I’m trying to be a good grandmother and not be critical or “mix in” regarding the education of my grandchildren. My son and I have reminisced about the positive spiritual experiences we have shared, including reciting the blessings on food and saying the Shema prayer before retiring to bed.

I suggested that he do the same with his kids. My son became upset; he said that I was not allowed to “mix in”—in the children’s education, which school they were attending or what clothes they were wearing.

What are the boundaries of “mixing in”?

When you love and care about your grandchildren, is there absolutely no place for a mother or mother-in-law to give advice (not criticism) for the sake of the well-being of her grandchildren?


Thank you for your letter. I understand your concern for your grandchildren, and I understand the very strong feeling that your responsibility to your children doesn't end with their marriage. Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, has said that a parent's responsibility to educate doesn't end with the children reaching adulthood. Parents will always have more life experience. They will always be ahead of the game with the wisdom that living brings.

Your son is responsible for his children's education. It's his responsibility alone, however much you would like to help, to offer sound advice and good guidance. His children are under his care, and he and his wife make the decisions about their physical and mental, as well as their spiritual, well-being. In a case of neglect or abuse, of course, others need to take over that responsibility, but in the case of a normal healthy parent, that responsibility and authority needs to be respected.

Having said that, we know that the relationship between children and their grandparents is unique and incredibly powerful. How many families today are founded on the principles of Torah because of a grandparent—a grandmother or grandfather who showed the child the warmth and love and beauty of Judaism.

You're disappointed that your granddaughter does not know the blessings on food? Then, if this is what you want, when she's with you let her hear you reciting them over and over again, in a sweet and loving tune, and I am sure your son will not at all mind. Don't tell her, or her parents, “You must memorize this.” Let it just happen by itself, by your modeling it.

The same is true of anything you want to impart. You want to impart behaviors of kindness; let your grandchildren witness your behaviors of kindness. You want to impart respectful speech; let them witness you always speaking in a respectful tone. You want to impart self-dignity; let them see you always dignified. All of this against a backdrop of love and sweetness, so that it will be delicious for them to absorb.

It's important that your son knows that you're not “overseeing” the education of his children. As much as parents will seek out information and guidance from “expert professionals,” it is sometimes hard for them to hear their own parents’ comments; sadly, often those comments are heard as criticism and judgment.

Be very careful that your son and his wife do not feel that you are interfering. If they feel that, your cause is lost before you even begin. You need to let them know that you absolutely and completely respect them as the authority for their children.

However, don’t be reluctant to pass on information and ideas that you come across in the articles or books you read—not as “commandments,” but as ideas for them to choose from. For example, you might share what you see in a new study on children's nutrition, or their sleep needs, or a lecture on sun protection for children, or you may remind your son of the importance for him and his wife to educate themselves on how to protect their children from abuse and molestation. Think, especially, about what you wish you had been told when you were raising your children, about the present-day awareness of issues that were not much in the public consciousness when you were raising your own children. Think about the conversations you wish you’d had with them, and then tell your son about that. And don’t make them religious conversations.

If you bring these kinds of issues to the attention of your grandchildren's parents, they will surely hear that you are not critical of their parenting, but simply providing input that you think they may appreciate.

Bronya Shaffer
for The Judaism