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Question
Posted by: Kato | 2010/04/13

Grandmother''s effect on children

Dear CS,

I have what is perhaps a common problem. As a working mother, my own mother has looked after my daughter for several years during the day, which seemed like a brilliant solution at the time as we have no money for daycare and she loves spending time with her grandchild. However, this has proved to be a very frustrating situation for me. My mother has a codependent streak and loves doing things for others, which is great for a baby or toddler, but starts becoming problematic when the child gets older and isn''t taught how to be independent. I have discussed this with her several times but i am afraid it''s pathological with her - she derives her sense of self by doing things for others and no matter how hard i try to explain that her over-involvement is detrimental to my child''s self-confidence, she cannot seem to stop herself. My daughter is now seven years old and is experiencing emotional problems with friendships at school because she is very demanding and always expects others to put her on a pedestal. I have tried very hard to counter-act this behaviour with her, but I am not sure what the right way is to go about this as I feel I am being perceived by her as ''disinterested'' and ''uninvolved''. I try to encourage her to do things for herself and complete tasks by herself, but she has developed a pattern through the years of needing to be ''helped'' with just about everything. She is incapable of playing by herself as my mother (who is retired and has help in the house) has plenty of spare time and spends this constantly entertaining and playing with my daughter. She gets involved with every single game, even when friends are over, creating the rules and arbitrating when there are arguments, and unfortunately this level of involvement is what my daughter has come to expect from life and all adults around her. I simply cannot give it to her as I am working during the day, and in the evenings and on weekends I have to take care of things around the house as I only have help once a week.

She is an intelligent and witty child and i am heartsore to see her not being able to grow to her full potential. I try to set boundaries with her and to create system and routine in her life, but my efforts are directly interfered with by my mother and if i address this with her, she is hurt and tells me that she only means well and wants to give my child the attention that she deserves. Once my daughter was very cheeky towards us (me and her dad) and then afterwards wanted us to buy her a toy as we were in a shopping centre. We refused, explaining to her that her behaviour was not good and that we would not reward it by buying a toy. My mother secretly gave her money to buy it for herself. Luckily she came to me and asked me whether she was allowed to do this, and I told her no. My mother then came to us and asked us (in front of my daughter) whether we would object to her then buying this toy. I was very angry at her and had to explain to her at length that she was undermining my parental authority and teaching my child to manipulate adults to get her way. She was very hurt and although she understood what I had said, she has continued with this sort of behaviour and I am at my wit''s end.

I have first-hand experience in how hurtful this situation can be in the long-term  i was also raised like that by her and turned into an adult with very little self-confidence who has been unsuccessful in just about every working situation i have ever been in because of a lack of self-motivation and self-worth. I am desperate to help my child to avoid these pitfalls in adulthood, but don''t want her to see me as overly strict or disinterested because i don''t think i should be involved in every single aspect of her day-to-day life.

My child is also getting over-fed at granny''s house, especially sweets, and has developed a weight problem which i''m afraid will be further detrimental to her self-esteem as her friends have already started making comments about it. She gets spoilt with every single material posession she could wish for, and then by contrast i am not able to offer her those things due to financial restraints. (not that I believe it is right to buy a child everything she wanted anyway).

In short, i am not able to spend more time with her as I work during the day, but am getting more and more distraught with the bad habits she is being taught and would like to know how to counteract these without being overly harsh and also without being overtly negative about her grandmother. I feel trapped by this situation as i can''t afford to have someone else look after her, and anyway that would cause a major catastrophe in my family as my mother would feel insulted and hurt if I were to ''take my child away from her''. Everyone around me thinks i''m overreacting and praises my mother for being so hands-on with my child.

Some advise would be appreciated!

