NYC for 5-year-old? I think not

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 31, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara, My husband's step-mom wants to take my 5-year-old to New York City for a few nights.  My daughter does not want to go with them without having mom or dad with her.  Unfortunately, this grandparent can't take "no" for an answer.  I'm told this trip could traumatize my daughter, especially since she will be in unfamiliar surroundings with people she rarely sees.  Any advice on how to approach selfish grandparent?

From: Lauren, Rockville, MD

Hi Lauren,

Grandchildren are not accessories for grandparents!

Common sense says that if a child this age is being separated from mom and dad for the first time (which you didn't say, but I'm guessing),  it wouldn't happen  in NYC, in a strange place with people she doesn't know. That grandma thinks it could, or that this would be a "treat" for a 5-year-old, says something (not good) about grandma's judgment and/or lack of understanding of children. If your daughter had a strong relationship with her; if you had a good feeling about the person; if you had a need for the person to take care of the child....then it would probably happen first in your home, or in grandma's home: In a familiar setting, in a place where the child's routines were established and she would feel safe and secure.

Grandma may counter that you are standing in the way of her relationship. Sure, there are plenty of grandparents whose grandchildren would love to spend a night alone with them. But it would be in one of their two homes, and even then, there likely would be some homesickness. Would she know enough about your daughter's likes/dislikes and how to comfort her? Oh -- and the reason a young child would want to be at grandma's? Because grandma (or grandpa, sorry, don't mean to be gender specific) has put a lot of effort to make this relationship important or meaningful for the child. I'm guessing this grandma hasn't.

Bottom line: you know what is best for your child. Tell grandma that in a few years, this might work. For right now, though, she's too young. Period. End of discussion. In the meantime, suggest that she make a serious investment of time building their relationship, for instance, spending an afternoon doing something the child enjoys, or, when she comes to visit, playing with her in an activity the child chooses.

Also, keep this in mind: Children in general benefit from their relationships with grandparents. Are you giving permission for that to happen or are you somehow sabotaging (maybe with good reason!) it? Do you even like/trust this woman? Does your husband? If one or both of you don't feel positively toward her, that is surely coming through to your daughter and that will affect their relationship. Before anything else happens, I suggest you and your husband figure out how you feel about this relationship and  what, exactly, you hope for for your daughter from it.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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20 comments so far...
  1. Some grandparents feel they can override any decision the parents make. That irks me. I understand they want to build a relationship but I don't understand how a trip to NYC would do it. How about a trip to the zoo? Or a museum? I think grandparents sometimes feel that they can do what they want with the child and not even consider what your feelings are or even if the trip is even appropriate for the child. The trip sounds like it is something more that she wants to do, and not so much a "treat" for your child. They tend to lose sight of what young children like to do. Just firmly say no. This is your daughter, not hers and if she wants to to build a strong relationship w/her, then she would chose a more appropriate outing. She will get over it. If not, it isn't your problem.

    Posted by J March 31, 10 08:27 AM
  1. Just say no and stick to your guns! If necessary, get your husband to tell his stepmother to back off. If your daughter doesn't want to go and you say no, what is Grandma going to do about? Kidnap her? Just stand your ground with a firm no, but you can soften it by offering an alternative. You don't really need advice on this one, you just need to listen to your instinct as a parent, which in this case is that you are not going to force your child to do something she doesn't want to do.

    Posted by anita March 31, 10 09:21 AM
  1. The LW says the grandparent can't take no for answer. LW, this is not true. Whenever anyone says this about another person, all it means to me is that the person saying no cannot *stick* to the no. This grandmother will not agree with no, and will argue with no, and will make excuses about why the no is wrong -- but she has to take no for an answer as long as that's the only answer you give. She has to take no for an answer unless you back down.

    Yes, it will be uncomfortable, and yes, grandma may get angry. But keep saying no. You do not need to convince her that you are right -- remember that. So don't try. Just tell her that this will not work. If you want to, as Barbara suggests, invite her over for lunch or something to start building a relationship with your daughter. Repeat as often as necessary "No, I'm sorry, the trip simply won't work. But we would be happy to have you visit to get to know your granddaughter, and build a close relationship with her."

