Relating to Grandparents

Your parenting confuses them. Their advice drives you crazy.

The Benefits of Grandparents

Who is willing to watch the same Rugrats tape over and over without complaint? Who reads six stories at bedtime without even breaking a sweat? Who changes a diaper without feeling the least bit fazed? Grandparents, of course! Your parenting leaves them perplexed, and their advice may drive you crazy. But kids get so much out of their relationship with their grandparents.

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren brings great benefits for both parties. A grandparent's unconditional brand of love has a potent role in helping a child develop trust. And that's just one great thing about grandparents. Grandparents can also provide:

  • A safe place for toddlers to practice being away from their parents
  • A sense of identity and family history
  • A feeling of stability that comes from the child being accepted as he is
  • Time to play and share activities with children in a way that busy parents sometimes can't
  • Assistance with child care
  • Advice and support for parents

Grandparent Issues

As wonderful as the grandchild-grandparent bond is, it's not without its own share of issues. Indeed, many people find that negotiating relationships with their parents can become quite challenging when they become parents themselves. While you may be on the same page -- you all want the child to be happy and healthy -- you're often not using the same rule book. Some of the problems that commonly crop up between grandparents and parents include:

  • Differing expectations about grandparenting. Grandparents have lives too. The homemaker grandmother of yesteryear may have been content to babysit at a moment's notice, but today's grandma might just have a scheduling conflict because of her yoga class. Respect grandparents' schedules as you would those of any other adult.
  • Communication breakdowns. Grandparents need clear information. Parenting practices have changed since they raised their own kids. They may misunderstand or simply not know about how you're raising your kids. They might also feel upset if you approach them in a manner they consider accusatory.
  • Spoiling grandchildren. Spoiling has almost become part of the definition of being a grandparent. Being a little spoiled by grandparents is one of the great joys of childhood. But like everything else, the key is moderation. Too much spoiling can lead to constant bickering between parents and grandparents, which is probably more harmful to the child than the spoiling itself.
  • Differing viewpoints about child-rearing issues. It's not easy for grandparents to hold back their opinions about how their grandchildren should be raised. When these differ from the parents' opinions, frustration and conflict can result. Parents can feel they're being criticized or held to an unreasonable standard.

Bridging the Generation Gap

You can take sensible steps to improve your relationship with your child's grandparents, and move past the grandparenting issues caused by the generation gap. Try these strategies:

  • Pick your battles carefully. Parents have every right to speak up about overindulgences or safety issues. Set reasonable parameters about the issues that matter, but don't sweat the small stuff.
  • Arm them with information. A lot has changed since your parents were raising you. Things that seemed normal then might be strange or even unsafe now. Give grandparents the facts calmly and politely, the way you would give information to any other adult. Better yet, give them articles, refer them to Web sites, and do everything you can to demonstrate that your ideas are about responsible parenting, not about ruining their fun or one-upping them.
  • Meet them halfway. Whenever possible, show a willingness to compromise. This will show that you care about them, and that you're hearing their concerns.
  • Hear them out. You don't have to follow their suggestions, but don't lose sight of the fact that they are a terrific resource. Though you may not agree with them, at least hear them out. If you don't, you might miss out on some valuable information.
  • Stand your ground. If you feel a grandparent is being unreasonable, politely point out that your child is happy and healthy when you parent him your way. If they react angrily, or you're not able to communicate with them, drop the subject. Later, when everyone has cooled off, hold a family meeting to calmly talk about the situation.

Grandparents provide so many priceless gifts to their grandchildren. With communication, love, and patience, this relationship can be nurtured and grow into one of mutual respect and great appreciation between parents and grandparents.

Additional reporting by Emily Perlman Abedon

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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