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Ask Jani: “How can we honor our parents and in-laws as we try to establish our own homes?”

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Episode Synopsis

Jani and Heidi continue to discuss the implications of the 5th Commandment: “How can we honor our parents and in-laws as we try to establish our own homes?” What advice do we have for grandmothers? For young adults who feel overwhelmed by the attentions of their parents?

Audio Transcript

This podcast episode was recorded before the pandemic started. We hope you all are well.

Jani: We’re just so glad you’ve joined us again and we wanted to do another “Ask Jani.” We thank you so much for the questions you’re sending in, and we thank you for your patience in waiting for us to get to answer them. We record several weeks out and we can’t always answer these in a timely fashion, but we do thank you and encourage you to keep sending them in.

Our Topics for Today

You know, we’ve been doing a series on the 10 Commandments and the last commandment we talked about was number five, “Honoring our parents.” And so today, we wanted to answer some questions. One is about how to be a good grandparent, and the second one is how to honor your children’s grandparents when they are doing some things that might complicate your life.

Question 1: “How to be a good Grandmother?”

So, Heidi, I’m going to toss this first question to you about being a good grandmother. Someone said, “Jani, talk to us about being a good grandmother,” and I will eventually, but I want you to hear it from my friend Heidi, because you have three little ones. I know our listeners would want to hear from your perspective, what have your kids’ grandparents done that has been helpful to you?

Heidi’s Perspective & Experience

Heidi: Yes, we have been blessed so many times as I have stopped to think before I came here today, what are the things that my kids, grandparents or parents have done to bless?

Be Available

I think the biggest one is just to be available when we needed help. The Lord has had us walk through just some different seasons of suffering as we talked to him before when I had cancer. Even when I was pregnant—I get really sick and all my pregnancies, Jani—and I’ll never forget calling Mike’s mom up on the phone and saying, “I’m throwing up every day. Mike’s taken off so many days of work, I need help,” and her hopping on a plane and coming down.

Or when I had my cancer surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center and we didn’t feel peace about leaving the kids in Tennessee. We decided that the best thing to do was to take all five of us—the newborn, the one year old, the three year old—to Texas, and Mike’s mom came and she stayed in that apartment with us and took care of the kids while I was in the hospital for a few days.

And so I even know as I enter into being a grandparent, I want to be available to my children so that if they’re calling me and asking for help, I can go to the Lord and ask him how I can move things around in my schedule to help. Sometimes as a parent, you feel like your hands are crossed, and you’re doing everything but you can’t take care of the kids when you’re sick or things like that.

Be Generous

So one is to be available. The second is just to be generous. I love my mom and Mike’s mom. They’re so generous to us. We get Valentine’s Day packages in the mail, just saying we were thinking of you and here are fuzzy socks for all the children. Or Mike’s mom, when she knows we’re going on vacation, she’ll put some money in an envelope and say, “Have a wonderful dinner on us.” That makes me feel loved and cherished and special! Because as a young family, you’re working hard and you’re establishing your careers but just to have those little gifts and kisses throughout the day. The generosity and the availability of them means the world to us. So those are just a few of the wonderful things that they do, just taking the time to be thoughtful.

One last thing…

I think of one last thing. Mike’s mom just sent all the kids for we’re getting ready to go “busy books” when we went on a big trip to a couple of different places. She made them books to do in the car, how thoughtful! These are just little ways of how can I show this grandchild they’re important to me, that I’m thinking of them, that I love them and how can I help the mom? Heidi, what do you need? How can I best serve you and love you in these next three months?

Jani: Wow. Describe a busy book for us. My mind is rolling!

Heidi: She got paper and made a cover and little activities. So James’s book has “James” on the top, and then you go to the next page and it has six different math equations: 4 + 1 = … 2 + 2 = … and James has been daily going over these six math facts that Gaga sent him, and then you go to the next page and she cut out little pieces of felt and said and sent a glue stick with it. It says, “Use these pieces of felt to make a house for this little hedgehog” from a magazine that she cut out. So every page has an activity to do.

Jani: Oh my goodness!

Heidi: Isn’t that amazing?

