How to deal with grandparents
Too much candy? Playing favourites? Around too much? Not enough? Here are tips for dealing with grandparents. Plus, why we love them so.
There’s just no getting around it. I mean them. When you married your partner, you married his/her parents, too. Grandparents are part of the parenting package. And sometimes that’s a good thing — when they step in with a sick child, for example, rescuing your can’t-miss-meeting. But sometimes grandparents can get in your grill, push your buttons, catalyze conflict between you and your kids, or worse, you and your partner.
Click through this gallery for tips on dealing with some of the greatest grandparent gripes, and appreciating all the good stuff they have to offer.
My neighbour once complained that she was forced to limit her children’s exposure to their grandmother because granny’s cookie jar was bottomless — she was doling them out too liberally. But here are the questions you need to ask yourself: Is grandma giving cookies, or is she giving love? Love comes in many currencies. Maybe grandma’s currency contains chocolate chips. And finally, will it kill them? If not, then let love rule.
Grandpa's little precious
Growing up, I was grandpa’s favourite. He had a pet name for me, stored treats for me in his pocket, gave me special attention. It was awesome — for me, but not so much for my brother. My mother, who suffered tremendous guilt because of this, was forced intercede on my brother’s behalf. She was a good mom, and she knew her job was to ensure that both her kids felt loved. That’s your job, too. So when you spot favouritism, it’s your duty to contain it. Speak to Grandpa privately about it. If that doesn’t work, engender a relationship that bolsters the neglected child. It only takes one important relationship to make a child feel special; if Grandpa’s not it, find someone else.
I have a friend who calls her mother the “drive-by granny." Grandma promises the grandkids a visit but barely stays long enough to let the engine cool. What’s worse, she’s unreliable, cancels last minute, switches dates and times. In doing so, she sends the message that everything else is more important. This behaviour is disruptive, of course. But it also hurts. Here’s what my friend does: She pencils in playdates with Granny but doesn’t let the kids in on the plan; the night before, she extracts a commitment from her mother and only then tells the children.
Bottom line: It’s our job as parents to protect our kids from easily misinterpreted messaging — that’s why we monitor their television viewing, right? Human beings are meaning-makers — we decide what meaning to assign to any situation. While we can’t control what conclusions our children will draw, we can do our best to provide context.
Grandma did WHAT?
Whether you are aware of them or not, you have expectations — dare I say biases? — about how a grandparent should behave. Maybe your biases are based on experiences you had with your own grandparents, or maybe you’ve watched too many episodes of The Golden Girls. But here’s the deal: Conscious or unconscious, your biases are your own, so own them. You don’t get to foist them on your parents, or hers. So, unless Grandma and Grandpa are introducing the kids to off-track betting or street racing, stay out of it. You may not like their personal proclivities, but grandparents have a right to them. As long as you don't have any serious concerns about physical or moral damage, let the kids decide.
Many of you have complained about “interfering” in-laws — those grandparents who feel the need to weigh in on all of your parenting decisions, or, shudder, your partnership practices. Unless you’re lucky (like I am) and have a master encourager for an in-law, chances are that Grandpa’s counsel to introduce corporal punishment and Grandma constantly siding with her son in marital disputes have become thorns in your side.
Here’s your new catchphrase: Love has limits.
Here’s your script: “Dad/Mom, I know how much you care and I value your love. I know that when you [offer advice/take sides] you are really just trying to make our lives better. But I’d prefer you let us work it out alone, and when we need your help we’ll ask for it.”
Some grandparents show their love by showering their grandchildren with toys and money. That’s not helpful when you’ve set up an allowance system to help your pre-teen practice money management. There are a couple of things you can do.
1. Re-frame: Acknowledge Grandma’s generosity and desire to spread love, and ask if she would consider expressing that love with time and attention instead.
2. Set boundaries: Ask Grandpa to do a quick check-in before doling out the dough. Or, ask him to limit his giving to birthdays and holidays.
And now for the good stuff…
Time is on their side
Many grandparents are retired, which means they have an abundance of a certain commodity you find in short supply: time. Take advantage. You may not have the hours it takes to teach your son how to use a reciprocating saw, but Grandpa does. And if a day in the kitchen is a luxury you can’t afford, send your little gourmands to grandma’s and see what they can cook up together.
Grandparents have something else we don’t have — perspective. They’ve been there, done that. And while not all their wisdom is wanted, much of it may help us.
My mother allowed my son to ride his bike to a friend’s house unaccompanied — something I had still not considered. That taste of freedom and responsibility was an elixir to my child, and I realized that perhaps my leash had been too short. Thanks mom!
Bottom line: Your parents, and his, are a resource. Use it, or don’t, but be thankful you have the choice.
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