Thursday, August 02, 2007

When a Parent Is Defied By His Parent

I have written often in this blog about the frustrations of parenting children who are defiant. By definition those who are defiant are either unwilling to take direction from authority or do so in a faux compliant way in order to exact emotional revenge in a passive fashion. Either approach is unpleasant, designed to make the one with supposed "authority" question his or her role.

Our son Tony is spending some time with his grandmother, my mother. She retrieved him from his first Boy Scout experience to spend a week or so with her, which is a win-win for both of them. Tony was the first grandchild in the family, so she has known him longest and is the apple of her eye. Grandma Mary is, likewise, Tony's icon, so together they have some very nice times. He is presently working with her in mowing grass and spending time in the woods loading firewood, physical tasks he is not very open to in his home, but at grandma's, of course, everything is always so much funner.

The fact of the matter is that Tony's behavior when he is absent from his parents and his siblings is top notch. He doesn't have to worry about sharing the attention or time with peers, and he is content and happy to be with Grandma Mary. This is not unusual, based on my own experience, and we affirm his opportunity to be with Grandma. It gives him a break, gives us a break, and allows his grandmother to spend some time with him.

But every time he spends more than a day with Grandma, we have a conversation that goes something like this, repeated again tonight in a phone call I returned to my mother:

Me: Hello.
Tony's grandma: Hello, there. Tony has had a very good day. He hasn't argued, he's worked hard, and he's tired tonight. Do I have to give him the medication? I really don't think he needs it.
Me: Well, it's medication that takes days for his system to adjust to, you know.
Tony's grandma: I don't think it's good for kids to be doped up like this.
Me: It's not really our choice, mom. His psychiatrist says that he needs the medication.
Tony's grandma: Do I have to give him such a big dose? It's too big. Can I cut it down?
Me: Mom, he weighs 170 pounds. It's the dose he needs. I'm not the doctor.
Tony's grandma: You need to call the psychiatrist then and see if I can cut down the dose.
Me: The psychiatrist is not in at 7:30 PM, Mom.
Tony's grandma: What if I just don't give him that stuff at all?
Me: I guess you don't have to do that, but it will just make it harder for him when he comes home.
Tony's grandma: Why is that?
Me: Because there won't be any medication in his system any longer, and he'll have to adjust all over again.
Tony's grandma: There's no reason any kid should be getting drugged up like that. I guess I should have just doped you up like that when you were a kid, but I didn't. That's all. Goodbye.

And so, with a perfunctory disconnection, I am once again left to feel like my mother's chastised child. Because I was never medicated as a child, I should not medicate my child, even though the psychiatrist feels it is necessary. Because Tony's behavior at grandma's is exceptional, it means that his behavior must be bad at home because he has bad parents. Because I am not the parent I should be, Tony has to take medication. These are not the words used, but as my mother's child I know how to interpret intuitively what her emotions express.

Every time Tony spends time at grandma's I have to wonder if it is worth the emotional duress I have to endure and the reintegration of Tony back into our family's life when he returns. Such transitions are never easy, but always more difficult when my child knows that his father has been defied by his father's mother. For now I am happy that Tony is having a great time with his grandmother, and I wish for him many more nights of tired, happy slumber as he learns the value of physical labor in an environment much more conducive to that than his home.

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