I think most people fear parenting input from our families. No family comedy or indie drama film features grandparents who give welcome and excellent parenting advice. Sometimes we forget that our parents might actually have valuable insight into this whole parenting thing.
With my daughter, I felt there was a right and wrong to every choice we made. I thought using wipes the first few days after she was born was somehow going to ruin her, because the baby information class told us to use wet cotton squares the first week.
When my mom (who raised three babies and helped with three grand babies before I had my first) tried to use a wet wipe on my baby girl, I reacted as though she was trying to use poison ivy. I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face and the restraint she employed to remain silent as she headed to the bathroom to wet a cotton square.
I’ve since realized that a wet wipe is not going to make or break my child’s life, and I’ve stopped questioning my mom’s ability to change a diaper.
If you find yourself having a difficult time navigating your parents or in-laws in their role as grandparents, here are seven tips:
1. Look on the bright side.
The advantage of having parents nearby is that they can help take care of your kids (hopefully) and give you flexibility in your schedule. Having grandparents close can eliminate a lot of the stress of trying to find childcare. Plus, having extra people around who love your kids is pretty great for the kids, too.
Of course, having grandparents nearby can also cause stress. When your parents and in-laws are far away, there’s less of a chance they can interfere with your marriage, your sanity, or your parenting choices.
It’s a "grass is always greener on the other side" situation. I would love to have my parents and in-laws closer. I know plenty of people who would love to have their parents and in-laws a little less close.
Try to appreciate what you have and recognize the disadvantage of the opposite situation.
2. Remember that you can’t change your parents.
You weren’t able to change them when you were a teenager and you can’t change them now.
There’s a trend in teaching that attempts to "teacher-proof" the learning process by having teachers follow a scripted curriculum. Certainly, some parents would like to "grandparent-proof" their child’s relationship with her grandparents, but you can’t make your parents or in-laws follow a script on how you’d like them to be with your kids.
Accept your parents for who they are, and give them space to have a relationship with their grandkids that you aren’t always trying to dictate.
At the very least, you’ll save yourself a lot of wasted energy trying to change your parents, and at best, you may find that your kids are capable of accepting their grandparents in a way that changes everyone involved.
3. Set big boundaries.
You can’t micromanage the way your parents take care of your kids. There are obviously non-negotiable safety concerns, which are a priority. Beyond those, give your parents some freedom to do things their way.
You child won’t be ruined because he ate lunch fifteen minutes later than usual or because he switched up the order on his bedtime routine. But you'll want to share any food allergies or specialty food considerations you need them to strictly follow so they don’t overstep your bounds without knowing it.
Kids are remarkably flexible. They can learn that things work one way at Grandmom’s house and another way at home.
4. You can’t have it both ways.
You can’t ask for your parents to help you with childcare and be frustrated and petulant every time your parents help you with childcare. I mean, I guess you can continue that pattern if it’s working for you, but I doubt it is.
If you don’t like the way your parents or in-laws take care of your kids, then find other childcare. It’s not fair to anyone involved if you feel ungrateful.
5. Make them part of the team.
Instead of just giving your parents an instruction, enlist their help.
Instead of saying, "Let’s have Thanksgiving over here," and then being frustrated because your mother-in-law decides to host it at her place, say, "Could you help us host Thanksgiving at our house? It would be less stressful since our house is child-proofed, and the baby can nap in his own crib so he’ll be in a better mood to see family."
Or, instead of saying, "Don’t give Ben a bottle," say, "We’re really trying to wean Ben off the bottle and get him to take the sippy cup instead. If you can help us with that, we’d really appreciate it."
It’s human nature to want to help when you understand why you’re helping and you feel like you’re appreciated.
6. Be a good example of how kids should treat their parents.
Your children are learning how to treat you by watching the way you treat your parents.
Be careful how you talk about your parents and in-laws in front of your kids. Watch your temper and tone when you talk to your parents in front of their grandkids.
Your issues with your parents don’t have to be your kid’s issues with your parents.
Let your kids decide for themselves how they feel about their grandparents, and wait to discuss any issues until your children bring it up to you.
7. Accept your parents’ opinions.
Your parents and in-laws are probably going to have an opinion on the way you should parent, just like you’re probably going to have an opinion on the way they should grandparent.
The best way to handle perceived criticism or advice on parenting (or any topic really) is to accept it. You don’t have to believe it to be true or implement the practice to accept that other people have an opinion that is different from yours.
You’re in charge of how you parent your child. There’s no reason to feel defensive. Other points of view are at least worth considering. If they make sense, try them, and if they don’t, don’t.
When I’m confident in the way I’m handling something as a parent and my method is working for me, I don’t care what other people think. When I’m less sure and I’m not getting the desired result, I’m more defensive and resentful of my family’s opinions.
So when an opinion makes me angry, it’s time for me to question my confidence in my choice.
You know, sometimes our parents have good advice. Just because we have fancy car seats and know what "baby led weaning" is, doesn’t mean we know more about parenting than our parents.
The parenting ego is sometimes a beast, who forgets that he doesn’t have to be everything for his kids. Grandparents, for example, can fill the role of grandparents, and expose our kids to twice the love, experience, and perspective.
Image: Sandor Weisz