FACE IT: Butt Out Of My Parenting

October 10, 2016

We feel we are at our selfless best when it comes to raising our children, so any criticism can penetrate even the thickest skin. My husband and I came close to ending a long-term friendship with another couple, a result of their questioning our parenting choices. Why were we helping our daughter with her rent, they demanded to know. (Even though they had bought an apartment for their son.) We moved on, but now there are eggshells to avoid when we are together.

John Jacobs, a psychiatrist and associate professor of family therapy at N.Y.U., warns, “You are always taking a gamble when discussing others’ lives, especially when it comes to their children. It’s a dangerous place to go and usually doesn’t end well.”

Carolyn Montgomery Forant may learn if that is so. The singer-writer recently housed the daughter of an ex-partner’s daughter and was appalled by the mess the young woman left behind. She decided not to discuss it with the girl’s father, pledging to talk with the girl herself. I experienced a similar situation recently, but did mention it to my young houseguest’s parents. (Though I used humor as a weapon: “So glad to see even a Fulbright Scholar can be a slob....”)

One of the most difficult challenges is refraining from criticizing others for entitling or over-indulging their kids. Jordan Grotzinger and his wife—both attorneys in their 40s— are raising three children in Los Angeles, The youths have friends with private plane and super-yachts., so the invitations and temptations are many. “There are times we see excessive stuff, but all we can do is try to keep our eyes on our own kids,” says Mr. Grotzinger

The culture is on to this issue as well. In the recent film, “Captain Fantastic,” Viggo Mortensen’s character is raising five kids in such an unorthodox way, that the children’s grandparents fight for custody. The Sundance Channel series, “The A Word,” is theoretically about a boy with autism, but it mostly deals with unwanted interference of family members.

The most daunting emotional tightrope involves questioning the parenting skills of our own offspring. With the number of “Grand-Boomers” growing every year, this dilemma is not going away. Theirs, after all, is the generation that not only thinks it will be forever young, but too often feels it is forever right. Still, many would welcome a preventive App called Auto-Filter, that would eliminate statements like, “Our kids did fine and they watched videos,” before they are uttered.

The Grand-Bpomers may have met their match in the super-parent Millennials, who have mixed feelings about the older generation doing more than the occasional babysitting. The Grotzingers are particularly grateful that the family’s four grandparents seem to know it is safer to steer clear until needed. “They tend to make suggestions sparingly,” Mr. Grotzinger says, “so when they offer their two cents, we value their opinions.”

Makenna Goodman, a 30-something publisher and writer, lives an organic existence with her husband and two children in Vermont. Fortunately, the grandparents agree with most of their parenting decisions. Though, says Ms. Goodman, “my mom tends to be overanxious about safety and too much freedom, and can project her own fear into certain situations.” Her mother, Katherine Leiner, says, “The tone and the timing are key to making suggestions. If I give her advice at the wrong time, she lets me know immediately.”

Though every child’s life has its own trajectory, and every family its unique dynamics, there is some general advice that fits all. “Parenting is a learned skill and like any other, might need some peer or educational counseling,” says Donna Naftalis, who worked for years in early childhood development. “Support groups that offer guided instruction are valuable in forming friendships for the new parents, and can offer non-judgmental feedback from others who have been through it.”

In the meantime, tread gently and consider the words of author Judith Viorst. She wrote a book about what happened when her son — the one who had that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day — temporarily moved back into her extremely tidy home with his wife and three kids. “Here’s my thought on offering unsolicited advice,” Ms.Viorst says. “Don’t. It always comes off as criticism, no matter how charmingly expressed. If one absolutely must get involved with other people’s parenting, do so diffidently, carefully, and with a question mark at the end of whatever you are saying.”


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