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What Was Grandma Thinking?

I read advice columnist Amy Dickinson’s “Ask Amy” every day. Some of the scenarios are so outrageous it’s hard to believe people can behave so badly. The grandma in this letter is an example — she is completely insensitive to her granddaughter to the point of being thoughtless and hurtful. Amy offers some excellent advice to the daughter-in-law and granddaughter for handling this “loose cannon.”


Note: Amy added a followup to this letter a few days later saying she received many responses from readers approving of this grandma’s tactics. Yes, grandmas can give advice to their grandchildren but they should offer it with kindness, love and empathy. See her response at the end of this post.


Dear Amy: My daughter and her friend, both freshmen in college, visited her grandparents in Florida over spring break. While my daughter was there, she was sharing vulnerably with her grandmother about how the birth control she was on was messing up her menstrual cycle and not helping her skin as intended. She told her grandmother she was going to stop taking it.

In response to this, my mother-in-law grabbed my daughter’s wrist and held onto it tightly, so she could not move away from the admonishment she had in store. My MIL leaned in and said strongly, “Be careful not to get raped and pregnant.” Then she laughed.

My daughter didn’t know what to do with that, other than justify herself and her choices: where she went to school, who she hangs around with, what she does and why. All of which are so mild. She spent the remaining two days dodging her grandmother.

I haven’t addressed these issues with my MIL. I’ve been very angry. My daughter wants space and is so hurt. She can’t believe that someone would do these things to their granddaughter. I’m leaving a response up to my husband.

We’ve had these sorts of issues before where my MIL says hurtful things. When we tell her, she goes into full-on victim mode. She blames others and barely takes responsibility.

Thoughts on how to tackle this?



Dear Disgusted: Your daughter made a rookie mistake in talking to her thoughtless and hurtful grandmother about something as personal as her birth control method.

I’m not saying these topics should be out of bounds between all grandchildren and their grandparents, but this particular grandmother sounds like a loose cannon. Lesson learned. (And if someone, even a relative, grabbed me like that, it would be the last time I came within an arm’s length of them.)

I’m going to assume that your daughter might be too intimidated to advocate for herself. So yes, I suggest a conversation with your mother-in-law, starting with “What on earth were you thinking?” Tell her that your daughter found her remark bewildering, inappropriate and hurtful, and that you agree with your daughter’s response.

And then let it lie. Don’t insist on any further action (apologies, etc.). Let her stew in her juice. If she tries to fix this, she’ll probably make things worse, but that’s on her.

You might encourage your daughter to see her gram as the equivalent of a blowhard frat bro. Standing up for herself when the older woman offends her might be good training for dealing with others who might want to rudely invade her space.

Additionally, you should work with your daughter to find a form of birth control that helps to control her symptoms, in addition to preventing pregnancy.



Dear Amy: “Disgusted” was complaining about a grandma telling her college-age granddaughter not to get raped or pregnant. This sounds like obvious and great advice, to me. Hopefully the girl will remember her gram’s advice and take heed!

— Dennis


Dear Dennis: I am publishing this response as an example of many similar responses I’ve received, all of which convey the attitude that “telling a girl not to get raped” is an acceptable way to convey concern.


We have a lot of work to do.

3 thoughts on “What Was Grandma Thinking?”

  1. Every family, and it’s culture are different. I leave this KIND OF ADVICE TO MY DAUGHTERS WITH THEIR CHILDREN.


    My family has been learning about healthy boundaries and we have all read Dr Henry McClouds book on boundaries …which is a measuring stick for us.

    We are all grounded in child development in our clan which usually means we are all on the same page. I trust my instincts, watch the child’s face and body language for clues and cues.

    AND! I always report back to the parents to some degree, depending on what the child says and asks for—and how old they are.

    Sorry my caps were on part of the time.

    It is always a good idea to have the adults sit down together and develop ‘house rules’.Communication early on is an imperative of course if you can think of it.

  2. I could see my own mother saying this if my daughter were silly enough to talk to her about birth control. My mother has always, ever since I’ve been alive, said outrageous and hurtful things and then wondered why anybody could possibly be offended by her words. She’s just like that. There’s no amount of arguing or explanation that would ever change her. She would just go into a weepy funk and accuse people of being oversensitive. Those are always her words. There are some people you just can’t fix. As you said, lesson learned, just don’t tell anything personal to this woman.

  3. I’m stunned, first of all, that the grandmother would say something so callous and off the wall to her granddaughter. It was inappropriate, uncalled for and, frankly, stupid. Secondly, that anyone else – I won’t mention names but Dennis – would agree with her remark and behavior is equally as stunning. How do you “get raped?” Where were you raised that you would think something like this is acceptable? And, for the DIL, I wonder if your mother-in-law may be in the beginning stages of dementia if this type of behavior is relatively recent. Hopefully, she hasn’t been this hurtful her entire life. But, seriously, my father, at the beginning of his dementia, said inappropriate out of character comments. Just a thought.

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