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Carolyn Hax: When grandparents visit, toddler still goes to day care

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
4 min

Dear Carolyn: My wife and I live almost 900 miles away from our son, his wife and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter. Since we retired shortly after our granddaughter was born, our hope was to spend time with them at least four times a year. We recently stayed at their home and offered to take care of our granddaughter while they both worked. Our son insisted their daughter needed to go to day care to keep her in her routine and for socialization. We asked for only one day, but he said as the parent, his decision was final.

We were offended that we could not spend time going to a park, the library, and out for lunch so our granddaughter could get to know us a little better. We have decided to rethink our travel plans in the future as we feel that our presence in our granddaughter's life isn't that important to them.

To add injury to insult, we chose to live where we grew up so that both of our sons would have lots of interaction with both sets of their grandparents. Now we are being denied quality time with our granddaughter. How do we communicate our disappointment to the parents?

— Offended

Offended: As the last item on your agenda, I hope. If that.

Do you really want to lead with “disappointment"?

Before your trip, you had other good openers to discuss your grandpa role: your hopes of visiting often, your excitement at getting to know your granddaughter, your tentative plans for their review.

These are all still good options. Post-visit, though, your best opener is to express pride in how well they're raising their child. Trust me on this.

Pointing out how they failed you sets a terrible tone and precedent.

Maybe I’ve misread the situation; maybe you or your wife did involve your son in developing your plans. But the debris field after your expectations hit reality suggests you made assumptions along the way.

I do understand your hurt and surprise. A grandpa park outing is straight-up Norman Rockwell. Plus, you wouldn’t be the first to get lulled into thinking that what you did to accommodate your parents is just what families do, reflexively.

But they’re entitled to their own ways. Plus, some kids respond badly to disrupted routines and make their already tired parents pay dearly for it. (If your granddaughter did act out, would you be looking to register your concern and disappointment about that? It’s a fair question.)

So don’t repeat your mistake of deciding what you want and then expecting your son and his wife to deliver it, or else. Treat the problem of your disappointing visit as something for you to fix. Instead of taking offense, take the hint to respect the rhythms of their household, even if you don’t like the way they run it.

Context also is key. If you have friction with your son and/or daughter-in-law, or steep philosophical differences, or if there are health issues affecting you, your wife, the couple or the child, then, no park or library till you reckon with that.

Remember, too, they live far away, are balancing two jobs and child care (apparently) without local support, and took a path to parenthood that went through the wringer of a pandemic. The fastest way to become irrelevant to them is to make their lives even harder.

So I suggest you admit to your son you made assumptions before the visit that put them on the spot during it, and apologize. Then state your goal as getting to know your granddaughter on his and his wife's terms. Then work with the answer you get.

Before you bristle too hard to embrace this: Do you want to be relevant, or right? Flexibility fits in while offense sits fuming at home.

Dear Carolyn: I will soon be attending a destination wedding. I have a lot of food allergies and restrictions. I’ve recently learned that I will not be able to eat any of the food that will be served during the wedding weekend. My plan is to bring my own food to the wedding but my family says this is insulting and inappropriate. Am I being selfish for wanting to have good food I can eat and enjoy?

— Perplexed and Hungry

Perplexed and Hungry: Make whatever discreet arrangements are necessary for your survival, of course — which includes not listening to people who fail to grasp why you have to.

Don’t blow past the “discreet,” though. While it’s not your fault that you’re in this predicament, it’s also not good guest behavior to call any more attention to it or to yourself than you absolutely must.