The Issue: When I’m with my grandchildren and their parents aren’t around, I am the ‘adult in charge’. That is, I’m responsible for all aspects of their safety and well being. However, when the parents are around, I am supposed to revert back to the role of ‘grandmother’ and let the parent be the ‘adult in charge’. So, basically the parents are asking me to turn on/turn off the parenting role depending on whether or not they are in the room with us. In other words, I am not supposed to parent my grandchildren, if their own parents are present or even in a different part the same house. Does that make any sense?
As grandparents, many of us do feel ‘betwixt and between’ at times – being asked to serve as a ‘parent’ for a time, but then how much can you say and do before you are viewed as having crossed the line? I know have found myself in that situation more than once!
Today’s parents have so much more research and information to guide them through the various stages and ages of their children’s development. That’s great. What’s not great is that those same parents sometimes seem intent on making sure we respect their role as parents and adults…comments I’ve heard from other grandparents. They feel a need to reinforce that they, the parents – no longer our children – are in charge of their own families.
At times, I feel as if I have to walk on eggshells so as not to step on the parents’ toes. Not that I am discounting the importance of good and ongoing communication and the benefit to my grandchildren of having consistent rules and discipline. I do wonder, though: Is it my generation or does it seem so very important for today’s parents to be heard that their wishes and parenting concepts are respected?
This whole issue is taken up a notch, however, when grandparents are with the grands and their parents are in another part of the house. Who is in charge now? Do we call out for a ‘ruling’ from the parents, when there is a question as to what the grands can do/cannot do/should do? And, what if grands and parents are in the same room with the grandchildren? Are we grandparents not allowed to speak up at all? Really?
This is a great question, and one that I know we have struggled to negotiate. It seems like this is a question of expectations and boundaries of roles. This will probably be different for each parent/grandparent relationship, so you are going to need to talk about this with your grandchild’s parent.
Generally, when a parent asks a grandparent to be the caregiver in their absence, they leave instructions, guidelines, routines and rules depending on the ages of the grandchildren and the length of time the parent will be absent. So, they are asking you to follow their parenting practices in their absence. I do think that responsibility transfers back to the parents, once they return. When you are asked to care for your grandchildren while the parents are gone, you are still the grandparent…not the parent.
May be viewing this situation as a transfer of responsibility, rather than turning on and off, would make things easier. When parents are around, I don’t think that grandparents are expected not to speak up at all, but asking is always better received than assuming. My suggestion would be to follow the parent’s lead and enjoy being a grandparent and not having the parental responsibility! Often, parents are more comfortable with what their own child can and cannot do, so it is helpful to ask rather than assume you need to step in, if the parents are present. I have been in this situation with friends (both before and since I had my son) and several examples jump to mind, such as climbing or allowing them to work out their own conflicts, when you may feel the urge to intervene.
Alright, what’s another way we can approach this issue that makes sense and is workable for all?
I understand that I had my chance to parent and raise my children as I believed they should be. I get that at times grandparents must – like it or not – take a ‘hands off’ approach to disciplining and correcting grandchildren and deferring to the parents. As parents and grandparents, we only want what’s best for our grands, as we did for our own children. And after decades of parenting, it’s very difficult to step back and not speak up!
Perhaps, it would help parents to view the situation from a grandparents’ perspective. It’s certainly not that I think I know better how to parent. Nor am I attempting to undermine the parent’s role. And I am not in any way judging how well they are parenting. It’s just that in the moment, my parenting instincts kick in and it is oh-so-difficult not to speak up, remaining almost invisible in these situations.
In deference to my daughter’s role as parent, I am learning to make a conscious effort each and every time to let her parent my grandson, when she is present. This applies to all of us being together in their house, at a restaurant, shopping or even at the playground. After several discussions, my daughter and I tried different methods of handling who’s in charge and when. In the end, what we thought might work did not always fit the situation. This is an evolving resolution, one that needs to be tweaked sometimes. Recently, we were both in the house as she was preparing to leave and I could sense that she almost, almost jumped into the situation. Instead, she let me handle things and I really did sense that she was making an effort to stand back and let me deal with my grandson. Then, we chuckled about the ‘aha’ moment for both of us and acknowledged how hard it is to make the parent/grandparent relationship work at times.
While working on this column, I realized I had completely stepped in this one! I work from home part-time and my son’s grandmother comes over to watch him. I am often in and out of the room and jump in with a suggestion or direction, thinking I am helping. However, I had to realize that this is confusing for both adults and child. So I have learned that I need to leave that responsibility with the grandparent, until I am fully ready to resume my parental role.
Here is what we are trying now. As the parent, I am trying to make it clear to grandparent and child when I am turning over responsibility, even if I am nearby. Then, I make a conscious effort to leave it alone unless there is a big issue, which I would probably tell the grandparent (away from the child) how I would like the situation to be handled. I also tell my child that the adult in charge is making the decisions and that adult may not be comfortable letting my son do things that I do and that is okay (such as climbing, wearing/not wearing shoes, etc.) I remind my son that he needs to listen to them.
I will also be sure to thank his grandparent and let him or her know, when I am back to take over again as the parent. We will discuss expectations as they arise, so that we are all comfortable and understand the expectations on both sides. The grandparent (my mom) has agreed to try to sit back and let me be the parent when I am around, although she still will ask questions or give suggestions… which may or may not be implemented.
A note from Remy (GRAND) and Blair (MOM):
We’re putting our relationship on the line, hoping to help others by sharing and discussing our relationship issues and those from other grandparents and parents. From the early feedback to our first feature, we know we are not alone in this! So, we want to hear from you. We promise not to divulge your identity and we’ll dig deep to help you with a view from both sides of the pothole, voicing the perspective of Mom and Grand.
Share your grandparent/parent questions, situations and issues with us and we’ll try to help! Email us at [email protected] and look for our new Facebook page coming soon with chances to win prizes for ‘liking’ us and sharing the link with your friends and relatives …and lots of ways you can become an active part of this ongoing conversation between parents and grandparents!