Jani: That is amazing, for each of your three children?

Heidi: Yes, and the time it must have taken her to do that. It’s the time. My mom does it, too, where she just sends really thoughtful, meaningful gifts that she’s excited about and the kids can be excited about. She comes with crafts, they call it the “Mary Poppins Bag” where she has activities like, “How to make paper flowers,” and that’s what her and Hannah do together. And the last time she came she brought this big bubble wand where you make these huge bubbles that are bigger than our heads. It’s something to do to have a moment to connect one-on-one with each grandchild while she’s there with them.

Jani: Oh, that is wonderful. It’s giving me all sorts of ideas with our grandchildren.

Jani’s Perspective & Experience

Heidi: Yeah, you’re an amazing grandmother, too, Jani. I’d love to hear what you would say about this.

Jani: I’ll tell you, my mind’s just flying through some ideas now. I love that! Way to go, Heidi, thanks for sharing that.

They Allowed Us to be the Parents

Well, I want to share one time when my parents were really good grandparents, and I’m embarrassed to share this, but I think it might shed some light into how they let me choose. They let Ray and me choose how to raise our kids. I think it’s very hard for grandparents not to step in, when they see their children raising their grandchildren in a way that’s a little different than what they expected or think is right and good. But I’ll tell this story and then add a few ideas after it.

A specific example…

We had four children fairly close together. One time my parents were visiting us and our youngest child was very disobedient, and he did something awful to me. He either hit me or kicked me, and Ray saw it. It was on a Saturday morning and we were all together there with my parents. He picked this little boy up in his arms and said, “You will tell your mother you’re sorry. You may not do that.” And this child has a strong will, and didn’t just have it when he was a child. God is using that strong will now that he is in his mid-30s, but this child just gave us a stiff upper lip and cocked his head and didn’t say no, but he just clamped his lips shut as if to dare us to try to get them open.

Heidi: Oh, I just want to die in that situation! We’ve had a few moments like that and they do it in front of somebody that you really respect and you think, “What do I do now?”

Jani: Yes, well, Ray decided that he would follow through on this and he said, “Gavin, you have a choice. Either tell your mother you’re sorry, or I will spank you.” And dear little Gavin just turned his head away, set his jaw and would not do it. So Ray did spank him. Unfortunately, it didn’t change Gavin’s behavior, he still would not tell me he was sorry. This went on for a while, Heidi. Ray spanked him again, and kept giving him a chance. And Gavin kept refusing.

Well, by then the older children were worried. They were sad for their little brother. So we all wanted Gavin to obey. We just wanted him to submit and obey. So little Krista said, “Mommy, you know how Gavin loves Skittles? Can we get the bowl of Skittles?” We said, “Sure.” And Krista said “Here Gav, they say if you tell mommy you’re sorry, you can have this.” Well he just clenched his jaw and he would not say he was sorry.

Well, eventually he did. The point of this story is that I don’t believe Ray and I were doing this the right way, but my parents did not interfere. They did not come into the room and say, “How dare you spank him four times for that?” to stick up for Gavin. They let us be the parents. They were in the other room. My mom had tears in her eyes and they were praying, they were asking God to intervene. How I appreciated that.

Ray and I had to learn, “We made a mistake.” We decided from then on that we didn’t want to spank our child repeatedly. We wanted a spanking to result in obedience. And so what we decided was, from now on, we would give Gavin a command that we could help him obey if he didn’t the first time.

For instance, in this kind of situation if he kicked me, we would say, “Gavin, show mommy that you’re sorry, tell her or show her.” And if he chose not to, we would spank him once. Then we would ask him to do it again, and if he still said, “No,” we would say, “All right, I’m going to help you obey. You can’t obey right now, but I’m going to help you.” We’d pick him up, bring him over to mommy, pat pat mommy and say, “There.” I was so grateful that my parents did not interfere. They gave us the opportunity to make a mistake.

Advice not asked for but given

Heidi: Jani, one of the pieces of advice that you’ve given me that I love and treasure, is that,

“Advice that’s not asked for but given can easily come across as criticism.”

