This blog post originally was published on Huffington. Although Thanksgiving is behind us, this post can be very helpful for the upcoming holidays.


Lots and lots of people are dreading Thanksgiving this year. 47.9 percent of us voted for Hillary, and 47.1 percent voted for Trump. That means that at our holiday tables we are likely to have some people in mourning and some rejoicing. Our first instinct is to dread meeting these folks or to call them “Crazy, self righteous, intellectual liberals” or “racist, homophobic, anti-semitic neanderthals.” But hold off, there’s an opportunity here, an opportunity to understand and to heal our national rifts. Think of it as our patriotic duty to try. But you ask, how can I possibly have a civil conversation other than by changing the subject with those people?

First, forget the name calling! While we were taught, “sticks and stones will break our bones and names will never hurt us,” name-calling definitely stops conversations. If we learn nothing else from this election, we have learned that labelling and shaming inhibits discussion and prevents both sides from expanding their analysis. Second, we should look at ourselves and ask if we behave like those we demonize.

Talking politics with your extended family members may be as pleasant as reclining on a bed of nails, but in this contentious post election season it is hard to get away from it. I’ll pass over the bland advice of being compassionate and understanding and instead arm you with strategies that might spice up your meal and make it more palatable.

Ok, I know it is not easy, but if we want to prevent civil war both in and out of your four walls, and if you want to ensure Grandma’s corn souffle isn’t poisoned, begin by re-connecting on a very human and family level. “What is new?” “How is work?” “How are the kids?” Small talk is more than trivial. It is a way to share your lives. During this conversation, you might find something you have in common, perhaps the Chicago Cubs victory, perhaps your surprise at the election results, even if you have differing opinions on that result. Humor can be a big help here and will help make sure that the stuffing is the only thing heating up. Only after connecting can you begin to engage your relatives in a productive discussion about why they voted for Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton. You might ask them what they hope Trump might achieve. A good question can take the place of name-calling and mudslinging. Besides if we can’t manage for three hours with people we know, how can we expect the country to survive? Think of this as a practice round.

But you say, “My relatives are just out to bait me — they’re looking for a fight.” Of course, they may be thinking the same about you. They wonder how you could possibly have voted for Hillary or for Trump. Instead of engaging in verbal warfare, divert the conversation. “ We both love our family. We are lucky to live in America where power is transferred, however reluctantly, without war. Aren’t we lucky mom put the mince pie to rest this year. The pumpkin pie is so much better. (But be careful here, because undoubtedly someone in the family likes the mince pies.)” Tone is everything. A smile and a happy voice signals a willingness to engage; a sneer signals disdain.

If you want to expand your understanding and maybe have an interesting conversation, find one issue you are curious about, one where you truly would like to find out how and why someone could possibly think differently from you. Then ask a question with kindness and curiosity. Don’t plan to convert or convince. Remember almost 50 percent of the population considers your vote just as miscast as you consider theirs. Asking questions and finding out how others think is far less boring than just being nice and avoiding any “hot” topics. Being with your extended family might just turn out to be a fascinating experience, a chance to find out how the other half thinks.

If the answers to questions in the political arena were easy and there were no confounding influences we would have solved all human problems. Just as each family member has a right to dislike some things on the table, adults have a right to differ, though not a right to harass or demonize others. Freedom of speech does not extend to libel. If we want to make peace in our families, we have to try — and I mean really try — to see things to understand the other’s thinking. Only then can we differ with respect. If nothing else, the turkey will definitely taste better without the animosity.


Katherine Osnos Sanford

The basic goodness of humanity is at the heart of Buddhism.  The idea that all people are basically good, regardless of their behavior is important to developing compassion.  When people do terrible things they do them out of confusion and ignorance.  Ignorance is not defined as stupidity but as ignoring, or not seeing.  In the week since the election I have thought a lot about basic goodness.  It sounds like a simple concept but when you really start to apply it to people with whom you disagree on what is practically a cellular level it can be challenging.

When I ask myself if I think Donald Trump or Mike Pence is basically good, a riot breaks out in my brain.  I find them and virtually everything on which they built their campaign completely repellant.  It is a scary thing to doubt the basic goodness of your president; it is a…

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family lettersThis is a mock letter which represents the feelings expressed to me by many parents whose adult daughters are unmarried and in their thirties.


Dear Daughter,

It’s not about you, it’s about me! I want to be a grandma. I know there are other ways to do it.

I could ask my neighbor if I could substitute for her parents who live across the country, and I do—but it’s not the same.

I could volunteer to hold sick babies at the hospital, but it’s not the same.

