Ask Dr. Gramma Karen | By Karen Rancourt, PhD | Constant arguing can be hazardous to little ears. Here’s some sage advice for bickering grandparents. |
“Are Grandma and Grandpa getting a divorce?” a young girl asks her mother.
“Why would you think that?” inquires her mother.
“Because they are always arguing.”
Children constantly observe and absorb, especially if they sense any kind of conflict brewing around them. Disagreements are inevitable, and they can be instructive to children in positive ways when they are resolved with respect, sincere apologies, and commitments to try to make appropriate changes.
However, when our young friend, above, describes her grandparents as “always arguing,” I think she is describing something different and more troubling: constant and uncomfortable squabbling, which can be confusing to and anxiety-provoking for many grandchildren.
As one young parent summarized her parents’ relationship: “When they are together, they constantly bicker with each other over the stupidest stuff. One says the fish is grilled perfectly, and the other says it’s dry; this is followed by an unpleasant exchange. One says they need a new car, and the other says there’s nothing wrong with the one they have; this sets off an argument.”
Grandparents’ endless bickering may or may not be symptomatic of serious problems in their relationship. It is possible their snippy communication is so embedded they’ve habituated to it — that is, they are so used to it that it is emotion-free and they don’t even realize that the way they talk with each other may be viewed as unpleasant and disrespectful to others. It is also possible they are, indeed, headed toward a serious relationship breakdown.
Either way, grandparents need to step back, look at how they interact with each other in front of their grandchildren, and truthfully determine if they are, in fact, squabblers. If so, they need to make an agreement, regardless of how they may really feel toward each other, to immediately stop their haggling when their grandchildren are near. It would be wonderful for squabbling grandparents to stop bickering in front of everybody. But at the very least, they can ensure they are not unkind and unpleasant with each other around their grandchildren.
Karen L. Rancourt, PhD, writes an advice column for parents and grandparents at Mommybites com and is the author of Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Helping Young Parents and Grandparents Deal with Thorny Issues.