I was chatting with a couple of moms after music class this week, and the topic came up of how to deal with well-meaning grandparents who spoil your child. The simple straight-forward answer is, “Just talk to them about it, setting your limits clearly.” However, that’s not always as easy as it may sound. We adults often dance around what we want to say without being clear out of fear of offending the other person. Or sometimes, it’s the receiver who takes what’s said as an attack rather than a request for support. We could learn a lot from our children who often blurt out whatever is on their minds without much thought to how the other person will react.
Grandparents don’t have to be with your child every day, setting and enforcing limits. They already did that with their own children and want to enjoy being the “good guy” for a change. They want to be able to play without the restrictions of rulemaking. That’s understandable, but they also need to learn how to do that without undermining the parents. As a grandparent, I am much more flexible, patient and playful than I was with my children. I don't have the constraints of day-to-day parenting and the stresses that go along with that. but it’s a delicate balance. If grandparents live a far distance away, I think it’s healthy for them to go overboard during the time they are visiting. However, if they are close by and see your children often, they need to learn to play within the parameters of your household rules. It’s very similar to co-parenting with exes in a divorce. In your own household, you have your own rules. This goes for the grandparents’ houses, too. For example, if they want to let your kids jump on their couch, and it’s not necessarily dangerous, let them. Just make sure your children understand that the rule is different for your couch. The reverse can be true, too. When I had children in my home, I always allowed them to eat in the car. It made my life much easier. Now, I don't allow it anymore. I'm tired of having crumbs and trash in my car. Not that my car is spotless, far from it, but it's no longer filled with old food wrappers, crumbs and bottles. Our priorities change as we age.
Then there's the subject of in-laws. This is always such a delicate balance. Most of the time, we don’t want to offend them and certainly want them to like us, and they feel the same way. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes there are tensions because of jealousy or judgements. These are not easy to navigate but try to keep in mind that your in-laws are your spouse’s family. They raised him or her, and they must have done a good job, or you wouldn’t be with them. Your in-laws may be feeling a great loss or have some other feelings that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with you. The best thing that we can do in those situations is to try to be as accepting as possible and hope they will come around. Sometimes, talking about the issue is the best way to clear the air. At least you know where you stand instead of guessing.
Communication is always the best way to go when there are issues around our children, whether it’s with our spouses, parents or in-laws. We will never move forward without talking things through. Resentments will build, often until they feel insurmountable. I have had wonderful conversations with my parents, in-laws and spouse and may have had an equal number of falling outs with them as well. Regardless of the circumstances, in one way or another, the outcome was always beneficial to the children involved. I’ve had to learn to speak out and also to listen openly without letting my feelings get in the way. As an older person, it’s sometimes difficult for me to sit back and listen. I’ve waited a long time to be an elder. I am now in the time of life for sharing my wisdom, and I sometimes resent younger folks trying to "teach" me or share their wisdom. I can't count the number of times i have felt like saying (or have said), "Wait your turn. You're young. Your time will come." But I’ve learned a lot from listening to my children and respecting their experience as parents. I've learned a lot from my students and from people of all ages. We’re never too old to learn. I think most of the difficulty comes in the presentation, not the substance.