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When parents and grandparents disagree


When grandma offers ice cream before lunch or grandp aallows two hours of “Minecraft,”most likely they just want their grandchildren to be happy and feel loved. Parents often disagree.

Half of parents clash with grandparents over parenting issues, which can cause major strife in their relationships, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health from the University of Michigan.

For some families, these conflicts over discipline, eating habits, TV and screen time, manners, and health and safety issues can lead to trouble. One in seven parents will go as far as to limit the amount of time their child sees certain grandparents.

“Grandparents play a special role in children’s lives and can be an important resource for parents through support, advice and babysitting. But they may have different ideas about the best way to raise the child, and that can cause tension,” said Sarah Clark, co-director of the poll.

“Often both sides want to do what’s best. It comes from a good heart, but when someone says, ‘Do it the right way,’ they mean ‘you’re not doing it my way,’” said retired family therapist Connie Dawson, co-author of “How Much is Too Much?: Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children from Toddlers to Teens in an Age of Overindulgence.”

Disagreements arise when one side feels that a particular parenting choice is very important while the other side doesn’t see it as a big deal, Clark said. It’s not really opposition, but a mismatch in levels of concern.

Other times disagreements represent an outright refusal of grandparents to respect the parents’ specific choices; these are the ones that seem to cause the most conflict, Clark said.

To smooth over these disputes, it’s helpful for parents to explain to grandparents why certain things are important, Clark
said. Is it a health or safety issue such as using a car seat? Is it a specific behavior the parents are working to develop, such as eating the same foods as the rest of the family? Is it related to a recent problem, such as the child not being able to go to sleep?

“Of course, some things really aren’t important; for those areas, parents should be flexible about letting grandparents decide how they will interact with their grandchild,” Clark said.

Share your thoughts as a concern rather than a criticism, Dawson said.

“You may have to leave the room to solve the problem together. Maybe get online and look for answers or talk to other parents,” she said.

Talking about roles and expectations can help ease disagreements.

“Our data shows that in at least half of the cases where a parent talked with a grandparent about an issue, the grandparent
changed the behavior that was problematic,” Clark said. “Parents should choose a good time to talk — not in the heat of anger or stress — and explain why the issue is important for parents and kids.”

Parenting is hard, and grandparents can help ease and guide the way.

“Tell parents they are doing a good job, offer to give them a break and use humor to ease the tough times,” Clark said. “When parents view grandparents as being on the same team, they may give grandparents more time and leeway with the kids.

“Grandparents should avoid being too critical of parents. It stresses out the parents; plus, it’s not good for kids when the adults are in conflict.”

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