Parents are the ones responsible for raising their children, right? Well, in some cases, grandparents do some kind of rearing, too. They take their grandchildren out for ice cream, teach them valuable do’s and don’ts in life, allow them to sleep later than usual, or watch movies and television with them.
But what happens when the grandparents and parents don’t see eye to eye on how to raise the child? What happens when their differences create friction between them?
“This, of course, creates tension, especially when grandparents seem to interfere,” says book author and Counsellor Joyce Piap-Go. “Like for example, the parents say no to chocolates but grandma gives them a bar anyway. There will always be tension in life, but what's more important is how we handle the tension.”
But even with such tension, Joyce states that studies have shown that children need a significant amount of love from caring parents and other caring adults. “If we could also have grandparents to show and give love to their grandchildren, they will grow up to be more emotionally secure individuals,” she says. “I personally don't think that intangible gifts like affection, patience, or time can be overly given. These actions of love - if given generously - can even continue to produce healthy results throughout the child’s life. Perhaps the spoiling comes from giving of tangible things but I would think balance is the keyword when it comes to this fine line.”
For parents, here’s how you can handle the conflict with grandparents:
- Be calm and try to see the perspective of the grandparents. If you need to communicate, try to express it with utmost respect as their child and never use criticism.
- Meet halfway or compromise a bit. Expect that when your children are entrusted to their grandparents, some rules will be bent or neglected. It's also a good start to let the children learn that it's not the conflict that matters; it's how you handle it.
- Remind your children about certain rules that are non-negotiable before they head to grandma's place.
- Don’t take sides. When your children come up to you and tell you that their grandparents always buy them ice cream or toys, respond with empathy but don’t criticize or belittle the grandparents.
- Talk about unresolved issues. If you, as a parent, feel that there is even the slightest conflict between you and your parents, talk it out. Don’t let anger get the best of you as this may lead to negative emotions such as bitterness which eventually might affect the children.
- Communicate boundaries. If you feel that the grandparents are intruding too much, let them know your thoughts – but find ways to make them feel respected and honored.
- If your father or mother criticizes your discipline style, listen for the nugget of wisdom in what they are saying - even if you opt to neglect their advice. For example, you’ve told your daughter the reasons why she shouldn’t hit her little sister with a toy but her wailing proves she hasn’t learned a bit.
- "Validate what's useful about your parents’ advice, and then propose your own solution," says clinical psychologist Susan Heitler. You can say, “Yes, you're right that she's not listening to me, but I think I’ll try a time-out instead of trying to reason with her.” In this way, your parents would feel that you also value their ideas.”
- When you know that grandparents have crossed the line, you can say, “I appreciate your expertise. I will definitely ask you if I need help.”
The bottom line is that parents and grandparents always look after the best interest of the child. Joyce offers some tips and advice, “To grandparents, I hope they can respect their children’s parenting style. They certainly don't have to agree on all things but at least they should give their children a chance to be parents. They should have the confidence, and trust that they have raised their children well with good judgments.”
“And to parents, if you leave your children with their grandparents, expect that there are times they would do things differently from yours. Do provide information on some non-negotiable things or situations. If needed, gently express your concerns. Choose your battles and don't sweat the small stuff with your parents.”