Grandparents often have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to raising children. After all they’ve already done the job. That doesn’t mean, however, that parents want or need the advice of grandparents, no matter how well-meaning those grandparents may be. There is a fine line between helpfulness and interference, and sensitive grandparents must be careful not to usurp the authority of the parents.
Often, new parents turn to their mothers or mother-in-laws for advice on caring for their babies. Grandmothers are frequently able to offer recommendations on how to calm fussy infants, get resistant babies to eat, and convince little ones to sleep through the night. When mum and dad are exhausted and at their wits end trying to adjust to their new lives as parents, it is commonly their own parents that they turn to for guidance and support. When requested, a grandparent’s help can be invaluable. The key words there, though, are “when requested.” Unsolicited advice is rarely welcomed or appreciated, and grandparents, even when they have solutions to the parenting difficulties that their children may experience, need to step back and allow the parents to do things in their own way.
Put Yourself in their Shoes
The surest way for grandparents to remind themselves to keep quiet when they are tempted to offer unsolicited advice is to remember back to the years when they were raising their own children. In all likelihood, they were offered advice from many seasoned parents, including their own, on everything from feeding to disciplining their children. While it is easy to understand that people are merely trying to be helpful, parents have a desire and a right to raise their children in the way that they see fit, even if their methods are entirely different from how they were raised.
To be of the most help, grandparents should be available, but not pushy. It’s wise to establish boundaries when the grandchildren are very young since there are undoubtedly going to be moments throughout the years when grandparents will disagree with decisions that their children make regarding the upbringing of the grandkids. It is important to keep in mind that the ultimate responsibility for the well-being of children lies with their parents, as does the right to establish rules, set nutritional guidelines, and decide on acceptable behaviour. While the majority of parents allow a bit of flexibility in the rules for the indulgent nature of grandparents, those same grandparents must be mindful not to stray too far from the standards set by the children’s parents.
While most parents should be left to their own devices in matters of childrearing, there are times when grandparents or other family members may need to speak up and intercede on the behalf of the children. Situations involving parental abuse of drugs or alcohol, for instance, may require intervention in order to assure the safety and well being of the grandchildren. If the children are neglected or abused, either physically, sexually, or emotionally by their parents, grandparents have a responsibility to see that the children are moved to a safe and loving environment.
In order to develop healthy, respectful family relationships, all adults involved must make efforts to honor the other members, setting a good example for the children to follow. All families will have occasional disagreements, but if everyone is allowed and encouraged to express themselves in a loving manner, small problems needn’t turn into big ordeals.
It may be wise for grandparents to approach their children before the first grandchild is born and tell them honestly, “We want to be helpful, but we don’t want to be bothersome. Please let us know what we can do to help and if we start to get on your nerves, just say so and we’ll step back a bit. We already love this baby, but we don’t want our enthusiasm about being grandparents to cause any discontent.” By addressing the parents directly and assuring them that their wishes will be respected, they are less likely to feel that grandparents are trying to force their ideas on the new family. Healthy families who treat each other with kindness and consideration are perfect environments in which to raise happy, well-adjusted children.