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Hi Kato, You are not over-reacting, and your concerns are very reasonable. Sounds like your mom (a) may have been brought up in this fashion herself, and (b) now herself has very low self-esteem, and feels she must buy the child's affection by giving her things and indulging her totally, even though she must in at least some ways recognize that this is bad for the child.
Patriian makes some good points. A counsellor, even for a few sessions, could make a useful contribution, especially if you could see her for one session first, to put her fully in the picture. Mom may accept criticisms from her she won't take from you. It'd be best to enlist her help, emphasizing how important she could be, to solve the problems of the child's unrealistic expectations from others and lack of self-confidence, etc ( without emphasizing that she caused these problems, but geting her to buy in to solving them.
And your daughter is probably old enough to respond if the situation is discussed with her in terms of how her habits affect how she is growing ( fat and unpopular ) and how she coul d be much more in charge of becoming more attractive and pleasantly popular, if she chooses to work with you towards that goal

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2
Our users say:
Posted by: Patricia | 2010/04/14

I don''t think you''re overacting. This is indeed a very common problem and the pattern in similar in nearly every case. Unfortunately, I''ve been a nanny for some years now and I''ve read a lot of books on children and children''s issues, and the answer to your problem is not so straightforward. Personally, I think parents still have the biggest influence on their children, if they are around every day. Children usually have a quite clear idea of how big a role their parents play in their lives and parents tend to be the first person a child feels they should turn to in case of danger and other problems. Only most parents don''t know how to take advantage of that to counter-act bad influences and children always seem to join the party that suits them best in every situation. I think the best way to deal with it is to work more closely with your mom and daughter. Don''t fight with your mom or show disapproval in front of your daughter as this will only give your daughter better chances to use you both to get what she wants. That said, you''ll need to find a way to make your mom see that you''re not against her. However, it''s important to discuss what you agree on and what you don''t and find the best " deal"  possible. Remember that as your mother, she''s probably convinced that she knows better and she needs to keep a certain authority over you, so it''s important that the hierarchy is maintained at all times. She can''t feel threatened or she won''t cooperate for fear that your daughter will love her less. Maybe you need to see a councellor together to sort things out. Having a professional tell you what''s going wrong is more likely to bring better results, since it''s no longer a dispute between you and her.
As for your daughter, you said she''s starting to have problems in school because of her self-centeredness and weight gain.. Those are perfect circumstances to get closer to her. Help her see what is leading to what. She needs to understand that she''ll only have good friends if she is nice and that sweets are going to make her fatter and fatter (and sick), and things will get worse, if she doesn''t start eating healthier foods instead etc. She probably doesn''t see the situation as her fault, but you could make her see that she could change everything all by herself, if she wants to. Show support and try to help her see all the good things she could get back, if she makes a little effort. Also help her learn how futile and short-lived material things are, while love and friendships are valuable throughout a lifetime. Self-confidence will come naturally once she has learnt and accepted some of the basic principles that make life worth living. One of them is also how to not be too proud. And that is the key now when dealing with all of this. Sometimes pride makes us deal with things the worst way possible. Be patient and calm. Everything can get better.

Reply to Patricia
Posted by: cybershrink | 2010/04/14

Hi Kato, You are not over-reacting, and your concerns are very reasonable. Sounds like your mom (a) may have been brought up in this fashion herself, and (b) now herself has very low self-esteem, and feels she must buy the child's affection by giving her things and indulging her totally, even though she must in at least some ways recognize that this is bad for the child.
Patriian makes some good points. A counsellor, even for a few sessions, could make a useful contribution, especially if you could see her for one session first, to put her fully in the picture. Mom may accept criticisms from her she won't take from you. It'd be best to enlist her help, emphasizing how important she could be, to solve the problems of the child's unrealistic expectations from others and lack of self-confidence, etc ( without emphasizing that she caused these problems, but geting her to buy in to solving them.
And your daughter is probably old enough to respond if the situation is discussed with her in terms of how her habits affect how she is growing ( fat and unpopular ) and how she coul d be much more in charge of becoming more attractive and pleasantly popular, if she chooses to work with you towards that goal

Reply to cybershrink

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