I could become a foster grandparent, but it’s not the same.

If you become a mom you will understand me better and forgive my imperfections, because you too will be an imperfect mom. Maybe you or the baby will need what I have to offer . . . love and support. Now I often feel you reject that in the name of independence.

Yes I would like to see you married. Not just to make a baby. In fact, sometimes in my loneliest hours, I think: “maybe it would be OK if you make a baby with technology.” I not only want a grandchild, but I want you to understand me, and I want to live on.

I am feeling vulnerable as I see my friends get sick I want to know you have someone to care for you. I still feel responsibility for you. I want to share that.

My development is arrested, I can’t move on to the next stage of life—the grandparenting stage—because, as in utero, our lives are still attached.

I love you as only you will only understand when you have a child.

Wanting the Best for You,



While you may think that we need to wait for others to make us grandparents, we can emotionally or legally adopt our own grandchildren. We can use our grandparenting skills by mentoring others, by volunteering, and by fostering. It may not be the same as being a biological grandparent, but it comes with its own deep bonds and joy.  

By Ruth Nemzoff

Author and Speaker: Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children

Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family

Resident Scholar

Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center

Nannies versus Granniesby Ruth Nemzoff via SitterCycle

May 6, 2014—As much as grandparents might hate to admit it, nannies may actually be more crucial to the family’s well-being than they are. Parents cannot get to work, and therefore can’t keep their jobs, without a reliable nanny who keeps their children safe. The nanny is holding up the house of cards for working familes with young children.

In Hong Kong, nannies try to avoid jobs where the grandmother lives with the family: too much conflict, too much overseeing. For American grandparents who fly in or visit their grandchildren sporadically—or even regularly—the relationship with the nanny can also be tricky. Unless the grandparent is the full time caretaker of the children, the parents are dependent on the nanny for the welfare of their family.

Grandparents often find it difficult to admit that they don’t want to be full time caretakers. Many grandparents feel they have done their time and want to enjoy the freedom that they have earned.  Others can’t take on this responsibility because they are also working, or are geographically distant. The may not have anticipated the result that some stranger (non-family member) may take precedence over them in the lives of their grandchildren.  This in turn can cause upset when a child prefers the nanny’s company and comfort over that of the grandparents.

By the same token, when the children run to their grandparents, the nanny may feel a tinge of jealousy, or that they are declaring she is not a loving caregiver.  These antithetical and common emotions complicate the relationship between grannies and nannies. Yet, if managed carefully, the nanny and the grandparents can be valuable resources for each other.

The grandparent is a visitor in his or her child’s home. It might be hard for the grandparent to admit that this is their child’s castle, not their own. The roles are now reversed. The parents and the nanny rule the roost, and the grandparents are an addition.

Here are some tips to creating a good relationship between the nanny and grandparents:

  • When grandparents do enter the scene they should be careful not to disrupt the routine. Ask the nanny how they can be helpful. It is important to build trust with the nanny.  Remember, for the nanny this is her job, her income, she may be supporting her family and therefore it is very threatening to have a third party seeing her every move. To the nanny, the grandparents’ loving presence may feel like a human “Nanny Cam.”
  • If the grandparents want to get along with the parents they must get along with the nanny. Kindness and polite gestures are always a good beginning. Bringing the nanny a small gift, or sending a holiday card or email can help smooth the relationship. The nanny can make the grandmother’s favorite food or ask her to help with an activity she enjoys.
  • The nanny should stay out of family conflicts. She can be a sounding board but should not attempt to intervene or comment. Family relationships are complex and rarely understandable to an outsider.
  • Like any good guest, a grandparent should not criticize the nanny if a disagreement arises with the nanny’s methods. Perhaps she props the baby’s bottle and the grandparent finds this intolerable. Grandparents should discuss these concerns with the parents. The nanny may have good reason for her actions. The child may have reflux, or perhaps she needed to both feed the baby and chase the toddler.  The nanny can be helpful in these circumstances by talking aloud about what she is doing and why.
  • The grandparent can offer assistance and can help if the offer is well received, but is not the master of the house. The nanny should give clear and specific instructions to the grandparents about how they can be helpful, this will lessen tension.
  • Grandparents and the nanny should be open to discussions about changes in parenting trends and the environment.  The more the grandparent understands the parameters of the family environment, the more s/he can be a person the nanny might want to consult. For example, while the grandmother may have limited her children’s’ TV time, the parent and nanny are managing a much more diverse array of screens and their potential dangers. Nannies and grandparents can discuss these issues, but not dispute each other’s opinions.

