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Grandparents Are a Bad Influence

Grandparents Are a Bad Influence

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Dear Rachel,

My husband and I feel it is very important that our children have a close relationship with their grandparents. The problem is that my parents are always fighting and using terrible language, even when the children are present. How can we maintain a relationship with the family and yet protect our children from this situation?

Kelly W.
Michigan

Dear Kelly,

The question you are asking is important on a number of levels. Often parents will fight, or others will fight around children, and the assumption is that they are too young to understand. This is simply not true. Children from a very young age are aware if there is fighting or stress in their environment. This is so much the case that there is even a Jewish custom discussed that a woman who is angry shouldn’t nurse her baby, as her anger will affect her milk (not to mention her milk flow.) How much more so for a child who is already verbal and an absolute sponge for everything he or she experiences.

The fact that you want to maintain a strong relationship with your family is not only admirable but important. The thing is that you cannot sacrifice the well-being of your children to do so, and obviously, you cannot build a healthy relationship between them and your parents if the environment itself isn’t healthy. With as much respect as possible, it is vital that you explain to your parents that when they fight around you and the children, it upsets everyone. The children do not understand why they are screaming, and even if they have not yet, very often children will blame themselves for the problems.

It also needs to be made clear to your parents that if they use inappropriate language, you simply will not be able to have your children around them. Perhaps, if the fighting mainly takes place when your mother and father are together, you could suggest them keeping their distance while you visit. You could spend the morning doing something with one parent and the afternoon with the other. If there are times that they are together and you sense that fighting is about to begin, that is the time to gather the kids and go out for a drive, or to the supermarket. You should simultaneously explain to your parents why you are leaving and that you will return when things calm down.

Another option is not going to visit them but having them visit you, perhaps together, or maybe even better, separate. Often, people are more quick to fight or be loose at the mouth in their own home. When people however are guests, they often naturally put on their best behavior. Maybe if they are in your home and more on your terms, they will be less likely to act in an inappropriate way.

"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (6)
January 7, 2013
i'm in a situation
i'm currently living with my Parents because i immigrated to South Africa SO i'm waiting for my husband t join us in a bout a month! My parents fight all the time including my sister, it happens around the kids, also there is a lot of swearing and anger almost everyday! I can see it effecting my 6 year old behaviour, he has started talking to me in a bad way and also yells a lot! The thing is i have no where to go for at least 2 months! what do i do? will this scar my kids for life?
vicky
south africa
December 18, 2011
I can so relate - and people who think kids don't understand should come talk to my children about their grandparents.

My daughters have begun saying "Grandpa yells at Bubie all the time" They are eight, my daughters. They notice. They'll even tell me if one of my parents "said a bad word". Although, thankfully, the "bad" SH word is "Shut up". Which while not nice, is not as bad as the other "SH" word.
Gayla
Maple, Ontario
January 1, 2011
Grandparents are a Bad Influence
Did you ever talk to your parents about this? It's possible they may not even be aware of what they're doing.

Remind your parents of the lessons they taught you about appropriate, acceptable behavior. Swearing - especially in front of their grandchildren - is NOT acceptable, and if they want to fight they should take it elsewhere!

Children are smarter than adults think, and you need to tell your parents they need to be careful how they talk in front of their grandchildren.
Lisa
Providence, RI
May 18, 2009
i think that parents should not fight in front of kids if they want to keep the relationship.
Maha
October 16, 2007
re Anonymous
A parrents first duty is the care of their children. I am a grandparrent and if I acted like this I should be told by the grandchildren's parrents that the children will be leaving or I would be. It is bad enough if a child's own parents do this at home. In the days your are speaking of respect for children was not maybe as it should have been and we have learned much. One can respect parents and still take care of your children. The grandparents need to grow up.
Laura Mushkat
schenctady, new york
June 8, 2006
Dear Rochel
Im sorry but I disagree on your advice in this case. We do not want to be the ones making the rift even larger between our argueing parents.... on the contrary grandparents who argue could be enjoying thenselves so much with the grandchildren they get a rispite from arguing for a little while ( and what bigger present could we give our parents) ...
Honoring our parents is a mitzva we have a obligation to do. Practically , as the attending perant, you need to be on top of it and divert the discussion or avoid the tense situations (psychology at its best) but we cannot give our parents ultimatims that, torah wise, is incorrect. Our children will see that and will learn that life is not always easy but they will gain first hand tools how to deal with situations , how to respect perants how to be sensitive and also , if it has to be... how not to behave....
Unfortunetly been there and doing that...
hatzlocha raba Keep up the good work!
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