Dear Patti,

For the past week I’ve been waking up anxious and worried, and at first I didn’t understand why. My husband and I are both retired. We both enjoy good health, and financial problems are at a minimum. It was just a few mornings ago when I realized that when I’m worrying it’s usually because I’m concerned about one of my grandchildren. Yet, I don’t want to come across like I’m interfering with my adult children’s parenting. My husband and I adore all four of our grandchildren, spend a lot of time with them, and can’t help but get involved emotionally. Each one of them is special in their own way and they mean everything to us. Sometimes I feel that our three adult children are making the same mistake my husband and made when our children were growing up. Looking back, both my husband and I feel we were way too strict.

A recent example happened a few days ago. Ella, my eldest granddaughter, is 15 and going through a rebellious stage. My daughter Gina was the same way at Ella’s age, but nonetheless she feels the need to come down on Ella super hard.

The other day I was visiting Gina when Ella came home after school with two friends. Gina immediately confronted Ella in front of her friends, complaining that she had makeup on that she was wasn’t allowed to have, and had rolled her skirt up way above knee length, which was against school policy. Lastly, she wasn’t allowed to have friends over until all of her homework was finished. Ella got angry, yelled back at her mother, ran to her room, and Ella’s friends left. I started to talk to Gina about her parenting style, but she became even angrier, saying that I never had her back. I dropped it because I don’t want to come across as interfering. But I adore Ella and am concerned about her. Actually, I worry about both my daughter and my granddaughter and their relationship. I don’t mean to intrude, but it’s difficult not to when my grandchildren are involved.

  — Sharon

Dear Sharon,

It’s not unusual for grandparents to see their grandchildren in a special way, really enjoy them as the perfect individuals they perceive them to be rather than focus on the huge, serious task of raising them to become achieving adults. While grandparents are often safe, emotional havens, as well as wonderful confidence and self-esteem boosters, grandparents need to be alert to parents’ concerns and responsibilities.

When you find yourself disagreeing with your children’s parenting skills, try this four-step technique developed by Jim Fay and Foster Clines from their “Love and Logic” approach.

First Step — Question

When you differ with Gina’s parenting and want to help in problem solving, first show true concern and then ask a question rather than tell your daughter what you think she should do. Example: “Gina, I know you truly have Ella’s best interest at heart and I felt very sad for both you and Ella yesterday. I know you are trying to protect her and teach, but do you think it might have gone better if you had taken her aside and not confronted her in front of her friends?”

Second Step — Listen

When Gina expresses her frustration, hurt and anger over Ella’s rebellious behavior, listen to her and show interest and acceptance while she is talking. You don’t have to have the same opinion but listen carefully to what your daughter is trying to tell you.    

Third Step — Understand

Understanding can be emphasized by restating what you just heard. “Gina, if I understand you correctly, you are worried that Ella is dressing inappropriately and being criticized and labeled because of it from both the church congregation and your school community. Is that right?”

Fourth Step — Ask Permission

Get permission to give advice or make suggestions. Getting permission can be done as a question or a statement, “I have an idea. Would you be interesting in hearing it?” Or, “I have a suggestion. If you’re interested, let me know.” Once permission is granted or acknowledged, then you can share, “What if both of us take Ella out for lunch and shopping for lighter and more natural makeup? During lunch we can talk to her privately and more in-depth about your concerns. “

If Gina doesn’t give permission and doesn’t what input, be respectful and accepting. Acceptance is different than approval. Keep listening to Gina with understanding and wait for a better time. 


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.