I've made an intentional point to be critically aware of how I say things, or react to things, with my kids. I don't always succeed at whatever it is I'm trying to accomplish, but like a lot of parents: I try. I know it's pretty easy to end up accidentally shaming your kids by saying or doing something that can be misconstrued. Mistakes happen, to be sure, but the things my kids' grandparents do that shame my kids are downright infuriating, especially when I'm making significant effort not to do the same, always set on finding effective alternatives that will make my children feel comfortable.
When I was little I was lucky to have the kind of grandmother who'd sooner banish herself to a lost island than shame me. She was loving, compassionate, and always careful with how she commented on things. Whether it was my strange fashion choices, boyfriends, or my fluctuating weight, she always knew the best ways to protect my self-esteem when we talked about anything.
My kids have pretty great grandparents, to be sure, but their relationships with a couple of them aren't as strong as the relationships they enjoy with others. When they don't spend the same amount of time with each grandparent, I think my kids feel ashamed more often when they can't really read certain family members particularly well. Then again, maybe it's because even though I'm trying to raise strong, resilient kids, they're also somewhat sensitive (just like their mom) and can take things the wrong way.
Regardless of what's said or done to cause my kids to feel any kind of shame or anxiety about who they are, it's my job to build them back up. Here's some things your kids' grandparents might do that shame your kid, just as I've experienced with mine.
They Question Why Clothes They Bought Don't Fit
My daughter is transitioning from young girl to teen. That means she's dealing with a lot of self-esteem and body image issues. Some of the clothes her grandparents have bought may not fit like they did originally, but if it's pointed out she's going to notice her changing body that much more.
I've already noticed the way she slouches and hides and attempts to take up less space in the world, so I wish others would be more careful in how they phrase their concerns.
They Mention Triggering Words
If my daughter is going to stay with a grandparent, and she hears certain words like "bra," she's going to make her feel ashamed and embarrassed. If this topic is brought up in the wrong context, or just brought up at all, she'll likely fold into herself for the remainder of the day.
If anyone's going to mention sensitive topics it's going to be me — her mom. No one else.
They Say Your Kid Didn't Complete A Task "Well Enough"
For the most part, my children's grandparents are wonderful with them. However, there's been a time or two when one of my kids tried to put toys away and they didn't get to the right places, or they've received a report card and didn't get the grades as high as expected. Even when these conversations are handled gently, I can tell when my kids are ashamed as a result. While I always want them to strive to do better and be better, there's a right and wrong way to go about it.
They Undermine You
Having in-laws is a whole other beast in terms of etiquette. I've been with my husband for 13 years now, and in that time our kids have repeated some things some paternal grandparents have said, or asked about me or my choices.
This puts the children in the middle and pits them against their own mother. Even when things are said in jest, it's always clear by my kids' reactions those things shouldn't be said at all. It may not seem like it in the moment, but these little tidbits shame my kids into thinking they're wrong for choosing any side at all.
They Criticize Personal Choices
My daughter's going through the stages of trying to figure out what she likes and doesn't like, so her choices don't always make sense. From her taste in music to the friends she keeps, I keep an eye on her ever-evolving ways. Whatever she chooses I follow, but I let her decide. We've had instances with grandparents where she's made to feel shame for liking certain things or behaving a certain way. As a result, she avoids those things she was interested in. That's completely unfair to the person she is now, and the one she's to become.
They Laugh At Your Kids' Appearance
Right now my daughter's fashion choices include a backwards ball cap, knee socks with shorts, and dark lipstick. I think she's awesome, but a couple grandparents have commented on her fashion choices in front of her. She quickly withdraws, retreats, and eventually chooses another appearance to satisfy everyone else. Normally she'd stand behind her choices, but this awkward period means she's easily shamed and quick to back out of those decisions.
They Comment On Your Kids' Intelligence
There isn't a single grandparent my kids have that would ever intentionally make them feel less intelligent than they are. Having said that, as the result of an inadequate word choice or the wrong approach, we've dealt with situations that shame them. My kids are both smart, but with five years between them they learn differently and for obvious reasons. By implying one or the other is smarter because the other didn't know the answer to a question is just wrong. As is commenting how silly it is one doesn't know something the asker thinks they should know.
No matter how any of this is phrased, shaming is shaming. You don't need a dictionary to understand if that's, in fact, what your child feels. You can see it in their reactions. When my kid's are ashamed I get that immediate pang of mother's guilt. I want to fix it and quickly show them how to navigate life without getting down on themselves. If only everyone else would jump on board, we'd be OK.