In Defense of Grandparents



They get a bad rap these days, don’t you think?

Then again, maybe you are even one of those people annoyed by grandparents…

They say things about how their kids slept on their stomachs and survived just fine, thank you very much! Or how their kids just rolled around in the back seat of the car and are just fine. Maybe they mention how all their kids were formula fed…and you guessed it, THEY ARE JUST FINE!

There was even a recent post here on Mothering talking about how grandparents sometimes try to push their way into that special newborn bonding time in the first days of life.

I know that grandparents sometimes say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing or give bad advice. In fact, navigating extended family relationships and setting healthy boundaries with family members is something that I try to talk about in every childbirth class I teach because family that doesn’t respect boundaries (especially at the time of birth) can be a real problem.

Healthy boundaries and adult relationships with those with whom we were once children is an important part of growing up and becoming parents ourselves. I actually lived with my mother-in-law for five years so if you want to trade stories, just send me a pm. I get it.

But these days, I am just grateful for grandparents. Not my grandparents, they are all dead, but my children’s grandparents. And it seems to me that often we pick a few things we think they do wrong and we won’t let them go. We forget about respecting the people who have gone before and walked the path that we are just getting ready to embark on.

There is a distinct possibility that your children’s grandparents actually know a thing or two about raising children. There is also a high likelihood that they did things wrong, and that as their child you remember a few of these things. There is also a very high likelihood that if you point these things out or wag a book in their face (likely written by somebody younger than them) that they will get defensive about it. If Facebook has taught us anything it is that people get outrageously offended when you spit on their parenting choices, whether they be right or wrong.

These days though, I need all the help I can get and it is nice to get help from people who seem to love my kids almost as much as I do. Time and age can be a great softener of hearts too. My oldest is 10 and I find myself more and more clueless all the time when it comes to parenting. As it turns out, parenting a newborn was much easier than parenting a 10 year old or a 10, a 7, a 5 and a 3 year old all at once…

I recall thinking I was pretty hot stuff at one point because I was nursing my baby and sleeping with him and being otherwise gentle in my parenting. Go me, I had a natural birth!

Now I realize that that was kid stuff. The playing field has gotten much more complicated as have the children. They talk, they walk, they have ideas, attitudes, emotions, anger and much more. All of this despite my best efforts to be a great parent.

Turns out all the stuff I thought I knew from, “The Baby Book.” was great but not quite enough as time went on.

Now when I look at people who have successfully raised decent human beings into adults I don’t judge them because they let somebody sleep on their stomach or cry-it-out or weaned too early. I just wonder how they did it and hope they will give me some small hint so I can do it too.

Also, grandparents will let my kids stay the night every once in a while, which frankly, is one heck of a relief. You can’t imagine how much quieter a house gets when just one child is away with grandma and grandpa.

My advice to those new parents feeling like telling their old parents what is up or what they did wrong or what they need to work on…

Bite your tongue. Not all the time, not on the really big stuff, but re-evaluate what the really big stuff is. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you don’t have to talk about the stuff you disagree on either.

Your parents made mistakes. You might remember many of them. That sucks.

But someday you might understand a little better WHY they made those mistakes. In fact, if you are anything like me you might just end up HOPING that your own mistakes are as small.

(Disclaimer- I know some people have downright abusive parents. This doesn’t apply to you so feel free to disregard. I think this goes without saying, but just in case.)

Photo credit: S P Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

5 thoughts on “In Defense of Grandparents”

  1. Yay! I completely agree with you. My husband and I have been married for 13 years, have three children, and live next door to his parents. The beginning was rough. I nit-picked about every little issue between his mom and myself. Tell you what though, I worked on changing my own heart and dealt with my own past issues. After I finally let go of nearly every issue, except the really big stuff, the relationships I have with my mother-in-law AND my husband are much more beautiful. Also, because I let go of all the small issues, whenever a big issue comes up, my in-laws are much more open to what I have to say because there is not so much “noise” as there used to be.

    Thanks for sharing. This is a much needed conversation to be had.

  2. Hm. I appreciate you tackling an interesting subject. I’m going to lovingly disagree with you. My in-laws are atrocious–they bully everyone around them and are all around narcissistic, passive-aggressive jerks. They made my husband’s life hell growing up & will never acknowledge it. Their sense of “normal” and “acceptable” has no place in our life. They still try to crush his spirit to this day but (supposedly) have the best of intentions. Bleh. They hide behind the notion of “we’re important because we’re faaaaaaaamilyyyyyy.” Family does not always equal safe. My mother is an anxiety-ridden control freak. She hovers over my daughter’s every move when she’s around. Both sets of grandparents feel entitled to “instill” notions in my children. And I should “give them a break” because they have supposedly “been there, done that?” That won’t work for me. I feel like a LOT of grandparents do not respect their children (or daughter-in-laws!) as parents. I see this as a respect issue. A lot of times (in my circle) there is a major lack of respect for individual families. Grandparents boundary stomp under the guise of faaaaamilyyyy…it’s not okay.

    I hear what you’re saying. It is okay to be confident in your parenting choices without feeling the need to defend them &/or school others. I would have liked to have seen more honest acknowledgement of disrespect & boundary stomping. Thanks for bringing up the topic for discussion!

    1. I don’t see your experience and the article as mutually exclusive. It sounds like, on both sides of the parent-grandparent relationship there are boundary issues that should be ironed out, but that doesn’t work with unwilling actors. I’m sorry your family tensions overshadow everything. But for families where those issues are on a smaller scale, this advice is helpful. Being a parent is hard!

    2. I hear your pain in this response. And that is why I so appreciated the disclaimer at the end. I’m 60 years young, still working on my own PTSD from the abuse my narcissist, cruel, violent, mother(?) chose to inflict on her children. BUT I am determined to break the curse of the generations & and became the mother for my girls that I wanted to have, & the Grandmother my daughters never had. I respect their position as parent & choose to come along side them & ask how I can best help them. I love being a mother & GRANDmother. It is pure joy to be with each of them! I encourage you to work on healing yourself, to be the best you can be, & set safe boundaries for your family.

  3. Nice Job! It’s time to take a deep breath and be done with the over analysis of mom and the parents / in-laws and put the focus back onto the children. They need us and we need each other. This generation of parents has access to information that the best parents on the planet couldn’t possibly of even understood a generation ago. Some of even our smartest researchers hadn’t even begun to touch the surface of much of the wonderful learning that has occurred over even the last decade. Why waste anymore time trying to get grandparents to pay for what they couldn’t possibly have known? Just lead the way by example and let us marvel at the work your doing with our grandchildren. Not unlike our grandchildren you might find that we too will learn much better by what you model than what you preach. Parenting shouldn’t be a competition. Most parents have made concerted efforts to raise their parenting up a notch throughout time. We wouldn’t expect your generation to do anything different. Grandparents want to see improvement in their grandchildren’s lives and their family histories even when we don’t immediately understand all your parenting choices. Learning why you believe a particular choice seems best for a particular grandchild is far more likely to win our support than telling us your doing it this way because you hated the way we did it. Just as is true, with your children, if you talk to and listen to us we’re more apt to talk to and listen to you. Think of yourselves as the connecting link and the bridge rather than the gatekeepers. Grandparents have legacies we wish to pass forward to future generations but your generation is in the unique position to share both backwards and forwards while creating your own legacies. Imagine yourselves taking your places in our position someday. Would you want our your children to shut you down and block you out? It is my bet that once enough of you begin to soften to the idea of giving us and the grandchildren we love a break you just might find that the mommy wars of your generation begin to cool down too. <3

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