I breastfed, co-slept, did cloth diapers, and baby-wore; I didn’t spank or sleep train. My parents never agreed with my parenting style. Through trial-and-error, I found ways to involve them in my children’s lives without compromising the way I wanted to raise my kids.
I grew up a day’s roadtrip away from my grandparents and extended family. I only saw them once a year. So when my oldest child was born, we moved across the state to be within 15 minutes of my parents. Why? I wanted my kids to grow up with grandparents in their lives.
Here are 5 strategies I found to make grandparent-grandchild time work while reducing tension between you and your folks:
1. Be confident in how you parent and give grace to unsolicited advice.
My top advice is to be confident in your parenting style. You have to know that why you raise your children the way you do in order to buffer all the conflicting advice thrown your way. It doesn’t matter where you go — in the grocery store, to your place of worship, to the bank, to your child’s daycare or school — you are bound to hear someone somewhere refer to the way you parent as “wrong.” Parenting is extremely personal, and extremely varied. And it’s easy for someone to feel invalidated about their parenting style when someone else comes along who is doing it differently. So, go ahead and listen, but don’t take it personally. Listen, and let it go. You can even consider points, but only take the advice you feel fits with your values or that you feel may benefit your family.
Related: No, Please Don’t Visit My Newborn
That said, our parents and parents-in-law sometimes feel that it is part of their role in our lives to help us learn child-rearing. Or, they may be genuinely concerned that if you parent differently that you may get different parenting results than you’re aiming for. They may be people who take it personally that you parent differently, or they could be the type of person that takes everything the mass media picks up as truth. Consider all the different factors that may be contributing to the unsolicited advice you’re giving, and then give that person grace. Listen, and let it go. All your critic may want is for someone to listen and feel like their opinion matters.
All this doesn’t mean you have to spend a great deal of time with the grandparents. Even grandparents who live very close to their grandchildren aren’t entitled to seeing them often. You may have to do some tough work of creating emotional boundaries for grandparents who feel this way. A good rule of thumb is, make sure whatever you’re trying to get and keep grandparents in your child’s life works first for you and your family. And if it doesn’t, something needs to be tweaked.
2. Set some ground rules, and create an environment for them to work.
Your child’s grandparents may be OK with your differing parenting style once you explain why you do what you do and show them that you’re serious about it. Or, they may not. Either way, it may be hard for them to relate to your child in the way you would like them to. So, get ahead of this and set some ground rules — just a few of them. Start slow. For example, I made it a rule that a grandparent would never spank or strike my children.
And then create the environment for those ground rules to work without tripping the grandparent’s desire to respond in a different way. This may mean keeping visits short during certain child development stages, bringing a special box of toys along to keep toddlers away from grandma’s knickknacks, meeting in public such as at a park, or providing healthy treats if grandma insists on cookies and candy.
3. Find activities the grandparents can do with your child, and keep those activities special.
Some grandparents have this idyllic expectation of time with their grandchildren, and your differing parenting style may cramp those ideas. Other grandparents may feel their bond with their grandchildren is hampered by your parenting style. That’s OK. You’re not responsible to meet others’ expectations. But what can help in both of these situations is to find a special activity that only the grandparents can do with your child and then protect that. For example, I keyed in real quick that my mother-in-law loves to paint my daughters’ fingernails. Now that is their special activity together. I don’t paint their nails. In another example, my mom enjoys doing genealogy. So do I. But she wanted to get my oldest daughter involved, and so I stepped back and let her do it.
Through these special activities, they have formed their own special bonds that have transcended any criticism of different parenting styles. As that bond grows closer with each of the kids, there’s just less emphasis on their differences with you.
4. Develop Your Own Relationship with the Grandparents
As the grandparents begin to develop a strong bond to your children, take the initiative to deepen your relationship with the grandparents. If you once had a good relationship, before becoming a parent, this may be easy. Or not. Start by finding something in common, or honing in on a hobby that your parent or parent-in-law does that you’re interested in learning. Or, just invite them out to coffee.
For example, my mom has amazing flower gardens. By developing an interest in flower-gardening myself, it helped to refocus our relationship off our differing parenting styles onto something we had in common.
That said, it is entirely possible that some grandparents will not seem to be able to get over the fact that you are raising their kids differently than they would. And that’s OK. It’s OK that they feel that way, and it’s OK that you feel the way you do. Keep trying to find some common ground and staying friendly, and hopefully they will come around through your example.
5. Be Patient and Let Time Work
Some grandparents are hard to be around. Sometimes, it seems that criticizing you is all they know how to do. Don’t blame yourself for not trying. Understand that whatever the issue is, it lies within them. By trying to control how you parent, they are trying to fulfill some sort of need inside themselves. Likely, that need won’t ever be filled.
However, often if you persevere through the bumpy moments when you think you can’t hear another lecture on cosleeping or breastfeeding past a year, if you can try to exercise patience and focus on the positive, time will change their hearts. They can begin to see that your kids are turning out well despite their fears.