Grandparents are important in children’s lives, but the relationship between grandparents and the parents can sometimes be difficult. The best grandchild/grandparent relationships are those that are encouraged by the parent, who then steps back and lets them unfold. Of course, this is not always easy, especially if you don’t always agree with the things YOUR parents (the grandparents) are doing.
New parents may forget that their parents did do a good job of raising them, and thus, often have their own ideas and special knowledge that they bring to the table. If you can start to communicate about everyone’s roles prior to the baby being born, you are able to set the tone for positive interactions.
Grandparents are integral for many reasons, including: offering a safe place for grandchildren to be, especially when mom and dad are tired and need a respite; providing a sense of identity and family history; stability; helping with child care; and giving support and knowledge.
Despite their importance, though, it appears that conflicts arise around several key areas:
1) Expectations: Grandparents and parents all have their own expectations, and they may not be the same. New moms may expect grandma to come over every Thursday, when, in fact, that doesn’t really work. It’s important to discuss expectations and needs openly and honestly, so no conflict arises.
2) Communication breakdowns: Everyone comes to parenting with different ideas and needs. It’s very important to provide clear information with explanations (even with reading materials/websites) to grandparents so they can understand why you are making your parenting decisions.
3) Spoiling: In some ways, it is a grandparent’s prerogative (and job) to spoil your children. It is okay to put some limits on it, though, and ask for it in moderation. This may be a challenging talk to have, especially as a grandparent believes he/she is doing the “right” thing by over-indulging, however, it isn’t always great for the children. Be sure to speak your mind respectfully and ask to be the “gatekeeper” of the gifts. This is especially important if you feel that the grandparents are giving gifts that are not in line with you and your partner’s beliefs.
4) Differences of opinion: These differences may occur over a wide variety of topics, and can lead to increased conflict and feelings of being judged. Be sure to slow down and hear one another out, and then make decisions.
The conflicts are destined to happen, and everyone may feel as though they are not getting what they want. So what can parents do to bridge the generation gap and decrease some of these conflicts?
1) Pick your battles: The old saying: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is especially important here. Decide what really matters and what things you feel you need to put your foot down on and what things are irrelevant and you can let slide. If you can do this, everyone wins.
2) Provide information: Some of the basic fundamentals of parenting are the same, and there have been many changes. Calmly and politely explain and discuss why you may be doing things as they are. Information can promote respect. Give information as you can that support your stance, as well.
3) Meet halfway: Take note of where you are willing to compromise. Again, if you can do this more often, everyone feels like they are being heard and getting what they want.
4) Hear them out: You don’t have to agree with everything your parents, the grandparents, say. You DO have to listen to what they are saying and decide what you want to do with the information. If you reject it outright, you may miss something important.
5) Stand your ground: If the grandparents are being unreasonable, in your opinion, point out (respectfully) that you child is doing well with the choices you are making thus far. This may not be taken well, but, at the end of the day, the limits and rules are yours to enforce and follow. Once everyone is calmer, sit down and discuss the situation and why things are as they are.
When all is said and done, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is incredibly special and wonderful. It’s important to foster it in the best way you can, while still feeling that you are respected and your rules are enforced. If some rules are not, let it go. It can be a special situation that ONLY happens with grandma and grandpa, and that can be really wonderful.