Carolyn Hax: Parents keep pushing ‘better’ schools for grandkids

This has created significant tension in the family that gets worse as the kids approach school age. Mom, who is very close to her grandkids, continually tries to persuade Sister to change her mind, which only results in arguments and tears.

Mom is genuinely heartbroken that she can’t help her grandkids get a better education, but she seems intent on ruining her relationship with Sister while fighting for her mission. How can I persuade Mom to let it go?

Anonymous: I don’t think another butting-in mission is what this situation needs.

Even with the stakes as high as they are.

Even with the hearts all in the right places.

Whenever your mother invites you to give your opinion or advice, then please do, of course — as forcefully as you can while remaining composed: “Mom. Stop. The kids need you and your love and support more than they need the ‘right’ school. And you put that at risk when you keep antagonizing Sister with your disrespect for her choices. They have every right to use your gift as they see fit.” If the gift had strings attached, then their defiance serves her right. You can leave that part out, though.

You also get a mulligan if she never asks your opinion directly but you offer this one anyway, just once, and just on the strength of her confiding in you on a regular basis about this self-destructive preoccupation of hers. Part of being well-boundaried is knowing when and why to step over your lines.

“How can I persuade?”: It’s not your mind, so it’s not your place to change it.

“How can I help?”: When invited to, you can counsel respect for your sister’s and brother-in-law’s autonomy.

You can also, appropriately, caution your mom about the economic third rail here that she seems oblivious to. She takes her own good intentions for granted, maybe, and sees the unimpeachable virtue of A Good Education? Thus is mystified they’re resisting her “mission”? So she might be blind to the subtext of the less-monied husband/couple feeling compelled to fight the wealthy grandma for control of his/their own g-d family, just because her mind isn’t broad enough to wrap around the idea that maybe a school district with poorer people in it doesn’t automatically offer the worse education prospects. And because her skills at taking no for an answer are rusted through with neglect.

You can also tell me I’m way off and your mother is lovely and that’s not happening here. Fair enough. And certainly the husband-knows-best specter your sister raised is open to interpretation; it’s just as plausible he’s bullying your sister as it is he’s selflessly volunteering to take all the blame from your mom.

But what is specifically true here is secondary; for this to spiral into estrangement, your brother-in-law (and/or your sister) need only to perceive your mother as throwing her entitled weight around. A loving bystander who presumes to alert her to this, even unsolicited — just once, as always — wouldn’t be out of line.

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