Your parenting wants and needs must come first, even when relying on grandparents for help raising your children. Parents.com's Ask Your Mom advice columnist, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., shares how to prioritize your requests to get them respected.

By Emily Edlynn, Ph.D.
August 03, 2020
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Illustration by Yeji Kim

Dear Frustrated,

Grandparents—can't live with them, can't live without them . . . except when you do have to live with them! So many relationship issues become wrapped up in this seemingly simple and helpful arrangement. On the surface, it sounds amazing to have the caregiving support of your very own parents to help raise your children. Who else could love them as much as you do? Yet, you are still their child, even as a grown adult with your own children, which can cause all kinds of fun dysfunction!

Be Clear and Prioritize

To answer your question of how to get your parents to fulfill your parenting wants and needs, we need to start with you. You are in the trenches of perhaps the most physically grueling phase of parenthood, managing a newborn and new toddler, just a year apart. Then you add your own job to the equation, and you are officially a warrior! And warriors need to take care of themselves so they can keep showing up on the battlefield each day.

So, the first step in this situation is to know your parenting wants and needs with clarity, and then prioritize them. I know when my children were that age, my first want and need was sleep. For them, and for me. Other priorities might be keeping a consistent feeding schedule with the baby, even if grandparents don't think the baby seems hungry. Maybe you want a different approach to discipline with the toddler, and you are concerned about what you see as overly punitive or overly permissive practices.

Make a list for yourself of your parenting wants and needs. Rank them in order of importance so you know where to spend your energy on making change with your parents. Then, turn these parenting wants and needs into actual behaviors so your requests of your parents are as specific as possible.

The Grandparents Behavior Plan

We can debate our parenting philosophies until the kids turn 18, but what really gets us where we need to go is changing behaviors. In your case, if you have different parenting philosophies trickling down into arguments, change the conversation.

Let's go back to the sleep example since I can think of nothing more important in those early years—for all of you. Sleep is the parenting need. The caregiving behavior may then be protecting the toddler naptime and bedtime routine as untouchable. In my years as a toddler/infant parent, everything in the day had to revolve around those times. Grandparents want to keep playing with them because they are so fun? Nope. That giddy laughter is actually a sign of over-tired and wired that will make it harder for them to fall asleep!

Being specific about behaviors you want as part of caregiving for your children takes the focus away from trying to change ways of thinking, which we all know can be a road to nowhere. This is also where the prioritizing comes in since attempting too much change too fast can backfire. Use your priority list to tackle one issue at a time. This makes your requests feel more realistic and manageable.

Stay Honest and Open

As brilliant as the behavior suggestion may be, I'm not deluded that it's 100 percent guaranteed to work since that is true of nothing in parenting. (Be suspicious if someone ever makes this promise!) It sounds like you have already had multiple conversations, so there's no lack of communicating. If the conversations and grandparent behavior plan aren't making change, go deeper.

Your parents may be well-meaning grandparents, but they were your parents first. We all want our parents to view us as responsible and independent adults, and sometimes that means we aren't as honest and open as we could be about our struggles, just in case they start treating us like a child again. In your situation, however, the parenting differences you are having with your parents are likely affecting you in ways they are unaware.

So, you need to tell them. You might even need to figure it out for yourself first by talking it out with a good friend, or even a professional. What is their refusal to listen to you doing to you? Is it making you feel like they don't trust your parenting? Do you feel judged as a "bad" mom? Are you worried about the safety of your children? Do you feel anxious when you leave the house about what will happen when you are gone, making it hard for you to do your job well? Be honest with yourself, and then be honest with them.

Hearing your struggles may help them remember better what it was like way back when they were parents of young children. Grandparents and parents are notoriously different, and one reason for this is grandparents forget. They simply forget what it feels like to be the end-all and be-all for young, fully dependent children. Your honesty and openness can help them remember. In this heart-to-heart, make sure to also express your gratitude for their support, and which aspects of their caregiving have been especially helpful.

Hang in There

You are trying to change your parents. Change is hard, and even harder the older we get! But what never changes is that you are their child, and your children are their grandchildren. And most importantly, you are a mother with the ultimate say in how to parent your children. Use the best parts of your relationship with your parents to help them remember, and then do what's best for you, which is ultimately the best for the children.

Submit your parenting questions here, and they may be answered in future 'Ask Your Mom' columns. 

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.

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