    You will not convince her you are right, so do not fall into the trap of arguing about it.

    Posted by jlen March 31, 10 09:23 AM
  1. Some 5 year olds would think this was great. Some would find this scary. Decisions need to be based on the child's needs and the mom's comfort level.
    Stand your ground. Unless she physically kidnaps the kid, she can't take her if you say no and mean it.

    Posted by BMS March 31, 10 09:40 AM
  1. I don't see the big deal. At 6 many children (including mine I hope) go off to boarding school. Kids can adapt.

    Posted by Dan Cleo March 31, 10 10:19 AM
  1. This is about what grandma wants for herself, not your child. We call this "the Grandma Show" at our house. It's all about "see me being a grandma" not doing something meaningful for your child. Just say no, until it's something your child wants to do, too. Offer appropriate alternatives, if you wish, but just say no. No need to argue about it.

    Posted by 12bucklshoe March 31, 10 10:37 AM
  1. Boy, I am glad Dan Cleo is not my Dad! Boarding school at 6? Why have kids at all if you are planning to ship them off ASAP and hope they 'adapt.' Yeah, they will adapt. They will adapt to resent their parents for abandoning them.

    That said- you are perfectly within your rights to say no. End of. My sympathies, I know how difficult dealing with pushy grandparents can be.

    Posted by BC March 31, 10 10:42 AM
  1. Like BMS said, for some kids, this would be no big deal. How much time does she spend with these grandparents? How much has she traveled? Has she ever been to a city (even Boston)?

    Her opinion should count...with one caveat--if you think she is a very fearful child who would benefit from a nice controlled push out of the nest.

    I do think you're being a bit melodramatic with the idea that it would "traumatize" her. She might not have a good time, but it isn't going to be anything she'll be talking about in therapy years from now.

    But in the end, it's your call.

    You said no. When stepmom complains re-iterate that it's not right for your kid right now. Like Barbara says, emphasize the idea that they should spend time with her close to home doing stuff she likes to build the relationship and then take her in a year or two.

    I don't think it's selfish...as a parent I look forward to sharing all the things and places I love with my child. I don't think I'd be less excited to show my grandchildren. If your stepmom traveled with her kids from a young age, she may not understand why a child wouldn't want to travel. As for the grandparents, there's a cultural myth that kids will want to do whatever with them--which if they don't have a relationship, they may not.

    Posted by c March 31, 10 10:55 AM
  1. Dan, I think you missed the point. Of course the kid can "adapt" if need be. But there is no need to force a 5 year old to take a trip where neither he nor his parents want him to go. And why do you hope to send your child to a boarding school at age 6?? That's just weird.

    Posted by Dad March 31, 10 10:58 AM
  1. boarding schools -- I read a wonderful column a while back about how much great literature has arisen from the trauma of boarding schools, and how Harry Potter has confused the issue for many parents. For me, ten days of summer camp at age 12 was plenty!

    Posted by Kim March 31, 10 12:21 PM
  1. Please don't encourage Dan-the-troll by taking his post seriously.

    Posted by Cosmogirl March 31, 10 12:47 PM
  1. Are there boarding schools for 6-year olds? I thought those are called orphanage.

    Posted by dontunderstand March 31, 10 01:35 PM
  1. Ah, the grandma's. Its not an appropriate trip for your kid. I would be uncomfortable sending my 5 year old on any trip where I wasn't completely convinced of the adult ability to look after her.

    PS- I like the "grandma show" line someone posted. Although it is sad sometimes how grandparents are more concerned with showing off for themselves, and, of course, step all over you as a parent in the process.

    Posted by lala March 31, 10 02:22 PM
  1. i think my daughter has traveled about as much as i did when i was younger, including trips to Maryland (without me, with her grandparents at the ages 2, 3, 4, 5, 7..) even as far as Wisconsin (again with her grandparents at the age of 6) my parents love to travel and love to take my daughter (who loves the adventure). the LW says "I'm told this trip could traumatize my daughter, especially since she will be in unfamiliar surroundings with people she rarely sees" what is traumatizing about a trip? is it only because she rarely sees her grandparents? and why is that?
    i suppose it does depend on the temperment of the child- but can the grandmother take the child on day trips without the parent there? why not start there?
    sometimes my mother drives me nuts but then i remember that i survived childhood with her parenting me .. i think we sometimes forget that our parents raised US as well.

