Do Grandparents Know Best?

(Parent #1) – How can I deal with my mother’s interference with my child-rearing? Because I don’t raise my children the way she raised me so thinks I’m not doing a good job disciplining them. She gives me advice all the time to be more authoritarian and use more punishment, and she tries to discipline the children without asking my permission.

(Parent #2) – How do you deal with grandparents who never stop giving gifts to your children? I try to limit gift giving to special occasions so that my kids aren’t constantly asking for things whenever we go into a store. When I explain to their grandparents that they’re training my kids to expect presents and treats all the time, the reply I get is that it’s a grandparent’s prerogative to spoil their grandchildren. Help!

Let’s consider the needs of all three generations : your parents, yourself, and your children. Your children need to be accepted as they are, given lots of love, disciplined in a loving manner so that they will learn to respect the needs of others, and allowed enough independence to learn to manage their lives responsibly. It is your responsibility as the parent to see that these needs are met, and that no one, even family members, interferes with this. Your own needs are similar : to be loved and accepted as you are, given corrective feedback in a loving and respectful manner, and respected in your role as the parent. Your parents’ needs are parallel to yours and your children’s. They need to be accepted as they are, welcomed and enjoyed. They need to have a role they can fill in your family so that they don’t feel cast aside. They need to be listened to even when they disagree with you. And they need, sometimes, to have limits set if they are being disrespectful of your authority in your own home.

When you consider what to do in each of these situations, be sure to consider everyone’s needs. Our society tends to devalue the older generation, unlike the aboriginal culture, which values and respects the elders. All grandparents – the punishing kind, the spoiling kind, and those in between – need to be valued and have a role in their children’s families. Many grandparents have trouble knowing how to be helpful without being in charge. If you are secure enough in your parenting role, you can show them respect by listening thoughtfully to their feedback. As you listen, make it clear that you are now the parent, and you will make the final decision about how your children are to be treated. Also insist that they speak to you respectfully and out earshot of the children. As you listen also, think about the grandparents’ needs as well as everyone else’s. For example, the grandparents who buy the gifts need to be generous to the grandchildren they love – why take this away from them? A child is not spoiled by receiving gifts, only by being given in to constantly. Why not ask your parents not to stop buying gifts, but to buy something only if the child has not asked for a gift? That way your children can have the benefit of their grandparents’ love without learning to be greedy.

The punitive grandparents are more difficult. You must make it clear that if you tell them not to spank or call names, they are not to spank or call names. Since their behavior is abusive by your standards, you must set limits on it. Any time they do not respect your limits, you need to enforce these limits by asking them to leave, and by not leaving them alone with the children. Yet they have needs too. They are doing their best according to what they have learned, and they really don’t understand why you parent as you do. They deserve another chance. Rather than cutting them out of your life, invite them to attend a parenting course with you, so that you can all learn some appropriate parenting techniques together.