The question I am writing to ask your advice about our 22-year-old granddaughter. We house-sit for my daughter and her family when they are away. They have dogs, but don’t like to put them in kennels. We have always got on well with our granddaughter and indulged her, along with her brothers. But she is spoilt. Last month while we were there to house-sit, there was shouting between her and my husband. She didn’t like the fact that my husband had disciplined our dog when we arrived – but our dog was jumping up.
I know my husband has a short temper, but it blows over quickly. Her reaction was over the top. She stormed off and wouldn’t look at him. She asked him to leave the lounge as she wanted to watch a film. She actually arranged for a friend to call every two days to check the dogs were being looked after OK, as if we are untrustworthy. She texted me to say we were not to go into her room and she referred to my husband by his name and not “Grandad”.
My daughter and her husband ignored her behaviour. I think they should at least tell her off. She owes her grandfather an apology.
Philippa’s answer I’m guessing that in your day you had to respect your elders, no matter what, and it really doesn’t seem right or fair that your granddaughter not only doesn’t respect you but doesn’t hide it. She shouted back at the patriarch! She didn’t trust you with the dogs!
If we over-indulge someone, it is not their fault that we do, so how can we use the word “spoilt” as an insult? I suppose we mean “entitled” and there seems to be a fair bit of entitlement going on in Grandfather for sure.
Her parents, wisely, in my opinion, let her get on with her own relationships with you and the patriarch (because that is what I’m calling Grandfather for now) without interfering. Your granddaughter is an adult and she’s allowed to say what she feels.
And perhaps the patriarch could allow himself to say something like the following to her: “I have been reading about ‘dog whispering’ and tried it out and my dog is behaving much better now. Thank you for showing me there was another way. And I really should not have shouted at the dog and nor should I have shouted you down. I’m used to being in charge and I need to realise that I can have equal relationships where I allow myself to be influenced by others, even if they are decades younger. In my day, dads and granddads knew it all, and yet it was all bluff – I sucked it up, but when I reflect on it I realise I was taking their dominance of me out on you. I really don’t have to carry that on for another generation…”
Or something like that and then I’m sure you will all get on just fine.
It is natural to pass down what was done to you. And it’s not his fault because until he becomes aware that there is another way of looking at this situation, he will not realise that he has a choice about how to train dogs and how to relate to younger people.
It is essential for you and your husband to remember how it felt to always be dominated, squashed, “disciplined” when you yourselves were younger. And if you can’t, if you think being shouted down was “fine” it is because you were dominated so much that, in order not to be completely crushed by it, you became desensitised to it. When you are desensitised, you mind it less, you get over it quickly and then shouting has less of an effect on you. But if you haven’t been desensitised, it won’t blow over quickly.
Granddad might recover fast, but it doesn’t follow that those who are subjected to his shouting do. Many of us, when shouted at, experience fear. We have feelings of shock and adrenaline as if we have been subjected to physical, rather than just verbal violence. And it is very natural when you feel you are attacked, to attack back. I’m not surprised she couldn’t bear to have him in the room. She would’ve been tense – not knowing when he was going to explode again.
The teenage and young adult brain is all wired up for emotions. They feel things in colour; we only feel in black-and-white by comparison. And yet the prefrontal cortex, the thinking bit that controls impulses, isn’t fully mature until the mid-20s. So I expect the relationship will improve in due course, especially if you and Grandad are prepared to move a bit and accept and appreciate her as she is.
Put aside rights and wrongs, don’t seek to blame and/or get an apology, but try instead to understand. Being right is overrated. Your required reading is The Orchid and the Dandelion by Dr Thomas Boyce. It will show you why some children and people are far more highly strung and sensitive than others and no amount of cajoling will make them less so. And my book, The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, will give insight into how we inherit our habits of reacting to children and how to improve our relationships with them (applies to grandchildren, too). When you understand yourselves and your granddaughter better it will help you all get on.