    Posted by A March 31, 10 02:24 PM
  1. At the age of 5, the child's wishes should be the deciding factor. If she's not comfortable, she will be miserable. Some kids would love it and not be at all scared, but lots of kids are not ready for separation from parents. When they're a little older - say 8, they might need to be encouraged to go somewhere if they're turning out to be very shy and scared of new experiences.
    I know a kid, back in the 50's, who at 4 years old spent a week with her grandmother at the old North Adams hospital (where the grandmother worked and had an apartment.) The kid explored all over the hospital all day by herself while the grandmother worked and people kept an eye on her. She still remembers it as an exciting experience.

    Posted by Adventurmom March 31, 10 02:43 PM
  1. The LW should figure out what the daughter herself would enjoy doing with Grandma, and if it's something the LW and her spouse are comfortable with (including knowing that Grandma would be able to adequately look after for the child during this time), then the decision should be based on that.

    It'll be easier to say "no" to the NYC trip if the "no" is followed up with a suggestion based on what this little girl herself wants to do with grandma.

    Posted by smosie March 31, 10 03:55 PM
  1. TOTALLY agree with jlen's comment.The problem here isn't the grandmother (although, obviously she IS a problem!), it's the parents' inability to clearly state that the answer is NO. Here''s a script for you:

    Pushy Grandma: Have you thought more about the NYC trip? I don't see why she can't come along!

    Mother: Yes, I have, and I'm sorry, but our final word on the trip is no. She is not ready for the trip at this time.

    Pushy Grandma: But but blah blah blah (it doesn't really matter what she says here...)

    Mother: I said "no". My answer is final. It is not up for discussion.

    Pushy Grandma: But but blah blah blah...

    Mother: I'm sorry, I won't continue this conversation with you. *Hangs up phone or physically walks away*

    See? That's all you have to do. As many times as necessary. I suspect you're doing FAR too much "explaining" in the hopes of bringing her to your side. This won't work. She just uses your continued discussion as an opportunity to try to poke holes in your arguments. If you flat-out refuse to discuss it any more, she can no longer do this. Don't let her "in" to this conversation any longer...just cut her off and move on until she "gets it".

    Posted by Amanda March 31, 10 04:15 PM
  1. If you trust the grandparents - then it really depends on the child's temperment and desire. I have one child that could never have handled this at age 5 and another that could.

    If you think it would traumatize your child then you should definitely say NO ( and the fact that the grandparents didn't figure that out on their own tells me they definitely do not know the child well enough).
    Suggest they take her for an outing closer to home but bring her back to sleep in her own bed.

    Posted by Susan March 31, 10 05:28 PM
  1. Pretty simple.... Say no and that's the end of the convo... You don't have to explain yourself.

    Posted by Ry March 31, 10 10:16 PM
  1. My daughter just spent a week away skiing with a couple and their daughter, her friend. She had a great time, but she WANTED to go, and she knew the family well, as did we.
    In any case NYC...for a child f 5?? Why taint them (ha ha).

    Posted by LuckyLou April 1, 10 04:55 AM
 
20 comments so far...
  1. Some grandparents feel they can override any decision the parents make. That irks me. I understand they want to build a relationship but I don't understand how a trip to NYC would do it. How about a trip to the zoo? Or a museum? I think grandparents sometimes feel that they can do what they want with the child and not even consider what your feelings are or even if the trip is even appropriate for the child. The trip sounds like it is something more that she wants to do, and not so much a "treat" for your child. They tend to lose sight of what young children like to do. Just firmly say no. This is your daughter, not hers and if she wants to to build a strong relationship w/her, then she would chose a more appropriate outing. She will get over it. If not, it isn't your problem.

    Posted by J March 31, 10 08:27 AM
  1. Just say no and stick to your guns! If necessary, get your husband to tell his stepmother to back off. If your daughter doesn't want to go and you say no, what is Grandma going to do about? Kidnap her? Just stand your ground with a firm no, but you can soften it by offering an alternative. You don't really need advice on this one, you just need to listen to your instinct as a parent, which in this case is that you are not going to force your child to do something she doesn't want to do.

