Universal Mentors Association

How to keep your kids’ grandparents involved without losing your mind | KQED


The first principle, Steinberg recommends, is trying to understand that grandparents make “suggestions” about childrearing because they likely approached parenting differently. It’s not criticism so much as a reflection of the different gestalt about how best to bring up children; like dieting advice, counsel on how to raise well-adjusted kids is unstable and forever changing. Strive not to take what feels like criticism personally. When replying to a grandmother’s insistence that picking up crying babies makes them spoiled, for example, parents would be wise to choose their words carefully. “That’s helpful, thank you,” is more constructive than “No, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Steinberg told me. 

New parents frustrated by their own parents’ interventions also need to remember that the child/grandparent relationship can be vital to a young person’s development. Steinberg encourages parents to facilitate that cross-generational bond, independent of the parents in the middle, because kids benefit from having other loving adults in their lives. This is especially so during adolescence, when even the closest parent/child attachment can fray. A genuine grandparent/child relationship is more apt to develop if the parent encourages it and the get-togethers are not limited to the biannual holiday gathering. 

But the bottom line is clear: “Parents have to feel that they are in charge, that they’re the authority,” Lemieux said.

If conflict over the grandchildren erupts, there are constructive ways to react. Joanne Gottlieb, a clinical social worker in New York, advises mothers and fathers to speak up promptly rather than wait for tensions to worsen. She suggests that parents have these difficult conversations when tempers have cooled, not in the midst of a fracas or in children’s line of sight. Also, being clear about the problem and proposed solution is better than opaque or passive-aggressive messaging. Ideally, if two parents are present, both will take part in the discussion. 

Grandparents need boundaries, Lemieux said, and if they’re irresponsible, or even abusive, parents will have to step in and protect their children. 

Grandparents also might need to remind themselves of their new position in the extended family hierarchy: They’re no longer in control – and should adjust accordingly. Before diving in with suggestions on potty training or sibling rivalry, grandparents should ask their children if they want advice, and offer plenty of encouragement, too. 

Being an involved and positive grandparent is not all selfless martyrdom. Those who are constructively engaged with their grandkids are apt to improve their own well-being, especially as both cohorts age: An expansive 2014 study by sociologists Sara Moorman and Jeffrey Stokes found “that in high-affinity relationships, grandparents continue to play a positive role long into grandchildren’s adulthood, and adult grandchildren benefit their grandparents similarly.” When grandkids are young and unsullied, they can be an even greater joy. Author Arthur Brooks called his grandson’s recent birth “a source of unalloyed rejoicing,” distinguishing it from the seriousness and fear that accompanied fatherhood. “Having grandchildren, though, feels like no sacrifice at all,” he wrote. But once that baby becomes a sassy toddler – or a chomping four-year-old – all bets are off.


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