One of my favorite memories of school breaks was getting to spend time with my grandparents. While my parents were at work, my sister and I would go to our grandparents’ apartment after a day at camp.
We would swim in their pool, help them fold laundry, watch “The Magic School Bus” on PBS and even teach their neighbors how to use their computers and set up personalized screen savers. Summer vacation was a time when our grandparents were even more involved in our lives, beyond our family’s Friday night dinners.
While grandparents make great “free babysitters,” in some families, conflicts can arise when it comes to matters of discipline. Grandparents may feel that their children are too lax when it comes to discipline or they may be the ones that give the extra treats after the parents have already said no, undermining the parents’ authority.
It is very easy for either side to be offended when these conflicts arise. Parents can feel they are constantly being judged on how they are raising their children. Grandparents may feel that their advice is being ignored despite their experience from already raising a family. Breakdowns in communication can lead to arguments that can quickly escalate, leading to tension in the family.
So what can be done to ensure that these conflicts don’t affect the loving family relationship? Everyone should remember that both sides are acting out of love for the kids. While parents and grandparents may disagree on how to raise the kids, they all are looking out for the children’s best interests. They should make sure to not involve the children in the disagreement and certainly not make them choose a side.
Well-meaning grandparents should remember that they are not the ones raising the children, and they may just need to agree to disagree at times. As a grandparent, if asked for parenting advice, feel free to speak up, but unsolicited advice may be taken as criticism. If you do feel the need to make a suggestion, try to frame it in the least critical way possible, also making sure to praise your children when they are making what you consider good parenting decisions. If you think your grandchildren are in danger, then don’t hesitate to speak up, but otherwise give your children some leeway in their choices. A lot can be learned as the result of a poor choice.
For parents, it’s important to not interpret your parents’ comment as personal attacks. Try to explain the reasoning behind your decisions and the need for consistency. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, but sometimes you may need to cede some control, especially when grandparents are playing active roles as babysitters. Find ways to meet your parents halfway and make compromises. The most important thing is to maintain a healthy relationship and allow children to spend special time with their grandparents. And above all, remember that despite any differences in nurturing or disciplining styles, each adult has the kids’ best interests at heart.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatrics for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.