEY LOVE IT.
When I play with them, I talk to them, ALOT, THAT IS THE TIME I CAN TEACH THEM WHATEVER I WANT. Tell stories with good lessons. Sing songs
play word games and teach them how to play fair and be nice to each other. Just talk and talk. Tell them they have to be nice to mommy, tell them what happens when they misbehave, make a party with chips and pretzels and make it fun. They WILL LISTEN TO YOU IF YOU MAKE IT FUN.

(6) Anonymous, October 1, 2011 8:36 PM

Sometimes the kids need some advice

When I was a teen, we had a family friend with a young daughter about 6. This child was very intelligent, mom was pregnant, daddy was stationed overseas, and she was starting school. Before, she had been a very sweet child, now she was a terror and would fight with her mom about everything. Mom was exhausted. So I gave her some teenage "wisdom". I told her how to "win". It's not as scary as it sounds. If she didn't like what mom picked for her to wear, she should dress herself -her 6 year old wardrobe was safe. If she didn't want to fight about breakfast, get up and pick out her own - set the table the night before to make it easier. There were lots of ways she could "win". Each week, they went shopping with grandma. I told her to try it for a week. She wanted a small doll and I told her to ask her mom how long it would take it to save her allowance. Guess who had the doll after shopping. AND she and mom had huge smiles on their faces. Mom, mentioned that it was like she had a totally different child - she helped with meals, her room was clean, she was up and dressed every morning without a fight.... I took the mom aside and told her what I had done and how I had given her daughter the "secret" of a peaceful life. Mom sat there for a few minutes pondering. She said "so she thinks she's winning?" Yes. Mom said "and her 'winning' involves her being a joy and our house being peaceful". Yes. Mom said "and this costs me a small toy once in a while or a special outing?" I said, "yes, that's about it". Mom sat there awhile - I was worried. Then mom said "I can live with that - don't tell her I know". When the baby came, she changed diapers and even got up with her in the night some (she was still just 7). It gave the child a sense of control at a chaotic time - really, it was just good self-control. Mom knew, reinforced and rewarded. Over time she helped even more and joyfully. It worked for that child. Now, for my own....

(5) MomMom Phyllis, November 21, 2010 4:28 AM

Rude Misbehaved Children

I have always been intolerant of rude, misbehaved children--my own as well as others. I know to mind my own business with others and just walk away but also as the meddling mother find it hard to keep my mouth shut with my own son and daughter regarding their children. I think no matter how hard we try to be "politically correct" our comments are resented . If we can not watch negative behavior without commenting we must walk away if we want to maintain peace with our adult children. I don't always suceed at this and regret immediately the pain I cause

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