And I’ve seen you do that with your children even with me because you spend a lot of time with my kids and I. You don’t tell people what to do. You don’t give advice unless they ask for it. That’s helpful to remember, that giving people advice that’s not asked for can come across as criticism. I value that and I’m thankful you shared that with me.

Jani: Oh, thank you, Heidi. I’m sure I learned that from someone else. I wouldn’t come up without by myself! The idea is, “Being a good grandparent means letting your kids parent.” God has given them that job. If they ask, “What would you do in this situation?” then of course enter in, but if not, unless the child is in great danger—now Gavin’s little bottom was red after those spankings—but he wasn’t in danger of being abused or hindered for life. In fact, he’s grown up loving the Lord, he’s pastoring a church and he’s raising a wonderful family. He wasn’t hindered in his life, because we spanked him more than once.

Give Encouragement & Praise

I just want to say a couple other ways that my parents were really good grandparents and Ray’s parents too, is that they gave us lots of encouragement, lots of praise. They would say, “Oh, I love how Eric is doing this,” or, “I love how you talked to Krista about that,“ and that just filled my sails with the positive way to raise a child.

Remember Special Days

They also remembered special days just like your parents and in-laws do. That meant a lot to my kids. There was someone besides mom and dad who loves them.

Reinforce what we are doing as parents

And then they also reinforced what we were doing as parents. In our house, the rule was, the kitchen was closed from four o’clock until dinner. So the kids had to get their snacks before four o’clock, and then mommy was busy cooking and nobody could come in and you know, get food to eat before dinner. Then my mom and dad observed that. They didn’t say” I’ll sneak in and get you a little something.” So I appreciated that. That helped me.

I hope that our listeners who are grandmothers will have fun stories to share with us as well about what it means to be a godly, fun grandmother.

Question 2: “What do healthy boundaries with grandparents look like?”

Heidi: Here’s another question, Jani, from someone I think that’s more about my age.

“Jani, we have two sweet babies and are likely the only hope of grandchildren on either side of the family. And phew, does that come with a lot of pressure! Both sets of parents love Jesus, but they do have some different views on parenting. Although we live in different states, I feel a lot of pressure from them. What do healthy boundaries look like? And how do we set them? Sometimes it feels like all they want to do is be hyper involved in our lives, and that gets overwhelming quickly. I want to honor Jesus with how I honor my parents as an adult, but sometimes I feel like the only adult with all the emotional and passive manipulation that goes on.”

Jani: Wow, that’s a rough one.

Heidi: Yeah. And I think one that’s common though, just like we kind of talked about in the last question, there is so much. What are those boundaries look like? How do you do that as a parent? How do you do it as a grandparent?

Heidi’s Perspective & Experience

Jani: Yes. Heidi, could you speak into that a little bit? Your kids are that age, you have three little ones at home and two sets of grandparents. How how do you set boundaries? Or have you even had to?

Tip: Each talk to your own parents

Heidi: Well, we’ve had to set some and I think anybody, any parents with grandparents will have to. There are just things that we differ on. One thing that we’ve learned is that if it’s something with my mom, I’m the best one to talk about it with. And if it’s something with Mike’s parents, Mike is the best one to have that conversation with them. So we set that kind of boundary from the get go.

I know there’s been a couple times that things my mom has said or done don’t sit well with us and first I have to remember she’s coming at it with a good heart. She loves my family. She loves my kids. She’s not trying to hurt them. She’s not trying to disrespect us. I know it’s just from this overflowing heart of love. And so I just try to have a conversation about it and not say I’m so upset or I’m so made but “Oh mom, it was hard when this and this and this happened…Do you think next time we could do it this way? Thank you for loving the kids like you do. I know you weren’t trying to upset anybody. What do you think about this? Can we talk about this?” She always receives it so kindly.

So to just throw the conversation out there in a loving way but talk about what was hard and then give an example. “Next time do you think we could handle it this way instead?” Or, “This is what we do in our family, this is what the Howertons do. Can you come on board with that? Can you honor us in that?” And both sets of parents have received that graciously and generously over the years.

Jani: Oh, that is such a good way to do it. I like that.

