BY REBECCA COOPER
The role of a grandparent is very special in a child’s life. Some would say that role is to spoil the grandchild, taking them for ice cream for no reason, letting them stay up past their bedtime or buying things that mom and dad said ‘no’ to. In a perfect world, grandparents make life easier for parents and both are appreciated for the roles they have in a child’s life. But often the old school way of parenting practiced by the grandparents clashes with the ‘new and improved’ style used by the parents, and this can lead to some heated discussions and hurt feelings. So how do parents and grandparents work together to raise a child in a nurturing and loving environment with respect? I’m so glad you asked!
Problems usually arise when the parents feel that the grandparents have interfered, intruded or undercut what the parents have said or done, or when the grandparents feel that the parents have forgotten to take the feelings of the grandparents into consideration. Here are some tips to help keep either from happening.
Assume the Best of YOUR Parents
If you feel like your parents are stepping on your toes, start by assuming that they have good intentions in their actions. They may just be unaware of the boundaries they are crossing. Maybe they are unsure of their role or what you need from them in that role. Help them feel included, important and needed in the family.
Don’t Criticize or Judge
The number one rule of thumb for grandparents is, above all else, don’t criticize. As a grandparent, try and think back when you were raising your child. Did you like to hear from your parents, ‘You know honey, back in my day, we didn’t….’? No one likes to feel judged on their parenting choices and it can make for a tense relationship. Imagine feeling like every time you are with your child and grandchild that you are watching them like a hawk for something to go wrong. That’s not good. That takes the fun out of enjoying family time.
Let Them Know When a Boundary Has Been Crossed
There’s nothing wrong with letting grandparents know when they have overstepped a boundary. If they give unsolicited parenting advice, you can say, ‘I appreciate your concern and expertise. I will definitely ask you if I need help.’ Or ‘I know you may see this situation differently, but I’d appreciate you following the way I do it on this one.’ Set boundaries early so they understand that they have a role and a way to contribute, but just not in EVERY situation.
Unsolicited Advice is Rarely Appreciated
When a grandparent gives unsolicited advice or opinions, it is rarely seen as productive; it is often heard as criticism. If you have a big concern and you feel that you must voice your opinion, then it is best, as the grandparent, to ask permission, using tact and timing in expressing your concerns.
The Worst Place to Be is Stuck in the Middle
Don’t let the grandkids put you on one side and the grandparents on the other. Kids love to pit parents against grandparents. Kids may paint a picture that is pretty bleak when they can’t get that new video game, but remember that the parents have the say so in what is allowed or not allowed in their home. As a grandparent, you can have empathy, but stay neutral.
Honest Communication is Key
Be clear, honest and thoughtful about what the role of the parents is, as well as the role of the grandparents. Some grandparents are of the mindset that they have done their job of raising kids and they are good with babysitting once in a while. Then some may want to attend every recital or soccer game on the schedule, then share where the kids could improve in their abilities. With upfront and honest communication on roles and expectations, things will go much better for all.
Trust is a Must!
If you are a grandparent and you don’t agree with what the parents are doing, as long as there are no health or safety concerns, trust them. Getting in the middle of how your child and his or her mate are raising their kids will only cause problems. The world has changed since you raised your children and your ways may not work well today.
In the end, whether you are the parent or grandparent, work to make the dynamic of the two roles work for the best interest of all involved, especially the grandchildren. If you live down the street or hours away, make sure you find ways to make everyone a part of each other’s lives and recognize boundaries before you cross them.