How To Manage The Grandparents
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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When your baby was born, you might have thought that the only adjustment to your lives would come in making a home for your new little one. You never guessed that you’d suddenly have to cope with your own parents and your in-laws. How can you manage all the advice and downright interference the older generation dishes out without hurting people’s feelings and causing more trouble?
Whether your child is nearly as tall as you are or is just a tiny baby – or even if you’re still pregnant – there are steps you can take to set some ground rules and ensure peace and harmony between you and the grandparents.
- Assume the best of intentions. Grandparents want the best for your child and they want you to be happy too. Even though their methods may be clumsy and sometimes offensive, remember that the grandparents mean well. You want these people to enjoy being around your child and you want to have pleasant birthdays, holidays and family outings (and if you don’t want that, see #5 below). Be prepared to be pleasant and try to meet the older folks halfway.
- Present a united front.You and your child’s other parent have to be on the same page about both sets of grandparents. Naturally, you may find it easier to accept your own parents than to accept your in-laws: you’ve had a lifetime to get used to the quirks of your own mom and dad. But now is the time to solidify your marital team, not revert to feeling like your parents’ child again. Have a heart-to-heart talk with your child’s other parent and create a game plan together for managing the grandparents.
- Be your own court of last resort. Certainly you might ask the grandparents for advice now and then. And you might get an earful of unsolicited advice fairly frequently. But make it clear that you and your child’s other parent will make all the final child-rearing decisions yourselves. You appreciate outside input, you take that into consideration, but the responsibility for raising your child falls to you. This means that you must be ready to smile and say, “Thanks. I’ll think about that,” instead of arguing your position as if you were still a teenager. You do not have to convince your parents or your in-laws of anything. You have to listen politely and then make up your own mind.
- Take nothing for granted.Your parents raised you and they don’t get to raise your child. But the same is true about babysitting, gift-giving, and bankrolling a college fund: your child is your responsibility, not your parents’. You cannot assume that Grammie and Gramps will pony up with free trips to the zoo and other goodies. They can spend their time and money as they see fit. So ask nicely if you want a favor and remember to say “thank you” afterwards.
- If you want to limit contact, be up-front about it. Your child’s well-being is your top priority, not making your mother happy. So if Mom’s new husband creeps you out or has a rap sheet that keeps you up at night, you’re well within your rights – and meeting your responsibilities – to limit contact between Mom’s man and your children. If you had a rocky childhood yourself and don’t trust your parents, by all means keep your own kids away. Just don’t make excuses. Make a clear statement of your position, grown-up to grown-up, and then stick to it.
Having children pushes each of us to finally be completely mature. We are transformed into adults in the eyes of our children, certainly. But just as importantly, we are transformed into adults in the eyes of our own parents and even in our own eyes. We are on a level with the older generation, no longer less than they but equal.
The harmony our extended families enjoy comes from this equality among the adults. Your job is to grow up and make that happen.