Life Advice


Health & Spirit

She's disciplining two impulsive toddlers, one of them just happens to be her mother

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My mother moved to be closer to us when we had a baby, who's now 2. She's not responsible with him. She gives him anything he points to and grunts. Just in the past month, this has included a lighter ("He doesn't know how to use it"), garden shears, the lime from her rum-and-coke, soda, hard mints, the hose, and anything else that catches his eye.

I know his company is the bright spot in her otherwise lonely, depressed days but I am more exhausted after bringing him to her than I am just watching him myself. I have to constantly say "no" to the toddler AND to the mother who is just as impulsive. I have to repeat myself to the point of frustration to get her to follow basic rules about health/safety and spoiling.

She claims she should be able to spoil him since she's the grandmother and she doesn't get to see him much -- she sees him at least once a week. Cutting off contact isn't right, but I have another on the way, and the thought of dealing with all three of them makes me want to cry.

How do you teach someone to be a smart, careful person?

-- Exasperated Mom to Two Toddlers

Coincidentally, I had three actual toddlers for a while myself, and the best advice I can give you is to expect from them exactly what they've proven they're capable of giving. By that I mean, expect your two toddlers to be impulsive, self-absorbed, moody, capable of following only the simplest instructions, and occasionally so frustrating that you want to scream.

That doesn't change just because one of your toddlers is over 50.

In fact, at difficult times like this, it's often hoping for better that is the enemy of contentment. If you go into visits expecting a break -- and hold out hope that your mother will aha-moment her way to grasping that one doesn't give a lighter to a 2-year-old (that might be a new high point of some kind, by the way) -- then you will be disappointed and frustrated on a regular basis.


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