Adults will differ on what they consider the best way to navigate any child-rearing issue. None of us knows the absolute best way to bring up a child. Everyone makes frequent decisions on the continuum between discipline and mercy, between routine and spontaneity, and between keeping the peace for the moment and teaching a lesson for the future.

Nannies and grandparents must use sensitivity and put themselves in each other’s places. Both are supporting actors and essential to the wellbeing of the children. The grandparents will do well to assure that they are not villains who enter, take center stage, create turmoil and leave. The nanny, like all good actresses, must play her part but leave room on the stage for the grandparents as well.


Religions Of The World SignAccording to a recent study for the Council on Contemporary families by David McClendon of the University of Texas at Austin, “there has been an especially dramatic increase in the proportion of couples where both partners maintain their own separate religious beliefs and practices. The proportion of marriages that remain interfaith has almost doubled, from a little more than 20 percent in the 1960s to around 40 percent by the first decade of this century.”

With the upcoming holidays of Easter for the Christians and Passover for the Jews, many grandchildren will be celebrating both holidays. More interfaith families with separate religions mean that more in-laws will find that their grandchildren are being raised differently from the way they anticipated. Grandparents can hold a grudge against their children for marrying outside of the religion, but that does little to educate their grandchildren about the beauty and worth of their own traditions. While this is painful for parents, if they want their grandchildren to respect their own beliefs, they must show respect for the other religion.

Already, many churches celebrate Passover, because its message of deliverance from slavery is universal. The Black-Jewish seder, the Irish-Jewish seder, are staples of the season. For many Jews and some Christians, however, the theme of literal resurrection is antithetical to their theology. That being said, many Jews are not religious; they identify as cultural Jews. And many Christians celebrate Easter even though they don’t believe in Christian theology.

Grandparents are wise to focus on sharing the joys they find in their own traditions rather than criticizing their children’s choices. Recognizing their children’s efforts to honor both sets of parents and both religions helps facilitate understanding.

All of us are learning to cope with a religious landscape that is changing. Change is hard to accept and to manage. Therefore, we need to be forgiving of each other. When family members appreciate each other’s efforts to please and accommodate, holidays go more smoothly.

Snowplow Parents?Every few years a new label is devised to describe yet more behaviors parents should avoid. This year’s addition is “snowplow parents,” parents who push their emerging adult kids by intervening in their college and work lives. The only purpose these epithets serve is to discredit well-meaning parents and increase their anxiety and self-doubt. In truth, parenting is a job that has no one-size-fits-all right answers, and there is a fine line between guiding and pushing children.

So stop with the name calling . . . helicopter parents, snowplow parents and don’t forget the ethnic slurs, Tiger Mom, Jewish Mom. There is no need to denigrate parental caring. Far more constructive would be to understand why parents are so involved with their emerging adult children.

Parents make enormous sacrifices for the kids in terms of time, money, worry and sleep. It is not only difficult, but perhaps unwise, to disconnect from children as they emerge into adulthood. America and Britain are the only countries which kick their children out of the nest before age 20. Most of the world acquires their post high school experiences while living at home. The American model is not the only blueprint to adulthood. No one knows when childhood ends and adulthood begins and most of us are perplexed about when it is appropriate to intervene and when it is not.

For parents, it’s tough to go from giving their children 100 percent to withdrawing in the space of a summer and a trip to the university. For the kids, it’s hard to see their parents drive away, leaving them to manage alone one of the most difficult transitions of their lives. As they navigate the tricky shoals of the world beyond their family, the greatest gift parents can give their children is attention. However, as I write in my book “Don’t Bite Your Tongue,” finding the “right” combination of nurturing and autonomy for each child and parent is not easy and changes frequently, often in unpredictable ways. Caring for daily needs and assuring safety were the staples of the parental job with dependent children; with independent children, the job changes to one of safety net, a person to brainstorm with and a shoulder to cry on.

The age of independence matters as little as the month in which a child becomes toilet trained. The goal in both cases is to become self-motivated and self-reliant. Different emerging adults, like different toddlers, come to adulthood on their own time schedule.

The goal is foster interdependence by transforming old bonds, not breaking them.

How can parents and emerging adults choreograph the interactive dance of their relationship? Parents can share the fears they faced as they approached adulthood. They can share their own misgivings and ideas, but they can’t write their children’s papers or make their children’s mistakes any more than they could walk for their children. The children too have some responsibility here. As adults, they must consider the feelings of their parents who still are concerned about their safety. If they don’t want their parents to constantly phone them, they should send a text reassuring their parents that they are fine, just as they should, for safety’s sake, alert their roommates when they’re expected home.

