Q: I am a grandmother to three lovely granddaughters, but I am at my wits end when it comes to their parents fighting all the time in front of them. Both parents have made no secret of their unhappiness with the other, and now my 9-year-old and 5-year-old granddaughters are coming to me with stories about their parents. I am unsure where my boundaries are in this as I, too, have witnessed the unrest in the family.
The mother and father have completely opposite personalities and they do not appreciate each other's talents within a relationship, let alone a marriage. I have been drawn into their problems as each parent has spoken out to me. This situation stresses me greatly, and I have become very upset by this dysfunctional family behavior. Should I let the adults work this out for themselves or should I say something?
A: Family fighting can be very stressful to children and adults alike. A small amount of arguing can actually be good because it's alright for children to understand that marriages are not perfect and parents, too, must compromise to resolve differences. Truly no two people are exactly alike, and people who marry most often have character traits or differences in personality that could be used to help them help each other. As a mother and mother-in-law, you should avoid mediating or taking sides, but only encourage them both to work things out. You could also recommend strongly that they reserve their discussions for times when the children are not around. If they are unable to do so, at least they can explain to the children afterward that it is natural for parents to have differences and that they will work things out.
You, too, can best explain to your grandchildren that their parents both love them and that they can expect their parents will probably work things out. If a real problem exists, the parent battleground you are viewing could truly lead to divorce. Obviously, that would likely be very hard on the children.
If the arguments are only reasonable, you can assure the children they won't lead to divorce. If they are not, you'll only be able to explain to them that when all is said and done, their parents will continue to love and care for them. Needless to say, this is difficult for the entire family and I don't have easy answers for your children or grandchildren.
Another side effect of parents constantly arguing with one another can be argumentative children who assume that arguing is a typical way of life. Occasionally, however, children who witness too much arguing move in the opposite direction and avoid arguments entirely because they didn't like hearing all the arguing they were exposed to in childhood.
For free newsletters or articles entitled United Front, The Dos and Don'ts of Grandparenting, Anti-Arguing Routine, and/or Parenting After Divorce, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the address below. Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Bradley Gordon