These days we have so much information at our fingertips to help solve any parenting dilemma (admittedly, most of the times we may have too much). You could argue the Internet was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to parenting.
Despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information, it’s still nice to consult a parenting expert once in a while to get some new ideas, advice and even a dose of perspective.
At LiveMom, we want to help answer your questions, and so we have a recurring feature called Ask the Expert. We’ll take on anything from potty training to car seats to dealing with kids and technology to anything in between. Then, we’ll find local and national experts to help guide us to make the best choices for our families.
One of the reasons parenting can be so challenging is that everyone seems to have an opinion on how you should raise your kids, including your own parents. We recently received this question from a reader looking for some advice:
My husband and I have a hard enough time getting on the same page about the everyday parenting choices we have to make, and then we have to factor our parents into the equation. We are lucky that both of our parents are involved in our children’s lives, but our parenting style differs from both sets of grandparents. How can we maintain a good relationship with the grandparents while raising our kids in a way which feels right for us?
Helping advise this reader is Bethany Prescott, a trained therapist, wife and mother of three children, ages 11, 14 and 20, who is based here in Austin. Bethany has a private practice offering parent coaching and individual counseling. She also teaches parenting workshops and teacher trainings around town. Here’s how Bethany would answer the question:
It truly is a gift to have family support available in town. Many a parent has tearfully expressed to me how hard it is to parent far away from family. It feels lonely and overwhelming. If we’re lucky enough to have grandparents around, it can be a real game-changer. AND, it can also be really hard.
Our parents did the best they could….that’s almost always the case. They did the best they could with what they knew at the time. These days, though, we have a lot of great new information about child development and effective parenting practices. We also have some feelings about what we’d like to do differently than our parents did. It would be silly not to, with all of the great information we have now. Parenting needs updates from generation to generation, based on what new things we’ve learned.
The big task at hand is how to honor the contribution grandparents are making to our family, while still honoring what our personal parenting path is.
When deciding how to best intervene if grandparents are making choices we’re not thrilled about, I typically ask how much interaction they’re actually having with the kids. If it’s Thanksgiving, a weekend in the summer, or maybe a family dinner once a month, then we can tolerate a lot more grandparent quirks. If it’s weekly contact, overnights, school pick-ups, etc…..then we’ve got to take the harder path, which is an honest conversation and some requests.
Here’s an example of how it might sound:
“I’m so grateful you’re helping with dinner and bedtime while I take my class this month. What a lifesaver. I just wanted to share what we’re working on with Ella’s big tantrums. We’re trying really hard to be careful about allowing her to have her big feelings, without making her feel she’s doing something bad or wrong, and without punishing her for crying. I know that can get loud and super frustrating, boy do I! But from what we’ve read it’s looking like that’s the best way to help her. I know it’s not easy, but it feels really important to me that you guys give it a shot.”
The key points in the communication are:
1) Acknowledgement of the love and contribution the grandparents are bringing.
2) Not being an expert who needs to teach or correct her parents…but being a student as well:
“We’re practicing” – “I’m learning” – “I’ve discovered ” – “It seems that…”
3) Validating that it might be hard or feel strange, and that they might have doubts.
4) Making a clear request for them to support you in your practice.
Once we’ve made the request, it’s our big job to follow up if it’s not being honored. There are two big parts to having a boundary. The first is SETTING the boundary, and the second is MAINTAINING the boundary. They are both critical, and both hard!
If we notice that a grandparent isn’t honoring our request, we need to follow up.
“I noticed when Ella was crying as I was leaving last night, that you seemed really frustrated. I know it can be very hard to hear her wail like that, but when you told her she needed to act like a big girl and stop crying, that falls into that other tricky category of shaming her for crying. Sometimes when I get frustrated with her cries I’m trying something like – ‘Ella, I hear that you are very sad…but this is feeling loud for my ears, so I need to walk away a take a little break.’ If that’s helpful, you could try that. Thanks for helping with this. I really appreciate it.”
Children who are loved and looked after by multiple generations feel this big, lovely net of support under them. The bigger the web, the safer we feel in this big world. It’s a wonderful offering to give our parents access to the grandkids in a significant way, but not at the expense of our kids. If it’s not working, we must choose our kids’ needs first, and force ourselves into hard conversations. The care and grace we use in these hard conversations is what will determine how effective they are. This is not easy, but such a powerful exercise in creating more intimacy and honesty in our relationships.
How do you manage sticky situations with the grandparents?