QUESTION: We have an elderly neighbor who likes to meddle and seems to want to know every last detail of our family’s affairs. If we buy a new car, she wants to know what we paid for it. We hired new gardeners, and she asked what we pay them. My husband and I are pretty good at not giving her direct answers, however, she even literally interrogates our 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. When this first began about three years ago, the children attempted to answer her with very personal information until we instructed them to just tell her, “We don’t know.” That didn’t stop her from asking the children questions.
We don’t dislike our neighbor and, in fact, have driven her to doctor’s appointments and did her grocery shopping when she was not well. In essence, we look out for her, but do not go overboard.
We’re Christians and want to behave as Christians. What would be the proper thing to say that could short-circuit this woman’s snooping?
~ Irritated Neighbor
Dear Irritated Neighbor,
Most Christians I know really don’t like conflict and I would be less than honest if I said I was good at handling conflict. But what I would try is the direct approach: Tell her that you like her, that you’re glad she’s your neighbor, and you’re happy to take her to doctors’ appointments, etc., etc. But also say that you and your husband are private people and such questions about how much things cost tend to embarrass you, and you really aren’t comfortable with answering those questions. And you might turn the question back on her: Were you ever married? What did your husband do and how much did he make? How much did your house cost? Did you and your husband have a car? What kind was it and how much did it cost? Of course, if she answers you then you’re kind of stuck because if she divulges personal financial information then she might expect you to do likewise!
But in all seriousness, tell her that you’re not comfortable talking about money. Tell her that you and your husband feel very blessed to be in the situation you’re in, but you also regard your situation as private, something between you and God.
Good luck with this woman. Somewhere along the way she was never spoken to about boundaries, and so I am sure there is nothing malicious about her questions. But I believe that you need to speak the truth in a loving manner and try not to hurt her feelings. But you and your husband’s finances, just like your lovemaking, are nobody else’s business.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Irritated Neighbor,
Your curious neighbor is fortunate to have kind and caring neighbors such as you and your husband. Perhaps she feels that as your relationship develops it entitles her to ask personal questions, particularly about finances. There is a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that loosely translated says: “What you are speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.” When your neighbor inquires about the cost of things, her prying behavior really speaks volumes about her. Our charge is to not allow other people’s issues become ours. The solution is the key to any good relationship and that is to set boundaries. We teach others how to treat us with every interaction. Some people do not have any issue with letting others know what they paid for something, while others don’t like to discuss personal information, particularly when it comes to finances. While you might have tried to be polite by avoiding answering the questions altogether, you have not addressed your real feelings. It’s almost as if the dodging of her questions has merely piqued her curiosity more. The best and most loving approach is to be direct – tell her you don’t like sharing your personal finance information with her – simple and upfront. If you can handle her queries as though they are harmless and speak directly, the inquiries will stop. She is probably unaware that her prying bothers you or maybe is unaware that you consider it prying at all!
Once you are clear with her about your limits, she will know where you are coming from and will make the right decisions to honor your friendship and your honesty. The truth is always best!
Rev. Mary Morgan
QUESTION: Even though my grandson has been afraid of loud sounds since he was born, my daughter and her husband still insist on taking him to local fireworks events. I’ve been with them at every event, and watched my grandson shake and shiver with fear and now he is 6 years old.
I dread going with them to see the fireworks. I’ve even thought of taking my grandson on a vacation as a diversion, but I know that next year there will be the same situation because his parents believe he will “eventually grow out of it.” I’m worried about the long-term psychological damage this child might have.
Is there anything I can do that will be helpful for this otherwise normal, happy little boy?
~ Worried Grandmother
Dear Worried Grandmother,
Has some sort of medical professional been consulted on this matter to find out the cause of your grandson’s sensitivity? This is essential in knowing what avenue of remedy to pursue.
Do his parents work with him on a regular basis, trying to help him to desensitize to loud noises or do they only take him to fireworks? Do they give him an option of wearing some sort of muffling device in his ears to mitigate some of the noise?
He is 6 now. Taking him on a vacation is a good idea as he will definitely get more desensitized as he ages unless the source of his trouble is genetic and there is no getting better at all. If that is the case, he must be protected from loud noises as much as possible.
The problem seems to be reluctance on the part of the parents to face the problem and work with the child on solutions if all they are doing is submitting him to the noise and hoping he will get over it. He could indeed be receiving some trauma that he will have to overcome later in life.
If you can take him on that vacation, then do. In any case he will be stronger in many ways by next year and better able to cope with his situation.
Dear Worried Grandmother,
Learning how to give advice to our grown children is one of the challenges we as grandparents face. The situation that you describe seems to me to be one of those where you want to be helpful, but need to respect boundaries. Obviously I am very limited in my knowledge of your situation, but let me make a few observations:
1. It sounds like you have already expressed your concerns to your grandson’s parents. Having done that, anything more may be perceived as intrusive.
2. Once we have shared our concerns, the best course of action is to pray for wisdom for our children.
3. You state that your grandson is “otherwise [a] normal, happy little boy.” If this is the case, then the fireworks do not seem to be having a significant impact upon him.
4. Your fears and worries may be reinforcing his reaction, or continued reaction. A child will observe those who are significant to him to determine if a situation is safe or not. He may be internalizing your fears.
5. It would not hurt to have a couple of pairs of earplugs in your purse to use during the fireworks show, just be sure to check with his parents first.
If you continue to be concerned and your daughter is open to it, it might be a good idea to take him on a vacation next year. That will allow your grandson to be two years older and by 8, he should be old enough to enjoy fireworks.