My Grandson Repeated Something Hurtful My Daughter Said

We live near our daughter, Carly, her husband, and their two children, Mikey, who is five, and Julie, who is ten. We spend a lot of enjoyable time with their family, sometimes babysitting, sometimes just everybody being together.

A couple of weeks ago when the grandchildren were spending the weekend with us while their parents went on a mini-vacation, Mikey said, “Grandma, Mommy said you don’t dress your age. What does that mean?” When Mikey said that, I took a deep breath and calmly told him that people have different ideas about what constitutes fashion, but the truth is that I was absolutely floored! I take great pride in my appearance. I go to the gym at least three times a week, I watch what I eat. I think I look pretty good for my age, and I try to dress with flair and style.

I thought I had a great relationship with Carly, but I am so hurt that she would say something so negative and hurtful about the way I dress. My husband thinks I am over reacting. I am not sure what I should do.

You deserve credit for being kind and sensitive in your response to Mikey by not reacting emotionally with him or doing anything to “punish the messenger.” Sounds like he is an innocent player in this situation, as he was just repeating something he heard and didn’t understand. So, what, if anything, might you say to your daughter?

Let’s try a hypothetical situation: If your ten-year-old granddaughter Julie came to you and said, “Grandma, my feelings are hurt because one of my girlfriends said she doesn’t like the way I dress,” I suspect you would talk with her about what’s important, first and foremost, is that she needs to dress for herself – that is, in ways that help her feel good about herself (and are deemed appropriate by her parents, as she is, after all, only ten). Further, you would probably suggest to her that, in general, dressing to please others is ultimately a losing battle, because inevitably, some will like her choices and others will not. I say “in general” because there might be people whose approval is important.

And this brings us back to your daughter saying something “hurtful” about the way you dress. You say you eat right, you regularly exercise, and you try to dress with “flair and style,” all of which suggest strong, positive and self-confident actions on your part. So, the critical question you need to answer is: Is it important to you that Carly approves of your fashion choices? If not, then there isn’t any need to do or say anything.

However, the fact that you say your feelings are hurt suggests you do want Carly to approve of the way you dress. If so, then you have some options. For example, you can tell Carly you value her opinion and because you’re thinking about making some wardrobe changes, you’d like her advice. However, a cardinal rule about asking for advice is that you have to be open to the possibility that the advice you get flies in the face of your self-image. In fact, if you want her candid comments you may have to emphasize that you’re serious about making some changes and she needs to be forthright with you. If she tells you she thinks you should dress in ways that are more flattering and / or appropriate for you, then you have to listen and not become defensive. You need to ask for specific examples so you really understand her advice. She may make some suggestions that make sense to you.

Another option is for you to read some fashion books and articles on your own, or meet with a fashion or style consultant. (If you Google “style or fashion consultants in Manhattan,” you’ll get several million hits!) Once you have some ideas, then you can approach your daughter and share with her some of the fashion tips and strategies you’re thinking about and ask her what she thinks.

You’ll notice in my suggestions that Mikey doesn’t come into the discussion at all. This is about you, your daughter and a comment she made. If you lead with “Mikey said…” the focus is going to be on Mikey and his repeating something, and I don’t think this is where the problem lies. Unless, what is really bothering you is that your daughter said something negative about you in front of Mikey or within his earshot. If this is the case, you may want to just let the whole matter go because you probably don’t want to have a conversation with your daughter in which you try to tell her what she should and should not say about you in her own home.

Another possibility is that when you bring up the topic of your wardrobe, your daughter laughs and says Mikey told her what he repeated to you and she was wondering if his comment made an impact on you. If this is the case, you can slough it off, or you can let Carly know that your feelings were hurt. Carly may apologize if she hurt your feelings, but then again, there may be some substance to her comment that she will share with you, if you invite her to do so.

The fact that you feel you have a great relationship with your daughter suggests this one, isolated incident should be treated just as that – a one-off that can hopefully be easily addressed, if at all, and then forgotten. I think this is perhaps what your husband meant when he said you were over-reacting.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every Thursday.

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