"My daughter and daughter-in-law quarreled over my grandson and a can of peanut butter"

“My daughter and daughter-in-law quarreled over my grandson and a can of peanut butter”

My daughter and daughter-in-law have been arguing. My daughter-in-law complained about my daughter’s son, who is mildly autistic and has ADHD. He is 13 years old and is an honor to his parents. My daughter and her husband are extremely protective of him. He put his finger in a jar of peanut butter and my daughter-in-law called him “disgusting”. This happened a few months ago and when I talk to my son or daughter I can not talk about the other person’s family.

My husband and I are so upset about it all. I hate confrontation, I do not want to bring it up with my daughter-in-law as I am not good in these situations. My daughter has endured a lot over the years from one of my son and daughter-in-law’s children, which was very challenging. He’s much better now.

Trish Murphy writes: You have two problems here. One is your general fear of conflict and the specific conflict that happens in a very significant relationship in your life. The second is that your grandchild is called too disgusting for something any child can do. The fact that your grandchild has ADHD requires that all important adults in his life be educated in the subject and can support him in dealing with the condition.

Most people do not like conflicts and yet we know that conflicts often give us rich opportunities for change or improvement

As a grandparent, you have an important role in all of your grandchildren’s lives, but it’s as a parent you are called to act now. Your son, who is married to the woman who expressed disgust, needs to be involved in a conversation with you where you ask him to intervene so that a 13-year-old boy does not feel ashamed or belittled because of his actions or his condition. If this is left unattended, the legacy will be one where children carry on the passivity of the elderly, and this can lead to a life of stigma and embarrassment.

Instead of starting with your daughter-in-law, you can first talk to your son about your concerns and ask for his thoughts on how to create an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance in the extended family. He may have ideas on how to approach his wife in a way that does not let her lose face. But you need to be firm in your assertion that a child with ADHD, or any condition, will receive the best possible treatment from your family and you can lead this by setting the standard for respectful interactions. If you do not deal with injustice when it occurs, you are in some way contributing to its continuation, so silence is not an option. If the conversation with your son goes well, you can follow his plan for intervention, but if it does not happen, the responsibility goes back to you to deal with the prejudice.

It can take many conversations to resolve this conflict, so be prepared and determined to keep the conversation alive until a solution is reached.

When it comes to the broader issue, most people do not like conflicts and yet we know that conflicts often give us rich opportunities for change or improvement. For example, we can complain about a service we have received, and the result is that we are listened to, taken seriously and follow-up measures follow. In that scenario, we can go from being a complainant to becoming a supporter of that service. In a way, complaining is a way of showing respect for the person and thinking well enough about them to know that they can change for the better. It is for their sake that you make it a point to get involved with them. The possibility here is that you do not think that your daughter-in-law is worth it and if this is true, you have another problem on hand. So first check your own attitude, if it needs to change from one of skepticism to one of openness, then make the change before talking to your daughter-in-law. Be clear that you demand high respect for all grandchildren and that this is a firm line for you.

Ask her for her thoughts on what the children (including her own) need in terms of the end result and be brave enough to ask her to extend this especially to her nephew who needs extra support. If you are not clear, or if you cheat, she will not get the message clear and you will have focused on your own fears rather on the needs of your grandchild and extended family. It can take many conversations to resolve this conflict, so be prepared and determined to keep the conversation alive until a solution is reached. There are two men who are also involved in this engagement, your husband and son, and they should be involved in the discussions so that the issue is not misinterpreted as a difficulty between you and your daughter-in-law.

All of you need to lean in so that the whole extended family can have a solid foundation to rely on in emergencies.

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