Q. My daughter-in-law and son are expecting their first child. I’ve raised five children so I try to help them with advice, but they don’t seem to want to listen. For example, I looked at the ingredients in the pre-natal vitamins my daughter-in-law chose, and they didn’t have enough folic acid and iron. I found some better vitamins and asked her to switch. Instead, she consulted her obstetrician, who said the vitamins she selected were good enough. How do I get them to listen to me and follow my advice?
Undoubtedly, you have plenty of experience with pregnancy and babies and can offer valuable advice. But adult children having children don’t usually want Mom to tell them what to do. As adults they can do their own research and make their own decisions.
A. Proceed gently in your attempts to help them. Asking a question is usually better than telling them what to do. Some questions you can ask them are:
- Have you thought about how much folic acid and iron a pregnant woman needs and why?
- What foods do you think an expectant mother could eat to provide good nutrition for the growing fetus?
- Do you think what the mother eats and drinks affects the fetus?
Questions don’t feel as “bossy” as advice. Questions can nudge your son and his wife to do some research and adjust what they are doing.
In addition to avoiding straight-out advice with the expectation they take it, you could provide your son and his wife with articles, pamphlets and/or a book or two on what to do and expect during the pregnancy.
When these expectant parents make a good decision around pregnancy and later around childcare, it will help your relationship with them and build their self-confidence if you let them know that you believe they have done well.
At this point, you may want to ask yourself a couple of questions. First, “Can I ever give my grown kids and their spouses advice and if so, when?”
The answer is, “When they ask for advice.” And even then, offering multiple good options may be better than advice on the one thing you think they should do.
The second question is, “Why can’t I just tell them what I think they should do?” The answer is that when you tell them what you think they should do, it’s highly possible they will perceive you are interfering with their way of doing things or just getting too bossy. If they feel you are getting too involved in their lives, they may either suddenly or gradually, consciously or subconsciously, decrease the amount of time they let you into their lives.
I expect that when the baby arrives, your son and his wife will want to apply their own style of parenting. If you question or challenge them too much, they could decrease or shut off some degree of access to themselves and your new grandchild.
It is far more important that you develop a good relationship with them than that you are right about pre-natal vitamins or get them to follow your advice. A good relationship with your adult children—who are soon to be parents themselves—will more likely get you closer to all the access to your grandchild that you need or want.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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