I love seeing my own parents playing with my daughters, their eyes lightning up and amazed by every little thing my daughters say or do. And it’s not only the grandparents that benefit from frequent and positive contact with their grandchildren. When the relationship between parents and grandparents is solid, the whole family benefits. To mention a few advantages involving grandparents; the children are in a loving and familiar environment, they keep the grandparents young and the parents get some time off (O yeahh!). If the grandparents are happy to take care of the children on a regular basis, some financial benefits kick in as well (less money needed for day care).
At the baby stage, it may be fairly simple to leave your baby with the grandparents. You hand over your baby’s schedule, bottles milk and that’s pretty much it. But when your baby grows into a toddler, a lot more parenting decisions need to be made. Different or conflicting ideas on upbringing can put the relationship with your parents or – more often – in laws under pressure. I know a parent or two who gladly pays the extra money for day-care, just so she doesn’t have to deal with her mother in law. And even if you and your children don’t see the grandparents every week, conflicts about the upbringing of your children can come up. You are not alone; these are some examples from parenting forums:
‘’My in-laws live nearby and are very indulgent with my 16-month-old. I’m worried that they’re spoiling him. I try to be firm and set limits as much as I can, but I get tired of being the bad guy. What should I do? ‘’
‘’ I have just had an insane run in with my in-laws because of a decision we made for our daughter. It almost cost my husband and I a divorce.’’
‘’ I have already had one conversation with my Mum after she gave him 3 custard creams (!!) and said that if he’s had one he doesn’t need another and not a 3rd’’
I repeat, you are not alone. It’s hard enough to agree with your partner on food, routines or whether the children go to the church, let alone with your parents or in-laws as well. And I know It is hard to keep cool when your mother in law keeps saying that you dress your children like clowns. Or not to get crazy mad when your kids throw up in the car because your dad stuffed them with 8 large pancakes with Nutella (why?!). But, freaking out and getting into a fight will make things only worse.
How to keep it cool- game plan mode on!
The following tips may help to get yourself in the right headspace to influence the grandparents in such a way that they will respect your parenting choices easier and more often:
- Think about how your parents or in-laws have been brought up themselves and their knowledge on parenting. Maybe they were poor with hardly any toys to play with and just enough food to get by. The stuffing of your children may come from whatever they lacked. You may realize their – to you – weird perspective doesn’t come from a bad place, but rather their own circumstances or lack of knowledge.
- Get your partner on the same page. It’s important to form a front together in front of grandparents, your children and the rest of the world. If the father of your children doesn’t mind the candy the grandmother gives them, first agree on the rules with your partner and then communicate the joint rule to your mother in law as a team.
- Communicate the reasons behind your parenting choices clearly. In general, the grandparents will accept your parenting style sooner if they know ‘the whys’. Don’t assume the reason behind a particular parenting preference or choice is obvious. What may come to you as obvious, may not be for the grandparents (see #1).
- Choose your battles wisely. Suppose these two situations are bothering you: a) your in-laws give your toddler a cookie each time he visits them (every two weeks) and b) each month, they buy enough toys for 10 children. Concerning 1), you would rather not have your toddler eat sugar. As far as point b goes, you are not particularly delighted by the fact that your home is gradually turning into a toy store. Thinking about the cookie situation, will it hurt your toddler in the long run to eat one cookie every two weeks? Probably not. Ok, you can let that one go. Concerning two, can you somehow keep the number of toys under control without confronting the grandparents? Sure, you can set a rule that when your children get a new toy from grandpa and grandma, they must donate an old toy to poor children. This way, you save your ‘battles’ for the important issues, keeping the relationship more pleasant.
- Leave your toddler out of it. Even small children understand a lot of what is being said so don’t talk bad about their beloved grandparents in front of them. Don’t put them in the middle, they can be very sensitive and will get their feelings hurt.
What if nothing helps?
What if you did everything you could and still the grandparents don’t respect your parenting choices? If that’s the case, guard your boundaries (respectfully). At the end of the day, you and your partner are the parents and everyone else should respect your choices, whether they like it or not. They will understand that you have the power to withdraw their grandchildren from them (a last resort!) and that fact alone should be enough to finally give in.
In case of in-laws, it may be that your partner is comfortable with going to his or her parents, while you would rather spend a night in jail (or the other way around). If so, have your partner go to his or her parents and take the children with them. You can restrict the visits to holidays and birthdays. More mommy-me-time for you and less opportunity for disagreements between you and the grandparents – a clear win-win!
Of course, in the extreme situation that the grandparents put your toddler in danger or hurt them in any way, they don’t get to see their grandchildren any more. Otherwise, I truly believe everyone will benefit more from a subtler approach as described above.