If grandparents criticize parenting methods, tell parents what to do and oppose their decisions, it can affect parents’ feelings of competence, and that’s how a great many conflicts are created.
Tips for grandparents
- Respect parental decisions. It’s very tempting to put in your two cents worth regarding the education and care of your grandchildren, but it’s best to hold your tongue. “New parents undergo an intense learning period and still have little confidence in their parenting skills,” explains Nathalie Parent. “If grandparents criticize parenting methods, tell parents what to do and oppose their decisions, it can affect parents’ feelings of competence, and that’s how a great many conflicts are created.” The best way to maintain harmony is to keep your opinions to yourself and respect the parents’ need for autonomy. Don’t forget that it’s their job to raise and care for their children. Complimenting the parents (e.g.: “You’re a natural with your baby.”) is a good way to nurture your relationship. And if they ask for your advice, keep things general and leave your remarks open-ended: “Perhaps you could try this… but in the end, trust your instinct.” It’s also important to realize that things have changed over the years. What was recommended 30 years ago may no longer apply today.
“See, mom, now that my grandparents are here, we’re a real family.”
-Gabriel Levasseur, 5 years old
- Spoil the children… just a little. It’s normal for grandparents to be less strict about some things, but always within the limits of what’s reasonable. For example, yes to sweets, but not always and in small quantities. The key is to respect the same basic principles as the parents. “Or else the child may become insecure and try to take advantage of the contradictions he senses among the adults,” warns Francine Ferland.
- Be present without being invasive. Even if you’d like to see your grandchildren all the time, it’s wiser to show some reserve. Spending almost every day together, or insisting that the young family come over every Sunday for dinner may be too much for some parents. “They may find it difficult to set up their own family routine and bond together,” explains Ferland. “They’ll feel that their lives are being invaded and want to keep their distance.” The same applies if you tend to impose your help, by, for example, “demanding” that the parents go out while you take care of their baby. Make the offer, by all means, but allow the parents the freedom to accept or not.
Tips for parents
“Each time my children make progress or accomplish something new, I call my parents to tell them about it.”
-Geneviève, mother of three-year-olds William and Mathis and one-year-old Loïc.
- Specify your general discipline guidelines. It’s a good idea to tell grandparents which rules are most important to you (discipline, routine, food, etc.) and to explain why. This way, everyone knows what to expect. If grandparents disregard your wishes, then explain to them what are the consequences for your child: tantrums when he goes to bed too late; overexcitement when he eats too many sweets, etc. That said, it is certainly preferable to have certain degree of flexibility. According to Francine Ferland, “Your child is able to understand that there may be exceptions to the rules at grandma’s house, and that lifestyle habits may be a bit different there.”
- Spread out your requests for help. “Even if my parents and parents-in-law are always ready to babysit, I make sure I don’t take advantage of them,” says Marie-Ève. “They have their own lives as well. So I ask my sisters, too.” It’s a good idea to diversify your child’s support network, suggests Ferland. “Grandparents are not obliged to being at the constant beck and call of their children,” she says.
- Foster the bonds. According to Nathalie Parent, parents have a role to play in fostering a close relationship between grandchildren and grandparents. “Having grandparents around is such a bonus for children that it’s good to speak well of them often. Parents should also encourage lots of visits,” suggests the psychologist.