Parenting Approaches May Differ
Research confirms that children benefit when both parents and grandparents actively participate in their lives. However, in the real world, not everyone agrees with their parents on child-rearing approaches, especially bedtimes, food choices, screen time, and limits on behavior. If your adult children don’t agree with you, don’t take it personally, and try not to let it become an issue.
Friction between a strict parent and a lenient grandparent can lead to children asking Pops and Nana for later bedtimes, forbidden food, one more movie or video game. You can’t win by giving in; if your grandchild is over four you’ll probably be reported (gleefully, by the child) and then you may lose the trust of the parents. We know that overly punitive parenting is damaging to children, but grandparents may not be able to convince parents to change their approach.
Grandparents who think their children are too lenient, on the other hand, and who criticize, leave persuasive articles on the coffee table, or enforce stricter rules in their own home, may alienate both parents and grandchildren. (This can start as soon as infancy if parents practice Attachment Parenting and grandparents unfamiliar with the concept envision their grandchildren sleeping in the family bed and being carried kangaroo fashion until Kindergarten.)
Neither scenario is helpful.
Agree to Disagree
I am very lucky. Whenever my daughter suspects we might not agree on something, or when Bean enters a new stage of development, my daughter explains her perspective and requests that I follow the guidelines she has developed. It’s been fairly easy so far, because most of the time I agree with her. What happens when I don’t? Usually I don’t say anything, and see how her plan works out. Sometimes it works out fine; other times she will adjust it herself, and sometimes I’ll suggest an alternate approach. If there is any room for compromise, we’re pretty good at finding it. If there isn’t, I do as I’m asked. Because, bottom line, the final responsibility for parenting is hers and her partner’s. I respect their right to make the parenting decisions. I’m just the Grandma. I see my role as making her life easier, and spending as much time as possible enjoying time with my granddaughter.
Don’t Criticize; Stay Positive
I remember from my own early parenting experiences what it feels like to be criticized. For a while we lived in my husband’s family home, and feeding our eight month old in her grandmother’s kitchen became a daily ordeal. My food choices were wrong; I should have been feeding her with a spoon instead of allowing her to eat with her fingers; and I should take the food away as soon she began to drop her utensils (her favorite game) or draw with the mashed squash. My own mother had hot buttons too: I dressed my little girl in overalls; didn’t put her to bed at a regular hour; I nursed her too often and for too long.
Sheesh! First-time parents are already terrified that they’ll do something wrong. What possible value is there in making them feel worse? Even if you’re right, the natural response to criticism is to become defensive and angry, not a good state of mind for a new parent, and not a good way to foster communication.
Remembering my own experiences, I learned to bite my tongue when I saw my daughter do something I would have done differently. This was her child, I reminded myself, and she gets to make the decisions. It didn’t take long for me to develop the habit of making positive comments, especially when I observed that my daughter was rapidly growing into a glowing and confident mother, and my granddaughter was thriving in the environment her parents had created.
Speak Up If You See Danger
But what happens if you are actually concerned for the health and welfare of your grandchildren? You don’t feel your son or daughter, or daughter-in-law, are holding them enough, feeding them the right food, protecting them from harmful influences such as second-hand smoke, loud music, nonstop television?
I would be remiss as an early childhood professional if I didn’t agree that you should speak up. But in practical terms, it’s only going to work if you’re on good terms with your own child. Stay positive, provide evidence for your point of view, be persuasive and helpful, not critical or negative, and offer possible solutions.
And then back off, unless you think it’s a situation that needs intervention by social services. For, although I certainly hope it never comes to that, your children and mine could cut off our access to our grandchildren if they decide to. Legally, grandparent rights are tied very closely with parent rights, and the best way to keep them is to get along well with the parents. More about that in a future post.
Look to the Future
My daughter and I have only been on this journey for four years, and we still have plenty of opportunities for disagreement ahead of us. Hopefully, we’ve set a good course, and will negotiate the bumps in the road as we come to them. It’s naive to think you and your children won’t disagree in the future either, but it’s important to keep your eye on the prize; you are part of your grandchildren’s lives, and that matters a great deal. For all our disagreements, my parents and I managed to find solutions, or learned to keep quiet. My four children knew they were loved by their grandparents and learned many things from them. They also taught the older generation a few things on the way, about technology, the global economy, and the cost of living. That is the reward: we get to teach our grandchildren about the past, and they in turn help us to glimpse the future.
I’m very interested in how your family handles disagreements between the generations. If you are a parent of a child rather than a grandparent, how do you handle these situations? I hope you’ll use the comment section below to start a conversation. If you want to read future posts on this subject, please use the box at the top of the page to subscribe to my weekly blog.