This week I heard from Susan, a longtime member who has joined grandparenthood and is now dealing with new, different challenges she had not expected. Since these issues appear without warning and sometimes turn our lives upside down, I wanted to share them and my thoughts with you.
Divorce is a multifaceted issue but when it is our children’s divorce and it affects our grandchildren, we feel compelled to do something but are often absolutely powerless. Taking a step back and letting go of the adult children’s problems and responsibilities can put us in a better position to assess our role and any steps that can be taken to help. Realizing ownership of the problem (and solutions) belongs to the now adult kids is important. When we offer assistance rather than direction we are putting the pressure and power back in the hands of the ones that can ultimately make a difference. The adult children will work things out, maybe not the way we would like, but in a way that will benefit their children and lives. Will they make errors? Probably, but this is how most of us learn. To think we could prevent errors and mistakes sets us up for disappointment. The good news is that there are no correct or wrong answers— it is a matter of choice.
For Grandma Susan, adult children do not like being told what to do; I would recommend focusing on the children and showing rather than telling:
Telling and Judging: “Hitting is not what you want to do, hitting and slapping is wrong and can cause more serious problems later on.”
Showing and Informing: Use “I” messages or statements, “I used redirecting and consequences with my son; consequences took a little longer but it worked and may have prevented his hitting siblings and others.”
Stronger Suggestion: Use the gentlest first, “It’s too bad spanking is ineffective and only teaches kids to be sneaky.” OR “I’m sorry you felt the need to use spanking; what went wrong with consequences and removing privileges?”
A thought: Grandma Susan, pay close attention to disapproving glances and inflections in your voice. Your actual words may say, “I used redirecting and consequences with my son,” but the tone may say, “You idiot; you will never be as good a mother as me!” Honor the young mother’s struggle as a parent and express your support and caring in the same way you would have wanted to have been treated as a mom. Putting yourself in her position and then your son’s position can give insights as to the best course of action.
Important: Try to view the adult children as allies in rearing the grandchildren. It is easier to go around than through. I also know from personal experience that “planting a seed” of information can work wonders. When you see the adult child using a milder form of discipline with the children, give the parents good, positive feedback.
Being a member in a Parents Anonymous group, we all frown on spanking because of the undesirable outcomes: lower self-esteem, aggression tendencies, ineffectiveness, etc. Another problem Grandma Susan is dealing with is that her son’s second partner has chosen frequent hitting and slapping to go hand-in-hand with quoted Bible scriptures as her means of discipline. On top of this stressful situation, her son is telling her to back off or the grandkids will be kept away from her.
First, the adult son feels stuck in the middle between two important people in his life, right now the only option is to tell his mother to back off. Second, he knows his mom will always love him and his spouse is the one he feels must be appeased. Grandma Susan has little recourse except to step back and rely on child protective services to investigate (if needed) and put the parents on notice that they are monitoring the situation.
Spanking and Bible issues can be tricky to deal with but if the children’s mother is not behaving as a Christian it may only be an excuse for spanking and violence. If, on the other hand, the children’s mother lives a righteous life as a Christian, the Bible and scriptures can be used to show the mother that to use one or two scriptures and discount others is not wise and could be changing the author’s full scriptural intention.
It has always been my personal philosophy to stay away from religious matters because it is not my focus— preventing child abuse is my focus. A Parents Anonymous online member once told me, “When I have a parenting problem, I ask myself, ‘what would Jackie do?’” I felt flattered but it brings us back to a very important key: WWJD or What Would Jesus Do. If you follow Jesus and live his teachings, you know He is all about love and peace. Jesus is not about hitting, slapping or spanking.
Mom has told Susan’s granddaughter not to touch the bowl of fruit until after she has eaten dinner but she finds a half-eaten banana beside a few grape seeds on the table. Now, if the mom who uses scripture and spanking finds the evidence, this girl is in trouble.
However, if the mom holds up an image of the Lord Jesus as the example for what happens next, it may be quite another scene. As I know Jesus, I can only picture Him looking disapprovingly at the child and then calmly and gently talking or reasoning with them. Then I believe Jesus would redirect the child to another activity sure in His knowledge that in time the child will follow His example.
(It is also important for the mother to know about age development and self-restraint in children.)
Sure, this is only an example I created but Matthew 19:14 says: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus was never violent in any of the scriptures; to be violent or to picture Jesus hitting a child for any reason goes against all we understand about him and his teachings.
Grandma Susan can still play a vital role in the situation, especially since she had custody of the children for over a year. All states interpret grandparents’ rights differently but in many states, the fact that she had custody for such a long time would give her interest a stronger pull if it were to get to court.
Grandma Susan’s seven-year-old granddaughter witnessed domestic violence and the subsequent shooting death of her mother’s previous boyfriend by police. Witnessing any violence has the potential to cause serious harm as well as PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in children. Acting out, anger, rage and other behaviors could point to psychological issues for the child. The parents should have the child evaluated and further treatment if it is needed. Again, Grandma Susan can act as an assistant and a resource for information but the parents who have legal custody are the ones in charge. If Grandma Susan feels abuse or neglect has occurred then she has the responsibility of reporting her suspicions to the authorities with the goal of getting help.
All support groups are excellent places to get information and support on various issues: parenting, grandparents raising grandkids, etc. Most groups are free of charge and are confidential and have links to other resources. Truly, two or ten heads are better than one in any case.
A word about the definitions of child abuse: Child abuse is loosely defined as anything that leaves a mark or injures a child. In general, emotional and verbal abuse is not investigated by child protective service agencies simply because there are no identifying marks.
Parents Anonymous lists six types of abuse and neglect: physical abuse and neglect, verbal abuse, emotional abuse and neglect and sexual abuse. If you know or suspect a child is being abused it is your duty as a citizen to report. Outcomes are sometimes not what we would hope but they have the power, authority and resources to investigate and come up with a plan to protect a child.
Do you have suggestions I have not listed here? I am interested in what you think. Remember what we say in Parents Anonymous, “Trust the group.”
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her at her contact page.