    Posted by anita March 31, 10 09:21 AM
  1. The LW says the grandparent can't take no for answer. LW, this is not true. Whenever anyone says this about another person, all it means to me is that the person saying no cannot *stick* to the no. This grandmother will not agree with no, and will argue with no, and will make excuses about why the no is wrong -- but she has to take no for an answer as long as that's the only answer you give. She has to take no for an answer unless you back down.

    Yes, it will be uncomfortable, and yes, grandma may get angry. But keep saying no. You do not need to convince her that you are right -- remember that. So don't try. Just tell her that this will not work. If you want to, as Barbara suggests, invite her over for lunch or something to start building a relationship with your daughter. Repeat as often as necessary "No, I'm sorry, the trip simply won't work. But we would be happy to have you visit to get to know your granddaughter, and build a close relationship with her."

    You will not convince her you are right, so do not fall into the trap of arguing about it.

    Posted by jlen March 31, 10 09:23 AM
  1. Some 5 year olds would think this was great. Some would find this scary. Decisions need to be based on the child's needs and the mom's comfort level.
    Stand your ground. Unless she physically kidnaps the kid, she can't take her if you say no and mean it.

    Posted by BMS March 31, 10 09:40 AM
  1. I don't see the big deal. At 6 many children (including mine I hope) go off to boarding school. Kids can adapt.

    Posted by Dan Cleo March 31, 10 10:19 AM
  1. This is about what grandma wants for herself, not your child. We call this "the Grandma Show" at our house. It's all about "see me being a grandma" not doing something meaningful for your child. Just say no, until it's something your child wants to do, too. Offer appropriate alternatives, if you wish, but just say no. No need to argue about it.

    Posted by 12bucklshoe March 31, 10 10:37 AM
  1. Boy, I am glad Dan Cleo is not my Dad! Boarding school at 6? Why have kids at all if you are planning to ship them off ASAP and hope they 'adapt.' Yeah, they will adapt. They will adapt to resent their parents for abandoning them.

    That said- you are perfectly within your rights to say no. End of. My sympathies, I know how difficult dealing with pushy grandparents can be.

    Posted by BC March 31, 10 10:42 AM
  1. Like BMS said, for some kids, this would be no big deal. How much time does she spend with these grandparents? How much has she traveled? Has she ever been to a city (even Boston)?

    Her opinion should count...with one caveat--if you think she is a very fearful child who would benefit from a nice controlled push out of the nest.

    I do think you're being a bit melodramatic with the idea that it would "traumatize" her. She might not have a good time, but it isn't going to be anything she'll be talking about in therapy years from now.

    But in the end, it's your call.

    You said no. When stepmom complains re-iterate that it's not right for your kid right now. Like Barbara says, emphasize the idea that they should spend time with her close to home doing stuff she likes to build the relationship and then take her in a year or two.

    I don't think it's selfish...as a parent I look forward to sharing all the things and places I love with my child. I don't think I'd be less excited to show my grandchildren. If your stepmom traveled with her kids from a young age, she may not understand why a child wouldn't want to travel. As for the grandparents, there's a cultural myth that kids will want to do whatever with them--which if they don't have a relationship, they may not.

    Posted by c March 31, 10 10:55 AM
  1. Dan, I think you missed the point. Of course the kid can "adapt" if need be. But there is no need to force a 5 year old to take a trip where neither he nor his parents want him to go. And why do you hope to send your child to a boarding school at age 6?? That's just weird.

    Posted by Dad March 31, 10 10:58 AM
  1. boarding schools -- I read a wonderful column a while back about how much great literature has arisen from the trauma of boarding schools, and how Harry Potter has confused the issue for many parents. For me, ten days of summer camp at age 12 was plenty!

    Posted by Kim March 31, 10 12:21 PM
  1. Please don't encourage Dan-the-troll by taking his post seriously.

    Posted by Cosmogirl March 31, 10 12:47 PM
  1. Are there boarding schools for 6-year olds? I thought those are called orphanage.

