Q. I’m writing because I’m concerned about my 12-year-old granddaughter’s attitude and behavior. My daughter—her mother—is a single parent. The father is mostly absent and generally unreliable. Ever since my granddaughter was very young, I have tried to give my daughter the benefit of my advice and insight, especially since I know firsthand how hard it is to raise children on your own (my husband left the home when my daughter was seven).
Kara, my granddaughter, is quite disrespectful and self-absorbed. She acts entitled to everything she gets (she doesn’t say thank you, for example), and is disinterested in any conversation that isn’t about her or her pop culture interests. She doesn’t acknowledge gifts, doesn’t return emails or calls, and is downright rude if she doesn’t get her way.
A family member who works in healthcare has suggested this granddaughter has Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), which would explain Kara’s frequent emotional outbursts and demanding attitude. I’m worried that the teen years will be even more unpleasant with a young woman who acts as if everyone owes her everything she wants. What can I do to get my daughter to see that she must raise the bar and demand better from my granddaughter?
A. I frequently hear from grandparents who are dismayed by the behaviors and attitudes of their grandchildren. Often, they tell me they demanded much better from their children, and they don’t understand why those now-adult children aren’t more skilled as parents.
One thing I can say with certainty: People are very sensitive about the way they parent their kids. It’s fair to assume that most parents are doing their best, even if they aren’t particularly skilled in parenting, and we have to acknowledge that relationships between parents and children are layered and complex and personal. Add the dimension of single parenting, and it’s probable that your daughter feels she must choose her battles with her volatile preteen daughter.
I’ve long preached, however, that parents should choose more battles lest they lose the war. Moms and dads who let too much slide by way of backtalk, rudeness, and selfishness allow their children to develop habits of bad behavior that are difficult to break. Moreover, it’s the attitudes behind those behaviors—self-centeredness, disrespect for others, and entitlement—that should concern us most. If we’re only engaged in behavior modification (which often means appeasing an unpleasant or rude kid) and not character development, we’re not addressing the real tasks of parenting.
Unfortunately, while you and I might agree on these things, we’re not the parents of your snarky granddaughter. It’s hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, to see how grandkids turn out, especially when you believe that stronger parenting on the part of your daughter might make a positive difference.
As the grandma, you have to be careful not to alienate your daughter and granddaughter. If you do, you won’t be in position to have any influence at all. I’d suggest you find a time to speak to your daughter with words that are loving but honest. You might say, “I’m very concerned about Kara. Her attitudes and behavior may seem typical for a preteen, but they can become so ingrained that people will come to know her as a disrespectful and self-centered person. I won’t try to tell you how to parent your daughter unless you ask for my advice, but from now on, I’m not going to allow her to treat me in ways that are rude or impolite. From here on out, if I spend time with you and Kara, I’m asking that you to just focus on our time together. And if Kara doesn’t demonstrate gratitude for the things I do for her, I’ll have to assume my gestures aren’t important to her. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m simply setting boundaries for my interactions. It’s only fair.”
At first, your daughter and granddaughter may decide you’re a meanie simply because you’re imposing certain standards of behavior. Don’t make the mistake of feeling hurt or acting injured. Instead, be confidently comfortable in the strong and important message you are sending: Even people who love you will not tolerate rude or disrespectful behavior. And recall that adage: A good example is the best sermon.
You can’t change your adult daughter or your young granddaughter, but you can make a change in your behavior that teaches a crucial life lesson: Actions, behaviors, and attitudes have consequences, and good relationships are built on mutual respect and consideration.
Finally, you should pray diligently for your daughter and granddaughter. Your prayers will have a powerful impact, even if you don’t see changes right away.