Ask Ann Cannon: How do I explain homelessness to my grandkids?

Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • My grandchildren are getting a bit older now and when they visit, they notice people living outside in the parks and by the library. They also notice people looking for handouts on the street. My grandchildren ask me what’s going on. Why are there no homes for these people? Why does this happen? I have no good answers for them. I also feel conflicted about walking by and ignoring people experiencing homelessness — this seems like a bad example to set for my grandchildren. I do give out small meals, snacks and cold water when I can. Bananas are easy and great. But it is so little and never enough. Do you have any suggestions?

Concerned Nana

Dear Concerned Nana • First, let me say how much I admire your compassionate attitude and your desire to set a good example for your little people. There’s a lot of ugly noise surrounding “the other” right now, so it always renews my faith in humanity when I hear from people like you.

Meanwhile, by handing out snacks and water instead of cash — which is invariably used for drugs or alcohol, according to friends of mine who work with the homeless community — you’re already doing what I would advise you to do. You might also search online for additional volunteer opportunities. Involve your grandchildren, if possible. The Road Home is a good place to start.

So, what can you tell your grandchildren? Probably what you’ve already told them — that the problem is big and unwieldy and that there are no easy answers, that people experience homelessness for all kinds of reasons. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to help.

Which reminds me of the starfish story. You know. The one where a couple walks along the beach and the wife picks up a beached starfish and throws it back into the ocean so it won’t die and the husband says what’s the point, there are so many starfish and you can’t save them all, and the wife says, yeah, but what I just did mattered to the one I threw back.

In the larger scheme of things, small gestures won’t solve the problem. But they can matter. Carry on.

Dear Ann Cannon • I am the proud grandmother of three awesome grandchildren with whom I have regular contact. I enjoy doing things with them and I also enjoy posting pictures of our adventures on Facebook. (BTW, I also like Facebook, unlike some people who think Facebook is the Great Satan.)

Anyway, the mother of these children, my daughter-in-law, recently asked me to stop posting pictures on my account. She said that she and my son have made the decision not to put images of their kids “out there” in cyberspace. They don’t post pictures publicly and want me to stop, too.

Obviously, I’ll respect their decision, although I’m not really sure my son cares one way or the other. I think his wife is driving this. Meanwhile, I find that my feelings are hurt. Don’t my son and daughter-in-law know I would never do anything to harm my beloved grandchildren? My question is this: Should I say something to my daughter-in-law about how I’m feeling? My son? Thanks for your input.

Aggrieved Grandmother

Dear Aggrieved • First thing — AREN’T GRANDCHILDREN THE BEST?! Just so you know, I have made complete strangers standing next to me in the checkout line look at pictures on my phone of my grandchildren. (MORAL OF THIS STORY: Don’t stand next to me in the checkout line.) In other words, I completely understand your desire to share pictures with the world of your grandchildren.

However! You’re right to respect your daughter-in-law’s wishes. You may be the loving grandmother, but she’s the mom. Try not to take her request personally. Obviously, she doesn’t want anyone posting pictures of the kids — not just you.

Should you say something to your son? He could interpret your comments as a request to take sides between you and his wife, which is no bueno, so don’t put him in the middle of that.

Should you say something to your daughter-in-law? I wouldn’t, if it were me. Why give the issue more of a life than it really deserves?

However, if it would give you some clarity, reassure your daughter-in-law you certainly meant no harm by posting photos. Doing so may start a conversation that helps you both understand one another a little better.

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.