We often hear about grandparents who spoil their grandchildren and don’t follow the parents’ rules. My grandma friend has the opposite problem. Her granddaughter and grandson are so out of control she’s ready to call it quits!
“It’s exhausting to take care of them,” she complained, “because they don’t get along and the parents don’t want to listen to any advice. I’m tired of trying to help the parents control the kids.”
Of course, I’m only hearing one side of the story, but I’m sad that she’s ready to throw in the towel on getting together with her grandchildren. They may need their grandparents now more than ever before. By setting some boundaries in their own home, the grandparents can show their grandchildren that there are consequences for being “out of control.”
The grandparents can sit down and talk to their grandchildren and explain why their behavior is not allowed in their house. If the disruptive behavior continues, they will get a time out or loss of privileges. Children do better when there are rules to follow and her grandchildren may find some comfort in knowing someone else is in control when they’re not. Children need consistency in expectations and consequences.
But the bigger issue is how to have a conversation with their adult children about discipline. It’s possible that what grandma considers “out of control” may seem like “spontaneous play” to the parents and that difference in perception can be a source of major conflict between grandparents and their adult children.
Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with your Adult Children says there is “a continuum of valid parenting styles from authoritarian to laissez-faire.” She suggests grandparents read up on current parenting styles to make sure their expectations for their grandchildren’s behavior are age-appropriate.
Then the grandparents should have a conversation with their grandchildren’s parents to discuss how to make the visits less stressful. They could start by saying they’d like to have a better understanding of their parenting styles and what books or videos have influenced them. If the parents don’t have any resources, the grandparents could say: “Would it be helpful if we gave you our opinion?” Then they could explain that “when the children are at our house, they don’t get along with each other and we have some suggestions on how to help them.”
Starting a conversation that allows both sides to give input will ultimately benefit all the generations. In my friend’s situation, instead of trying to teach the parents how to discipline, it’s more important to get the parents to agree that when the children are in the grandparents’ home, the grandparents make the rules.
The hierarchy of authority is influenced by location. When grandchildren are in their own home, the parents’ rules should prevail. When the grandchildren are visiting in the grandparents’ home, their rules take precedence. The grandparents should also realize that if house rules are too rigid, there is a risk that grandchildren and parents may not want to visit.
The basic question is, “Who’s in charge?” The experts say that it’s the parent’s job to parent, unless a grandparent is invited to do so. The role of the grandparent is to fit in rather than change the family culture.