When it comes to raising kids, everyone wants to share their two cents on what the best way to do it is – and that often includes grandparents.
And whether you’re a new parent who’s still finding their feet, or a seasoned pro who’s mastered the art of caring for multiples, it can be hard not to get upset when someone criticises what you’re doing, or goes against a particular way you want to raise your kids.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, disagreeing over parenting techniques is the most common reason why parents argue with their own parents (aka the grandparents), according to a survey by iHus, which specialises in multigenerational living.
“It is totally normal to have a different parenting style to your own parents,” therapist Siobhan Butt, who is a member of Counselling Directory, tells HuffPost UK.
“You are different people, living at a different time and have a different set of life experiences that inform how you decide to parent.”
The differences in how you parent can come out in all kinds of situations, she suggests, from what you choose to feed your children and how much screen time you allow them, to your political and religious ideology.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan asked parents of children aged 0-18 years old about disagreements with grandparents around their parenting choices. Most parents (89%) said their child saw at least one grandparent often or occasionally – and of these, 37% reported minor disagreements with grandparents about their parenting choices, and 6% reported major disagreements.
Two in five parents (40%) said disagreements arose because grandparents were too soft on their children, while 14% said they were too tough.
The most common areas of disagreement were over discipline, meals and snacks, and TV or screen time, followed by manners, health and safety, treating some grandchildren differently than others, bedtime, and sharing photos or information on social media.
If you are finding your parents are doing things that go against how you parent – or they’re making comments about your parenting style that are pretty negative – you’re probably going to have to sit down and have a chat with them about it. Otherwise the resentment is just going to pile up until someone blows a gasket.
“It is always best to have this conversation with them,” says Siobhan Butt, who runs Revive Relationships. “Be open, tell them how you are feeling, make it known that you respect them and appreciate that they have lots of life experience and wisdom to bring, but if you would like advice about a particular situation you will ask them for it.”
Likewise, if you see your parent saying or doing something to your child that you’re not happy or comfortable with – for instance, disciplining them in a certain way – don’t be afraid to pull them up on it.
“Boundaries are so important in this situation, like I said before talk to your parents, be open and honest and let them know what you are uncomfortable with and why,” says the therapist.
But be gentle with them, she warns, as it’s likely they aren’t trying to be malicious and they have the best intentions for you and their grandchildren.
“If you respond to their actions with hostility the situation could escalate and conflict can arise,” she adds.
If you do sit them down for a chat, you might want to remind them that while you respect them and value their input, you are uncomfortable with what they did – and then explain why, says the therapist. Finish the conversation by telling them you would appreciate it if they could not do this in the future.
Of course, sometimes this will fall upon deaf ears. Of those surveyed by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, 43% of parents said they’d asked a grandparent to change their behaviour to be consistent with their own choices or rules and while almost half (47%) found they did make a change, just over a third (36%) said the grandparent agreed to change their ways but didn’t, and 17% said the grandparent flat out refused.
“If it is a boundary that keeps being crossed, try being curious,” says Butt. “What is it that they find so difficult about keeping to this and how can you help them?”
With Christmas just around the corner and families coming together under one roof, tensions can run a little higher than normal – meaning the odds of a rift might be higher too.
If you are feeling a bit tense because of something your parent has done or said to your child – or even about the way you parent – it’s important to recognise this and do something about it. “Just how we can recognise a song within a few seconds of hearing it, we can do this too with our own emotions,” says Butt.
“Before things feel like they are too much and your response turns into a reaction of hostility, take a deep breath, maybe remove yourself from the conversation or say you are feeling uncomfortable and you would appreciate it if the conversation could be changed.
“If difficult conversations normally end in shouting and upset think about the pattern of behaviours that normally happen: what role do you play and what can you do to help change this pattern?”
Grandparents are so important and often have so much to offer to your children – like they did to you when you were growing up (and still often do today). They are also, as writer Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett puts it, “the invisible glue holding our broken childcare system together”. Many will – and do – drop everything to get the chance to spend time with their grandkids.
That’s not to say that sometimes you won’t disagree with what they say or do – and vice versa – but after a heart-to-heart, you can often end up singing from the same hymn sheet. (Or at the very least, the same book.)
In cases where this doesn’t happen, ultimately it’s grandparents who lose out – 15% of parents said they limit the amount of time their child sees some grandparents, and these limitations were far more common when grandparents did not respect parenting choices.