Ask Ann Cannon: My DIL encourages her daughter, but stifles her son

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • Our son and his wife have two beautiful children — a girl who’s 9 and a boy who’s 6. My DIL is very good about providing a wide range of opportunities for the girl. She encourages her to speak up and dream big, which I think is great. But the boy, not so much. In fact, what she mostly expresses where he’s concerned is annoyance and even dislike, especially when he’s acting like a little boy. The message she seems to convey is that she’ll approve of him if and when he acts more like his sister.

I know my DIL had/has a complicated relationship with her own father who is very authoritarian, etc. Still. I worry at times about the long-term effects of her treatment of our grandson. Should I say something to her? Or to my son?

Concerned Nana

Dear Nana • Wow. There’s just so much to unpack here. But first, let me cut to the chase.

Should you say something to your DIL? No. Not unless she asks for your advice on the matter, which I doubt she will. I’d also resist the temptation to say much to your son unless he brings up the subject with you first. And even then I’d proceed with caution, taking care not to badmouth his wife to him.

Meanwhile, do everything YOU can do to be a good grandmother to both children. Let them know you’re interested in their lives and that you love them because of who they are, not because of who you’d like them to be.

And now as the mother of five sons, I’d like to indulge in a few personal observations if I may.

This is both a wonderful and challenging time to raise boys. I love seeing how hands-on so many young fathers are with their children these days. Clearly the memo has been getting out to guys over the past few decades that men, as well as women, can and should “nurture” and that tenderness should never be confused with weakness. I’m glad to see more men modeling this traditionally “female” behavior for their children.

Furthermore, as a woman who came of age before Title IX, I’m thrilled to see expanding opportunities for girls. While my own dad never considered my gender a barrier — his message to me was always YOU CAN DO IT AND YOU SHOULD — I resented the fact that the boys I knew (and liked!) had more opportunities for a broader range of experiences than I did.

Thankfully that has changed and continues to change. Bookshelves today, for example, are lined with awesome titles for young girls: “Rad American Women A-Z,” “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls,” “Girl Code,” “She Persisted,” “Strong Is the New Pretty.” I would have loved books like these as a young girl, dreaming.

At the same time, in our efforts to compensate for past sins of omission, I hope we as women don’t communicate to our little boys that being male is somehow inherently bad. Some of the current conversations surrounding gender, frankly, seem to imply this — or at least that’s how I hear them.

OK. This is more than you asked for. I do hope things go well for you and your loved ones.

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.

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