The task of parents and children is not to let go, but to figure out how to be available, without being controlling. Together parents and emerging adults need to find a balance between losing touch and smothering each other.

So let’s not demonize parents as they try to find the right degree of separation and connection. Habits take time and practice to change. Just as no one hits home-runs every time at bat, parents won’t succeed every time they talk intergenerationally. We would all do well to be forgiving as parents search for the correct balance between involvement and independence.


This post was previously published on December 20, 2013.

WhoDecides1Parents and grandparents are often confused about their roles. The conventional wisdom for grandparents is “Do not give unsolicited advice. Do not interfere.”

 When grandparents babysit, the parents expect them to follow the parents’ rules. However, as any good boss knows, when delegating a task you get the best results when you also delegate responsibility. Interacting with babies and children does not always follow a script. Events happen; moods change. The variables are not constant. If a babysitter, whether they are a grandparent or a hired person, is to do a good job, they have to have leeway to use their judgment. Too often, parents rage at the grandparents if they do not follow their directions to the letter, when in fact what parents should want is their parents to follow the spirit of their advice. Thus, if a parent says “no TV,” for example, the grandparents should honor that. However, should the grandparent become hurt physically or perhaps if the child is hurt, it might be necessary to assure the child’s safety by allowing some carefully-chosen TV for a short while.

 When I was rearing children, the conventional wisdom was that playpens were bad. However, when one of my toddlers hurt themselves, I would plunk the baby in the playpen to assure his or her safety. Asking grandparents to leave their judgment at the door when they babysit is a waste of resources.

 On the other hand, sometimes studies bring new knowledge that grandparents do need to follow religiously. It is not enough for grandparents to say “In my day . . .” Not everything from their days as parents still applies.

 For example, in the past, parents were told to put babies to sleep on their stomachs. Studies seem to show now that putting babies to bed on their backs reduces the incidents of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Clearly, anything anyone can do to reduce the incidents of SIDS should be done, whether by grandparents or parents.

 Often, however, the studies about childrearing enter the public arena in a very condensed form. For example, we hear that screen time is terrible for children and will fry their brains. But when you read the studies, they are actually more nuanced. Long stretches of screen time may result in problems, but a minute here or there to calm a child has not been proven to be damaging. Also, television as an interactive activity that leads to learning and discussion can actually be beneficial to small children.

 While parents need to respect grandparents’ judgment, grandparents must also recognize that their children have 24/7 responsibility for the grandchildren. Therefore, the parents are the “deciders.” It seems simple, but all human relationships are complex. They need understanding, discussion and guidelines, not rigid rules. Besides, parents and grandparents model good communication skills for the grandchildren when they respect each other enough to try to understand each other’s behaviors.

Oh sure, there are the obvious reasons to look forward to March. That’s when most of us start having thoughts of spring (here in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and if we live in frozen climates we may begin to cherish hopes of an imminent thaw. But there are five new reasons to look forward to March here on Mom Psych and it all begins with the fact that Dr. Ruth Nemzoff will be hosting our new blog, Grandma Psych. Why are we so excited about welcoming her to the Mom Psych family?

1.  Her research focus: A resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis and former adjunct assistant professor at Bentley College, Dr. Nemzoff is the author of two books focusing on communication and family dynamics.

2. Her education focus: After earning a degree in American studies from Barnard College, Dr. Nemzoff went on to pursue a masters degree in counseling from Columbia University and another in Social Policy from Harvard University, where she also earned her Ed.D.

3. Her public, professional, and service experience: Dr. Nemzoff has served as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a grass roots organizer, a counselor, and as a professor. She has served on multiple boards, including that of NH United Way, NH Business Development Corporation, Boston’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services and of Newbury College. She worked with the NH Governor’s Commission on the status of Women, and Commission for the Handicapped. She founded a nursery school, a counseling service, and the National Women’s Legislative Lobby.

4. Her communication experience: A seasoned writer and public speaker, Dr. Nemzoff’s latest lecture circuit takes her to Asia. In addition to her two books, (Don’t Bite Your Tongue and Don’t Roll Your Eyes) she has published multiple journal articles about environmental advertising and women in business and politics. Her papers are archived at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University. She is also a seasoned blogger.

5. Her personal experience: Dr. Nemzoff is rich in intergenerational relationships, with many in-laws thrown in for good measure.  Her life experience and natural personal warmth combine with an innate ability to translate the academic to the practical in an easygoing style. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for that: you can see for yourself as you enjoy the following interview with Dr. Nemzoff on Mom Psych’s Red Couch Sessions: