Do your kids sometimes return from a visit to their grandparents’ house with sticky fingers and a chocolate milk mustache? Mine do. My kids proudly share with me all the goodies they got to eat when Mom wasn’t presiding—Fritos, Crystal Light lemonade, ice cream. Then I get to hear about the hour of television they watched and other random and curious escapades. If this doesn’t sound too bad to you, I admit that I may be a little extreme about what I allow my kids to eat and how much TV they get to watch, but I know I’m not alone.
Perhaps you hear tales of messes made, naps missed, or later-than-usual bedtimes. You may cringe and tense up; you are trying to keep the kids well-rested and well-behaved. Ugh!
Maybe your situation is flipped; you are the lenient one, and grandma and grandpa run a tight ship! They may impose order and expectations on your kids where you have none. That can feel like disapproval or criticism of your parenting style.
No matter where your limits lie, they represent your values and what is important for your family. When the kids are in your company, you oversee and protect those values the best you can. So it can be upsetting, frustrating, and power usurping when in the presence of grandma and grandpa your hard work goes out the window.
As with all things, the trespass will fall on a spectrum. Some violations may not be so bad, while others feel downright disrespectful.
What is to be done about this? If you bite your tongue and say nothing in the hopes it will get better or in an effort to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation, I promise you it will not. Your resentment will only grow. You may find yourself limiting the time your kids spend with their grandparents or allowing this issue to taint your regard for them. I recommend the following steps:
1. Check Your Perspective
So many times, we can work ourselves up over small things and tell ourselves stories that don’t paint an accurate picture. Pause. Breathe. Take a step back and find your perspective.
You have parents or in-laws who you trust enough to be with the kids without your supervision. You have parents who want to be engaged and involved with your kids. Count yourself lucky—this is a wonderful problem to have, albeit awkward.
Remember that when grandparents indulge your kids, it has nothing to do with you; they aren’t trying to send a message or be disrespectful. It is about witnessing and sharing in the grandkids’ pure joy and delight while they experience something rare and wonderful.
2. Values Clarification
Think about all of the specific things the grandparents do, or don’t do, that trigger this response in you. Take an inventory—junk food, screen time, lacking (or too much) discipline, certain other activities. What is it that is happening differently than you would like? Why is this so important to you? Is there something behind it or are you just being particular?
When you understand why you react the way you do and the motivation for some of your choices, you have more awareness of yourself and your values. And when you are more aware, you can make better choices that honor those values. Perhaps some of your rules are not that important after all.
Take your list from Step 2 and prioritize. One of parents’ favorite sayings about creating a happy home is to “pick your battles.” This approach can apply here, too. Choose which things to focus on and which to let go.
If after taking the three previous steps you still feel strongly about some of the experiences your kids are having with their grandparents, the next step is to communicate your feelings directly to them. It is always best to be proactive instead of reactive when confronting an issue.
The time to bring up your concerns is not when you are picking your kids up and the evidence is all over their cheeks and chins. Rather, have the discussion before you drop the kids off or at some other neutral time when you are together. It doesn’t have to be serious and stern; it can be light and casual and can sound like this:
“I’ve noticed when the kids are with you they are watching a lot of TV/eating junk food/not picking up after themselves and it is important to me/us that they learn healthy habits. It would be great if you could help us teach them. … Would that be OK with you?” Or, “I’ve/we’ve decided that I/we would like the kids to start being responsible for helping out more around the house. Would you mind including them in picking up or setting the table when they are with you? That would be so helpful.”
This may sound uncomfortable, but it really is essential that we always share our truths. If you choose not to express your feelings directly, they will ooze out of you in your nonverbal communication, and that is sure to destroy the relationship over time.
We all want to make the best choices for our kids. Sometimes those are obvious and sometimes not. As parents, we would like to believe we know what is best for our kids. I know from personal experience, especially with my oldest child, I don’t always know what the best choice is for him.
Aside from the obvious times when emotional or physical safety is a concern, it might just be to our benefit to let go a little. If hindsight is indeed 20/20, the grandparents may just know something we have yet to learn. The more people who love our kids, the better off they will be in the long run, with or without the leftover Chinese food for breakfast.
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