Every generation of new parents believes they can do a better job of parenting than their parents did … or if not better, at least different. The result of these differences of opinion can lead to conflict between the generations and needs to be addressed with sensitivity and diplomacy.
Parent and marriage coach, Debbie Pincus, MS says that unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, and if it’s coming from one’s own parents or in-laws, it will most likely be heard as criticism. She offers some tips for both parents and grandparents that can help clear up roles and responsibilities and help keep your family functioning well for the present and future.
Advice for Parents
Assume the best. If you’re a parent who’s feeling like the grandparents have been stepping on your toes, start by trying to assume that they have the best intentions. Like all of us, they might make mistakes or be unaware of boundaries they’re crossing. Perhaps they feel unsure of what you want or don’t want from them. Let them know how they can be helpful to you. Help them feel included, important and needed.
Clarify your boundaries. Let grandparents know when they’ve stepped over a line that you’re not comfortable with, such as giving you unsolicited parenting advice. You can say, “I appreciate your expertise. I will definitely ask you if I need help.” Or “I know you may see it differently, but I’d appreciate you following the way I do it on this one.” When you feel like the grandparents are undermining your rules, say “I appreciate your concern. I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing it.”
Support your mate. Clear up your issues together so that you’re not working things out in front of the grandparents or making them uncomfortable. Then communicate what your need or expect.
Resolve old issues. If the role you’ve played all your life in your family is no longer working, change it. Don’t spill your unresolved issues onto the next generation; work out the differences that are still affecting you. Recognize that it might be your own insecurity as a parent causing you to hear helpful advice or suggestions from the grandparents as criticism. If necessary, guide them to find better ways of making suggestions that won’t leave you feeling undermined or criticized.
Advice for Grandparents
Don’t criticize. The number one rule of thumb for grandparents is: don’t criticize. No one likes to feel judged or blamed, most of us become defensive and angry when criticized, and then we shut down. Think of it this way—who wants to be near someone who is always judging them? Instead of criticism, ask how you can be helpful. Focusing on the positive will do wonders for your relationship.
Respect the parents’ rules. Never say to your grandkids, “Your parents don’t know what they’re doing” or “I would never do it this way.” This shows a lack of respect for the parents’ rules and ideas. If you respect that boundary, you’ll probably be asked for your opinion, where you’ll be free to express your advice and wisdom—you will then have more of a chance to have some influence.
Don’t take sides. Never side with one parent or the other. Stay neutral and be careful not to talk badly about the other parent through gossip, commiserating or complaining about one to the other, no matter how tempting.
Don’t get stuck in the middle. Don’t let your grandkids put you in the middle when they complain to you about their parents. Just respond with empathy but don’t take sides or bad mouth the parents. This will only lead to trouble.
Define yourself and your role. Be clear, honest and thoughtful about what you will and won’t do as a grandparent. Know what you’re willing to do and not do and make this very clear. Communicating honestly will prevent difficult feelings down the road.
Stay in your own box. Make sure that by being helpful you aren’t being intrusive. Your goal is to be loving and supportive, not critical or overly judgmental. This will be best for you and your children. Not only that, but you’ll be the joyful presence they will want to have around.
Build a fulfilling life. Fill your life with many interests and goals beyond just being a grandparent. When you do this, you are taking responsibility for making your life full and complete so your kids or grandkids won’t feel they must do that for you.
Look for the positive. Try and let go of expectations of how you want things to go or how you think things should go. Don’t let expectations get in the way of enjoying and appreciating what is. Always keep the communication open in order to work out differences.
Trust your kids to parent their kids. Even if you don’t agree with what the parents are doing, trust them (as long as there are no health or safety concerns.) Remember that you are not the parent anymore. The world has changed and what worked years ago may not work now. Be curious, ask questions and talk about the issue in a respectful way.
Everyone is going to mess up now and then. So be compassionate and forgiving with each other. Parents need their parents and grandparents need their children and grandkids. This relationship is enriching for all so make sure you find ways to make everyone a part of each other’s lives.