Jani’s Perspective & Experience

Heidi: Tell me what you think, Jani, because setting boundaries is hard.

Jani: Setting boundaries is hard. I liked how you put that you would each talk to your own parents. I would say to make sure for this, listener, that your husband is on board. But whoever needs to be talked to let that child do the talking to the parent.

Make it a “win-win” for both

And try to make it, as you have Heidi in your conversations, try to make it a “win-win” for both so that the grandparents don’t feel shamed or belittled or humiliated, and the parent feels that they still have the right and privilege of parenting their own children. So try to figure out, “How can I make this a win for them and a win for me as well?”

And I like the phrases that you used in your conversation. Sometimes it helps me to think of this phrase, even when I’m speaking with Ray or our parents are all with the Lord, but whenever I had to speak to them about something, I’d say “Could I just talk to you about something that isn’t working for me? This just doesn’t work and I need your help? How can we make this work for both of us? Talk to me about it and let let me share what’s on my heart.”

Tip: When it involves emotions, be specific (with examples).

I wonder about this listener’s emotions. She said, “I feel a lot of pressure.” I feel they’re “hyper-involved.” I feel “overwhelmed quickly.” I would encourage you not to express those feelings exactly. That would be hard for your in-laws or your mom and dad to hear. Rather, I encourage you to use specifics.

For example, let’s just make up a scenario. You could say, “When you told me how sad it would make you if you couldn’t host little Emma’s third birthday party, I felt torn because I want to honor you and love you, and I want you to be happy, but I want to experience that myself as her mom. So I need you to know that that’s kind of hard for me because I’m caught between you and her: wanting to please you, and wanting to please myself as well as her mother.”

Or maybe you’ve got a comment about discipline from the grandparents and maybe you just need to put it out there: “I know you feel differently about this. We believe in spanking and we know that you don’t. How could we make this work? Here’s one thing that would help me when you’re visiting, if you don’t step between my child and me and defend him in front of himself to us. If you want to talk to us about this child, come talk to me but let’s do it privately, not in front of the child. We never want our children to feel it’s the grandparents and them against the parents. We need to be a team in this. Let the adults be a team bringing the children up together.”

Or maybe you could come up with some alternative suggestions. “Mom cookies at 4:30 don’t work in our house because you know how Peter really hates vegetables and meat, and then he’s so full of sweets that he won’t eat anything on his plate. So how about you let him know that you’re watching and if he takes one bite of his green bean, you’ve got this cookie for him.” Or whatever. “How can we make it work for you?” In other words, listener, have some alternative suggestions with some specifics you’ve seen.

Can you think of anything else, Heidi, about setting boundaries? It’s kind of a hard topic.

Prayer & Wisdom

Heidi: Nothing much comes to mind. I think maybe just prayer, too. “Lord, give me wisdom on this.” Another idea is talking to somebody older, finding a mentor in the church or an old woman that really loves Jesus that might have some wisdom. Or even, like we’ve talked about before, going to a counselor that might have wisdom with family boundaries and how that works, you know, thinking what resources are out there that can help me with this?

Jani: Yes. So you’re not feeling like you’re fighting this all yourself?

Heidi: Yes. How can we do this in a loving way? If those grandparents really love the grandchildren to really focus on that. They really love my kids, their heart is for them. That can change my heart from resentment to, “Of course they want to give them that cookie. They love them so much. I’m so grateful. My child has a grandparent that loves them so much, they want to give them an extra cookie.” Okay, let me go into the conversation with that in mind.

Jani: That’s so good, Heidi, you’re really good at turning it around that way because I’m sure some of our listeners would do anything for to have a grandparent there who would give their child a cookie. So that’s such a good point. Try to see it from the grandparents perspective, not as a battle but as a moving forward as a very positive thing. Oh, I love you Heidi Howerton!

Heidi: I love you, too, and I thank you for being a third set of grandparents in our children’s lives. We’re very blessed by those Ortlunds.

Jani: Well, we do love the little Howertons.

Dear Listener, we thank you for listening today, and we pray that as we’ve shared together, that the Lord is speaking into your souls words of restoration and hope and love. God bless you.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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