Q: Even though we are grandparents, we are hoping you can help us with our dilemma. We live across the street from our son and daughter-in-law. They have three children, ages 8, 6 and 2. And we are delighted that our grandchildren use our home as an extension of theirs. For example, many days, the two oldest come straight to our house when they get off the school bus, even before they go home.
Our question has to do with our son and daughter-in-law. Sometimes they try to boss us around and not allow us to be the loving grandparents we want to be to our grandchildren. For instance, recently our oldest grandchild, a boy, asked us for a toolset which we were happy to get for him. The next day he complained to us that his parents took it away from him and will not allow him to play with it. When we asked them about it they just said, “We didn’t think that is something he should be playing with.” Both our son and daughter-in-law seem to be on the same page about this. We were wondering what you would suggest we could do to get them to stop interfering between us and our grandchildren.
A: It is clear from your letter that you are both very devoted and loving grandparents. As Chazal have taught, “Grandchildren are considered like children,” (Yevamos 62b). And, according to the Zohar, grandchildren can be even more beloved than children. For example, someone I know (who has children the age of her grandchildren) was once told by her youngest child, “Mommy, I wish you were my Bubby.” And, as the famous bumper sticker proclaims, “Had I known how much joy I would get from my grandchildren, I would have had them first.”
It is difficult for me to assess the example you gave of the toolset because some vital information is missing. You did not explain, for example, why your son and daughter-in-law disapproved of this gift. Furthermore, you did not offer any description of the toy.
I recall another family who had a similar issue. In that case, the grandfather gave his 7-year-old grandson a metal saw as a present. The parents were justifiably shocked when they discovered this and promptly confiscated the gift in order to protect their child from any potential injury.
Finally, you see your son and daughter-in-law’s attempt to set limits with their children as “interference” in your relationship with them. It almost sounds as if you believe that you should be the final authority regarding the parenting of your grandchildren. And your son and daughter-in-law should follow your guidelines in dealing with their children.
I do not have enough information here to determine whether your son and daughter-in-law are too strict or whether you are overindulgent. What I can point out, however, is that children need two parents, not four (or six). And the authority of the parents should never be undermined by the grandparents.
If parents openly criticize their children’s mechanchim, chas v’shalom, that undermines the authority of the mechanchim in the eyes of the children. The children then lose respect for their teachers. This, in turn, causes the children to suffer because their chinuch is compromised.
Similarly, when parental authority is undermined by grandparents — however well intentioned they may be — it is the children who suffer by losing respect for their parents. All children need limits to be set for them by their parents. And children need to obey those limits in order to learn how to eventually become healthy, productive and self-disciplined adults.
When children are taught to disregard the rules set by their parents, however, they learn to ignore other rules, such as those of the schools which they attend. In addition, they adopt an attitude of, “I really can have whatever I want, whenever I want it.” And this can lead to underachievement in learning, slackening observance of mitzvos and other problems.
Instead of viewing your son and daughter-in-law as adversaries, therefore, I recommend that you try to become their allies in the lofty endeavor of raising your grandchildren. And the best way to achieve that goal is to respect their parental authority. Just as you made the parenting decisions when your son was at home, you must allow your son and daughter-in-law to decide how they would like to raise their children. Practically speaking, then, the next time your grandchildren ask you to purchase something for them, I would strongly suggest you first consult with your son and daughter-in-law.
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.