Can You Navigate These 3 Tricky Grandparenting Situations?

How to be a great grandparent

Your adult children will almost certainly make some parenting decisions you don’t like. Here’s how to get through it without compromising your family relationships.

Being a grandparent is one of life’s great joys. You have a front-row seat to all the gummy baby smiles and wobbly first steps, but you also get to hand the little ones back when you’re ready for a rest. Plus, you’re able to see the children you raised turn into parents themselves. That can be very rewarding.

But grandparenting can be challenging too. Your children are adults now, and they’re no longer under your roof. You might feel insulted when they choose to parent differently than you did. Or maybe you feel ignored when they don’t take your advice. Don’t get hung up on these negative emotions, say Pam Siegel andLeslie Zinberg, co-authors ofGrandparenting: Renew, Relive, Rejoice.Everything you’re experiencing is totally normal.

Siegel is a marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles, and Zinberg is the co-founder of the website GrandparentsLink. They’re experts on preventing minor family feuds from becoming major blowups, and they’re here to address the most common situations that grandparents are likely to encounter.

Problem #1: Your adult children won’t let you spoil your grandkids the way you want to.

Example:

The parents forbid you to give your grandkids sugar or let them watch TV at night.

How to deal with it:

It can feel weird to have your kids give you rules to follow. Aren’t you supposed to be telling them what to do?

Not anymore. And as the relationship shifts, your adult kids need to see that you respect them as parents, says Zinberg. “The biggest thing is that you need the parents to trust you,” she says. And once that trust is firmly in place — well, maybe then you can bend the rules a little bit.

To build trust with her own daughter-in-law, Zinberg would ask questions about what was acceptable. Before picking up her grandchildren from school, for instance, she asked, “What are the guidelines on the treats?” Then she’d stick to the rules. “And as my grandkids have gotten older, the restrictions have loosened up,” she says.

By following the parents’ rules, you create an arrangement that leads to more rewarding family relationships for everybody, says Zinberg. “Building trust also builds your relationship with your kids and your son-in-law or daughter-in-law,” she says. “They want you in their lives. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I know she can handle this. Go right ahead.’”

Of course you want to give your grandkids everything in the world, but at the end of the day, the only type of spoiling that matters is the attention and love you shower them with.

Key takeaway:

Once you’ve proved you can follow the rules, you may earn some leeway to bend them. But don’t rush it, and don’t get discouraged if your kids hold steadfast to their position.

Oh, and there’s a notable caveat to this approach: Never push the boundaries with issues of safety. You might remember your kids sleeping best on their bellies, but rules change (babies sleep on their backs now — always), and it’s not your role to decide which risks are worthwhile. “I don’t care what the rules were when we were raising our kids,” says Siegel. “It’s different now. Safety is the most important thing.”

Problem #2: Your adult children make parenting decisions you don’t agree with.

Example:

They bought your 8-year-old grandchild an iPhone, but they refuse to let him play with a plastic toy pistol.

How to deal with it:

Instead of parenting, you should focus on supporting your adult child in his or her challenging new role. Your grandchild is theirs to parent, and that’s a stressful responsibility. “You have to remember this is not your child,” says Siegel. “As grandparents, we have to be mindful to honor the parent.”

It’s worth noting that even if you don’t express your opinion outright, your kid probably already knows how you feel about their parenting. They know your values, and your body language will probably give you away, says Siegel. So voicing disapproval will only stir resentment. Swallowing your own parenting beliefs to make room for theirs, on the other hand, will show how much you care.

Plus, if you play nice, you may earn the freedom to instill some “grandparent rules” at your own home. For example, Siegel’s 10-year-old grandson is allowed to play video games at home, but not when he’s staying with her. “He gives me some pushback, but too bad,” she says. “This is the deal in my home.” Just make sure your adult kids are okay with your rule changes and that they know they’re not indictments on their own parenting style.

The takeaway:

Grandparenting becomes a whole lot easier when you focus on thegrandand let go of theparenting.Let your adult kids know you’re there if they ever need advice or help, and if they take you up on it, make it clear that the decision is still ultimately theirs to make, says Siegel.

Problem #3: Your adult children are trying to change a family tradition.

Example:

Your adult son has decided his family will host its own Thanksgiving celebration this year. Or perhaps he’s decided not to participate in a religious rite of passage, like a baptism or bat mitzvah.

How to deal with it:

A mismatch here can be extremely challenging, says Siegel, because these traditions are really about values. It’s understandable if you’re angry, but try to open up a nonjudgmental dialogue. Don’t let a disagreement turn into a shouting match, and whatever you do, avoid making absolute statements that leave no room for negotiation.

If you say, “We’re doing Thanksgiving at my house, and I don’t want to hear another word about it,” you’ve backed your child into a corner. “When you make demands, then there’s something to fight against, as opposed to coming together,” says Zinberg.

So instead of trying to win the battle, look for opportunities to compromise. Alternating years is one common holiday arrangement, says Siegel. “Say, ‘Okay, I will be glad to [move Thanksgiving] this year, but hopefully you respect what I would like to do next year,’” she says.

Religious traditions can be harder, but one option is to wait it out. Siegel and Zinberg have both seen friends’ children come around on a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah after seeing how meaningful and fun it was for other kids.

Another option is to get your adult kids’ permission to instill some rituals at Grandma and Grandpa’s house — even if it’s so your grandkids can have a sense of their family traditions. You can make a habit of lighting Shabbat candles or saying grace before meals.

Key takeaway:

The most important thing is the strength of your family relationships, so don’t let the details overshadow the big picture.

Is it hard? Sure it is. “You’re so used to being in charge, but now you’re not,” says Siegel. “And you miss it.” But accepting your support role can have a big impact. It will keep your relationship with your adult kids strong, and it will allow your grandchild to see the value in a family that takes care of each other rather than bickering over every disagreement.

Angela Escobar
Angela Escobar writes about lifestyle, health, and wellness for the 50+ crowd. Based in Arizona, when she isn't writing and editing, she likes to spend time with her husband, their dogs, and brag about her two adult children.

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