Time with grandparents can be stressful — spoiling the kids, critiquing your parenting skills, and ignoring your rules. Should you confront grandparents, or just deal?
While it’s important to allow grandparents to develop meaningful relationships with their grandchildren, it’s also important that it is not done at your expense.
As with all family relationships, finding the right balance takes work….and patience. Here’s some survival tips for navigating the grandparent relationship.
How to Deal with Grandparents Spoiling and Rule Breaking
1. Ignore them…..politely
Allow grandparents to be themselves, and turn the other cheek. Pretend you didn’t see that extra cookie. Ignore your child’s delight that Grandpa secretly let him stay up past bedtime. Avoid the controversy when you can and keep the focus on nurturing the grandchild-grandparent bond.
2. Fight them….respectfully
Intervene only when you feel there are safety issues, either emotional or physical. Absolutely insist on that car seat. No, they can’t watch Breaking Bad and get nightmares. Choose your battles wisely.
More gifts from Grandma? Absolutely, do not complain! Not only do you look ungrateful, but telling grandparents what to give is the kiss of future controversy.
Overbuying expensive toys is way grandparents indulge their need to give.
Instead, try to causally encourage them to send your child inexpensive mail, pictures, or videos. Let them see how important those small things are to you and your child. Grandparents can tell stories, read children’s books, or teach favorite stories or songs.
Help grandparents understand that the monetary gifts will come and go, but these meaningful family gifts last a lifetime.
4. Reach out to them…proactively
Don’t wait until you need to send a thank you or grandparent’s day card……take the first step, and reach out first! Have your child contact grandparents frequently.
Pick-out simple notes, artwork, and photos to send. Call, visit, and let them know you and your child are thinking about them.
Reaching out helps grandparents feel more secure with their role in your child’s life, and less likely to intervene or gain attention with extravagant gifts.
How to Deal with Criticism from Grandparents
5. Thank them….sincerely
Grandparent’s criticism typically comes from concern for the well-being of their grandchildren. Before you respond to any hurtful part of their comments, thank them for their caring: “I appreciate that you are concerned about the kids.”
6. Listen to them…earnestly
Sometimes grandparents are forceful in expressing their opinions because they don’t think they will be heard. If a grandmother criticizes the way you are introducing baby foods try saying, “Sounds like you are concerned about the baby’s nutrition.”
7. Partner with them…strategically
Often differing ideas of how to do things are aimed at accomplishing the same outcome. Recognize common goals and then you can explain your idea of how to achieve it: “I’m also very concerned about good nutrition and I’ve done a lot of thinking about it. I’ve come up with a plan that I can tell you about, if you would like.” .
6. Ask them…openly
Don’t wait for unsolicited advice from grandparents…..ask for it! Let grandparents have a chance to talk about their experiences as parents. Often, they just need to be heard.
Remember they made their choices in a very different societal culture and time in history. You can learn about their struggles as parents by encouraging them to talk: “Tell me how you did it.” “Did your friends do it the same way?” “How did you figure things out?”
Once grandparents feel like their story is heard and appreciated, they may be more open to accepting your different choices as a parent.
7. Stop them…tactfully
No one should be allowed to attack you as a parent.Try saying, “This is a conversation we need to have another time,” or “If you have something to say to me about my parenting, you need to tell me in a respectful way.”
8. Love them…unconditionally
Anyone who loves your child also deserves your love and respect. Trust that the grandparents also have the best-interests of your child at heart. Children benefit from different points of view and parenting styles….especially those of grandparents who love them.
The Grandparent Dilemma and Parent Vulnerabilities
Parents and grandparents are often at the crossroads of misunderstanding.
Grandparents are in a perplexing position.
They are full of love for their grandchildren, but without much decision-making power or control. Often they are far away, and may pack their limited time together with “goodies” or advice, so they won’t be forgotten when they depart. Grandparents may also feel threatened when they see you making different parenting decisions than they chose as parents – they may feel inadvertently criticized by your style of parenting.
Parents are in a vulnerable spot.
Whenever we may feel insecure about our parenting decisions, even a “look” can make us feel criticized. Unknowingly, we may also resent the fact that grandparents get to do all the fun stuff with our children, while we are stuck with the daily drudgery. Some of us also have unresolved issues with our parents which re-emerge when we become parents ourselves. Those parent-grandparent insecurities can cause friction that impact your child.
Keep your child’s best interests at heart. Family is a precious gift, so focus on the positive…..and try not to let the little things get to you!