    Posted by dontunderstand March 31, 10 01:35 PM
  1. Ah, the grandma's. Its not an appropriate trip for your kid. I would be uncomfortable sending my 5 year old on any trip where I wasn't completely convinced of the adult ability to look after her.

    PS- I like the "grandma show" line someone posted. Although it is sad sometimes how grandparents are more concerned with showing off for themselves, and, of course, step all over you as a parent in the process.

    Posted by lala March 31, 10 02:22 PM
  1. i think my daughter has traveled about as much as i did when i was younger, including trips to Maryland (without me, with her grandparents at the ages 2, 3, 4, 5, 7..) even as far as Wisconsin (again with her grandparents at the age of 6) my parents love to travel and love to take my daughter (who loves the adventure). the LW says "I'm told this trip could traumatize my daughter, especially since she will be in unfamiliar surroundings with people she rarely sees" what is traumatizing about a trip? is it only because she rarely sees her grandparents? and why is that?
    i suppose it does depend on the temperment of the child- but can the grandmother take the child on day trips without the parent there? why not start there?
    sometimes my mother drives me nuts but then i remember that i survived childhood with her parenting me .. i think we sometimes forget that our parents raised US as well.

    Posted by A March 31, 10 02:24 PM
  1. At the age of 5, the child's wishes should be the deciding factor. If she's not comfortable, she will be miserable. Some kids would love it and not be at all scared, but lots of kids are not ready for separation from parents. When they're a little older - say 8, they might need to be encouraged to go somewhere if they're turning out to be very shy and scared of new experiences.
    I know a kid, back in the 50's, who at 4 years old spent a week with her grandmother at the old North Adams hospital (where the grandmother worked and had an apartment.) The kid explored all over the hospital all day by herself while the grandmother worked and people kept an eye on her. She still remembers it as an exciting experience.

    Posted by Adventurmom March 31, 10 02:43 PM
  1. The LW should figure out what the daughter herself would enjoy doing with Grandma, and if it's something the LW and her spouse are comfortable with (including knowing that Grandma would be able to adequately look after for the child during this time), then the decision should be based on that.

    It'll be easier to say "no" to the NYC trip if the "no" is followed up with a suggestion based on what this little girl herself wants to do with grandma.

    Posted by smosie March 31, 10 03:55 PM
  1. TOTALLY agree with jlen's comment.The problem here isn't the grandmother (although, obviously she IS a problem!), it's the parents' inability to clearly state that the answer is NO. Here''s a script for you:

    Pushy Grandma: Have you thought more about the NYC trip? I don't see why she can't come along!

    Mother: Yes, I have, and I'm sorry, but our final word on the trip is no. She is not ready for the trip at this time.

    Pushy Grandma: But but blah blah blah (it doesn't really matter what she says here...)

    Mother: I said "no". My answer is final. It is not up for discussion.

    Pushy Grandma: But but blah blah blah...

    Mother: I'm sorry, I won't continue this conversation with you. *Hangs up phone or physically walks away*

    See? That's all you have to do. As many times as necessary. I suspect you're doing FAR too much "explaining" in the hopes of bringing her to your side. This won't work. She just uses your continued discussion as an opportunity to try to poke holes in your arguments. If you flat-out refuse to discuss it any more, she can no longer do this. Don't let her "in" to this conversation any longer...just cut her off and move on until she "gets it".

    Posted by Amanda March 31, 10 04:15 PM
  1. If you trust the grandparents - then it really depends on the child's temperment and desire. I have one child that could never have handled this at age 5 and another that could.

    If you think it would traumatize your child then you should definitely say NO ( and the fact that the grandparents didn't figure that out on their own tells me they definitely do not know the child well enough).
    Suggest they take her for an outing closer to home but bring her back to sleep in her own bed.

    Posted by Susan March 31, 10 05:28 PM
  1. Pretty simple.... Say no and that's the end of the convo... You don't have to explain yourself.

    Posted by Ry March 31, 10 10:16 PM
  1. My daughter just spent a week away skiing with a couple and their daughter, her friend. She had a great time, but she WANTED to go, and she knew the family well, as did we.
    In any case NYC...for a child f 5?? Why taint them (ha ha).

    Posted by LuckyLou April 1, 10 04:55 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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