Of more than 2,000 parents polled in a recent survey, nearly 45% reported butting heads with grandparents about their parenting choices, according to a report published Monday by The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health by Michigan Medicine.
A close grandparent-child relationship is good for both parties, said Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in private practice in Oakland, California, and author of the forthcoming book “Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict
“A loving and involved grandparent” can be good for the children’s social and cognitive skills, identity, self-esteem, and knowledge of family history, said Coleman, who also a senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families. He wasn’t involved in the study.
Grandparents could also bring to a child’s life attributes that their parents might not be able to, intervene in unhealthy dynamics and suggest an “attitude toward the grandchild that might be more loving, compassionate and forgiving,” he added.
“For the grandparent, it’s a deeply powerful source of meaning and pleasure,” he said. “The relationship between a grandparent and grandchild is one of shared vulnerability and a kind of innocence.” Nonetheless, conflict can arise when a grandparent has different ideas than you about the best way to raise children. During the pandemic, conflicts might have worsened due to stress — especially if you live in a multigenerational household. If tension festers, a few strategies could help to restore the peace.
Parents and grandparents should assume good intentions of the other’s behavior and try to understand their motivations, Coleman recommended.
Grandparents may try to compensate for their perceived or actual shortcomings as parents. They might correct you if they’re frustrated by you unknowingly repeating their mistakes.
The older generation also may have lived in a different time when booster seats weren’t required by law, when there were no organic baby food labels and when smart devices didn’t exist.
Parents are anxious and feeling guilty because they’re raising children in a world uncertain in terms of economics, climate change and politics, Coleman said. And parenting advice is ever-changing, “with no shortage of articles on any given day or newscasts that tell you all the things that you could do wrong as a parent.”
Higher standards can make parents appear more controlling, and the generational tension can create a breeding ground for conflict.
Focus on the important things
Figure out which issues are deal-breakers that require cohesiveness, Clark said.
That your children sit in booster seats on car rides and stop eating sugar by 3 p.m. are of utmost importance — they could otherwise get hurt or experience negative behavioral changes from processed food. “Try to get the grandparents to understand (why) these are things we really have to do,” Clark said.
Parents should learn to “back off a little bit” on less important matters, Clark added. “It’s good to let grandparents be grandparents.”