Dear Mrs. Bluth,
Things in my home have gotten completely out of hand. Since coronavirus struck, my husband and I have become displaced persons with our two children and they, in turn, have become completely disobedient and unmanageable. It is as though we have no say with them at all and if they do not get what they want, they throw tantrums until they do.
I understand that this sudden change in their lives, and in all our lives, has been traumatic and, to say the least, socially debilitating, but what can we do? They don’t want to go out because they hate wearing masks, so they stay in and are bored. They have taken to crying to their grandparents about their bitter situation and the grandparents buy them whatever they ask for, out of pity, and most of the time we don’t even know about it until we come across it way later, making it impossible to take it away from them. We’re not talking about little kids here, our daughter is ten and our son is twelve.
This all started about five months ago, when my husband decided we should go and live with his elderly parents when the quarantine started, to take care of them. I was against it but could not put up any argument because it would make me look shallow and mean and, chas v’shalom, if anything would happen to them if we didn’t come, it would be on my head. So, right before Pesach, we packed up our two kids and ourselves and left our spacious home and moved into my in-laws cramped two bedroom basement for the duration of the pandemic. The kids were excited at first, but that didn’t last long. The fighting and bickering started soon after Pesach, when they asked to go home. When we told them that we had to stay until the virus passed, they threw every kind of hissy fit, until my in-laws called them upstairs for a ‘talk.’
Things quieted down afterwards, only broken up by periodic displays of rebellion and would suddenly come to a halt each time my in-laws called them up for a ‘talk.’ It started to dawn on me that something sinister was going on. So I sat them both down and asked them what they talked about when they went up to their grandparents that made everything better? My daughter looked down and almost started to speak when I saw my son kick her under the table. He said they just explained that acting the way they did was completely understandable, given the sudden change in their lives, but that soon everything would go back to normal. They were also always invited to talk with their grandparents about what was bothering them and that they would always find ways to make it better.
I was extremely impressed by this, that is, until I fount the iPads hidden under their beds. Mrs. Bluth, we were never consulted on whether they were allowed to have such things, which they are not! We don’t have a TV or computer in our home and do not allow our children to have any electronic games, which my in-laws are well aware of. Needless to say, I was furious. I first confronted my husband, who was just as shocked at his parents’ betrayal, and then we confronted the kids. My daughter burst out crying and said she wanted to tell us but that her grandparents made them promise not to tell or they wouldn’t be able to have the devices. My son became angry with us and screamed that we were terrible parents that make them suffer and that only his grandparents understood him. That’s when we found out about the other gadgets and electronic games bought for them and hidden in various places provided by my in-laws. We were absolutely horrified. We confiscated all the contraband, as my son howled and screamed as he tried to wrestle the devices away from us, and my daughter cringed, in tears, under her blanket, as we waited for the in-laws to knock on the door to suggest the kids come up for their little ‘talk’.
When they did, we told them that there would be no ‘little talks’ with our children and handed back all the electronics to them.
I could tell they were hugely upset by this and we haven’t spoken since. This happened six days ago. I feel as though more needs to be said and a better understanding on their part regarding the damage they caused needs to be laid bare. Did we act too harshly or are we within our rights to intervene between our children and their grandparents?
First, let me say in defense of most grandparents, that we are putty in the hands of our grandchildren as a rule. But never at the risk of overstepping boundaries. Gifts should always be checked first with parents to make sure they are acceptable and age-appropriate, and will not cause conflict with the hashkafa of your home. It is quite obvious that your in-laws, out of love, did not take this into consideration in their haste to both endear themselves to and quiet your children. Not knowing first hand from everyone involved, I will be grossly benevolent on this point. But it still lays much of the responsibility of poor choice at the in-laws’ doorstep.
What is far more troubling and intrinsically more detrimental to your children, is the message by their grandparents that lying to you is OK! That it is even mandatory for them to be untruthful to you if they are to get those gadgets they know you do not approve of or want them to have. This message is very destructive and certainly needs to be addressed. If the grandparents want to have a healthy relationship with their grandchildren they must be made to understand that you, the parents, need to be consulted on what gifts can be bought, when they can be given and that your wishes override theirs when it comes to making any kind of decision or statement without checking with you first. It is obvious that this is lacking in their judgment and they need to correct this.
Have an in-depth conversation with them, as well as with your children, explaining that you want only the best for them and will know when the time is right for the kids to have or be exposed to the electronics of your choosing. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love them, what it means is that you love them so much you wish to protect them from the dangers that lurk in the electronics when placed in the hands of those too young to be aware. And your in-laws need to be assured that buying ‘stuff’ for the kids that may be harmful to them without your approval will not buy them love or respect. The kids will just learn that Bubby and Zaidy are a soft touch for whatever they want. All they have to do it cry, scream or throw a tantrum. Is this the kind of esteem they wish to be held in by their grandchildren?
This ‘talk’ should be held as soon as possible to try to sooth hurt feelings and set to rights the grave misunderstandings that have been in place for these past five months. I truly believe your in-laws will understand, given the chance, and make amends, and that your children will come around as well. You and your husband need to reclaim your authority and control as parents and point out that you love them and understand that they want the electronics, but are way too young to have them. Most times when you have to say ‘NO’ to them, it’s another way of saying ‘I love you.’