Current Issue

Q:We sent our daughter a recent article of yours hoping it might cause her to rethink her approach to raising our grandson. It was not well received, and she is no longer speaking to us. The child, age four, is quite ill-behaved. Our daughter makes one excuse after another for him: he is premature; he was hospitalized as a toddler, and now he has PTSD; we think he might have a biochemical imbalance; and so on. We believe that his real and only problem is lack of discipline. For example, when he is with us, he is perfectly well-behaved. We love our grandson, but we do not like being around him when his parents are running the show. What should we do now?

A: I hear this same tale of woe from a lot of grandparents these days. Unfortunately, I do not have a fail-safe formula for healing these generational divides. It grieves me to know that my advice is often the catalyst for such rifts between parents and their children. On the other hand, on a scale of divisiveness between people, parenting now ranks up there with religion and politics. Thus, as you have inadvertently discovered, just about everything I say is a candidate for stirring up controversy.

“Works-based parenting” is epidemic among young parents these days. The parents in question believe that good parenting is all about quasi-fanatical overfocusing on one’s children. They overthink nearly everything, are never still, and have a lot of work to do! And boy, oh boy, are they defensive! In their way of thinking, parenting exhaustion is an affirmation of parenting excellence.

The reality, however, is that your daughter would take no offense at your opinion or anyone else’s having to do with her parenting if she was truly secure and confident in what she was doing. Rather, her offense at your calling her attention to my advice is clear-cut evidence of nagging self-doubt, which is the state of all too many American moms these days.

Instead of occupying their natural adult authority, said moms strive to “bond” with their children, which is a polite way of saying they enter mutually harmful codependent relationships with them. They hold themselves responsible for eradicating emotional pain of any sort from their children’s lives, and thus, their children are deprived of learning how to endure emotional pain and solve their own problems.

Instead of growing steadily toward emotional adulthood, said kids are prone to becoming perpetual drama factories. The dramas include the “I am depressed” drama, the “I am anxious about things” drama, the “I am stupid” drama, the “I have no friends” drama, the “No one understands me” drama . . . you get the picture. As the child’s emotional dramas increase, every new one becomes a parenting drama for the mother.

Upon seeing your daughter creating problems that are making her life (as well as her child’s) difficult, you want to help. Unfortunately, the help you offered was interpreted as an insult to the integrity of her motherhood. That is not your fault, and neither is it your responsibility to fix it.

I do not know how to solve such problems other than for one party to simply not participate in emotion-driven exchanges. Your obligation is to simply love your daughter and your grandson, which is something you really do not need to be told.

Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at or (817) 295-1751.

Living With Children: The Grandparent’s Dilemma

by John Rosemond
From the August 2021 Signs