By guest contributor Barbara Boxer
My husband and I have a delicious six-year-old Granddaughter. She is the apple of our eyes.
When our little darling sleeps over, we are under strict instructions to have her in bed by 7:30 p.m. We usually manage to get her into bed close to 7:30 p.m. and she goes right to sleep.
Why is it that my daughter, her mother, invariably calls at 7:35 p.m. on the night that our granddaughter is not in bed by 7:30 p.m.?
My daughter then hears her in the background and declares, “Mother, you are off schedule!”
What’s a well-intentioned Grandmother to do?
I posed this dilemma to my good friend, Janie Orenstein, who has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She gave me the following insight into the dynamics of this situation…
The answers to situations like the above are typically multifaceted, as are all conundrums, and can best be viewed if a Grandmother takes the time to step back and remember the feelings she had when taking care of her young children.
None of us was sure of our decisions or responses when our little ones were needy, unpredictable, unhappy, boisterous, etc. That usually left a disquiet or anxiety that was difficult to displace. Who was the one person in our lives that we could trust, usually unconsciously, to lash out on? Our mothers, of course.
Were we unreasonable? YES! Did we make ridiculous demands on their behavior with our kids, which we never would have done with friends who might have care-taken our children for us? Yes! Were we as judgmental with our fathers who might have strayed from our expectations? Not as severely.
Relationships with Mothers allow us to regress in ways that few other environments tolerate; as much anger as Grandmothers might express over their childrens’ (usually daughters) seemingly absurd and insensitive demands, Grandmothers will still always be there for all the generations of children. It is important to remember that anxiety is the impetus for unpleasant or unreasonable behavior. How does one respond to these frustrating and often hurtful encounters?
Here’s one way to handle the situation…
“I hear you saying that you don’t trust me and I am so sorry that is how you feel. It’s so weird for me to be having this conversation with you because it brings back memories of my mothering. I became unglued when the babysitter obviously let the kids stay up to watch the last 1/2 hour of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or my Mom gave the kids brownies before dinner. In retrospect, I understand that your issue comes from lots of feelings most moms have felt since they cannot see the results of their labor. This creates feelings of anxiousness we might not even be aware of. But, it expresses itself most strongly with me because you know, again on some unconscious level, that I will always be there for you, so I am safe to be irritated with. That being said, it plays out with me as a control issue, verbalized by unrealistic expectations and resulting in your lack of trust in me. The end result is that neither of us feels good about each other. I guess the only logical resolution is that I have to remember where your anger at me is coming from and you have to trust that I will not destroy all that you feel you are working towards in helping Jimmy/Jenny be the best he/she can be.”
In a sense, the take away is this: I, as a Mother, taught my daughter that I am her safe haven. Kudos to me! That is a Mothering job well done. Because of this, my child feels comfortable lashing out at me, and perhaps my child also feels comfortable expecting things of me that she would not expect of anyone else.
So, when my daughter reacts to our granddaughter still being awake at 7:35 p.m. instead of taking that reaction as mistrust, my challenge is to see the glass as half full! I can remember that to this lovely, confident capable grown woman I am still “Mommy” and I am one of the few people on the planet she can share her anxieties with, even if she doesn’t realize that’s what they are, while still knowing that I do, and always will, love her unconditionally.
And that’s the type of bond that every Mom is thankful for.
Barbara Boxer is Managing Director of BELLE Capital USA, an Angel fund investing in woman owned tech businesses. Janie Orenstein has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Both women live in Los Angeles and are proud Grandmothers.