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Managing Parent/Grandparent Tensions

by Jan Faull


Tension can exist between some parents and grandparents. The tension is age-old and fairly straightforward, yet relationships in families being what they are, sometimes tension turns complex and may be difficult to resolve. The tension is this:

Parents are on the frontlines every day, doing what they deem best for their children.

They’re the ones ultimately responsible for the health and well-being of their children, which involves numerous tasks. Here are just a few:

  • Seeing to it their children are fed nutritious meals and receive adequate sleep
  • Completing the tasks of bathing, clothing, holding, talking, rocking, playing and tidying up afterward
  • Scheduling for doctor’s appointments, events like PEPS and extended family obligations

Plus, there’s so much new in parenting today that parents try to stay on top of and of which most grandparents aren’t even aware. Parents choose the best possible car seat, learn the latest research on brain development, and apply current approaches to managing children’s emotions, including temper tantrums. They wonder if their child has allergies, consider the pros and cons of immunizations, and determine if it’s best to start little Jack in gymnastics at age 2 or wait until age 5? These are issues grandparents didn’t even think about when raising their children, but these are certainly issues facing the modern mom and dad.

On top of all of this, parents must provide housing, pay taxes and keep up with their work outside the home. It’s exhausting when you think about it. It’s life spinning at hurricane speed, while parents do all they can to stand straight and tall through it all to maintain a positive and loving presence as they nurture and guide their children on the long road to independence.

Grandparents hold a far different position in the lives of their grandchildren.

No matter if grandparents see their grandchildren once a week or once a year, because of the intimacy of the relationship with their adult children and grandchildren they look for and notice the bigger picture that comes from experience and wisdom of being one generation removed. This broader perspective is often seen and heard by their eyes and ears only.

Parents don’t always see this big picture because they are on the parenting firing line with the day-by-day tasks they must manage. They don’t always have the time or energy to develop a broader perspective. It’s hard after a full day’s work, when you’re only trying to get every child fed and to bed, to think about the value of family dinners and the importance of bedtime stories.

A grandmother may turn concerned when she sees the mom and dad acting as short-order cooks for their children, but the parent is only trying to fix something the children might eat that evening for dinner. Then when a parent lies down with his child night after night to get the child to sleep and ends up sleeping the entire night with her because the parent is so exhausted himself, Grandpa might wonder if the child will ever learn to go to sleep on her own.

A grandma might fret about the amount of time a grandchild spends playing on an electronic device, complicated by the fact that Dad set a 15-minute limit that has come and gone. The child keeps playing, Dad says nothing, and Grandma worries just what establishing a “15-minute electronic rule” accomplishes if the father doesn’t follow through?

So what’s to be done? Where will the twain meet? Is there a way to couple the demands and updated approaches to parenting that parents must navigate with the wisdom and experience grandparents bring to the parenting picture? The answer is yes.

Some parents and grandparents just naturally discuss different approaches to parenting from the grandparents’ generation to this one without feeling threatened, put on the spot or criticized. Other grandparents and parents must work at it.

Since grandparents can often be part of the parenting team, smart parents seek their wisdom and perspective. And wise grandparents ask their adult children about the latest trends in parenting because they’re curious and interested. Doing so not only makes them informed, but better supports Mom and Dad as they manage the rigors of parenting today.

Grandparents can ask for information about today’s approaches to parenting to learn what’s new, what’s “in” and why. If they disagree, it’s best they keep that to themselves.

Parents can ask for advice from their parents; after all, who loves their children as much as they do if not grandparents? Once the advice is given, it’s up to the parents to decide to use it or not since they’re the ones ultimately responsible for their children.

Grandparents are a loving resource; usually their opinions come without malice, just unconditional love for their grandchildren and, of course, their adult children who are raising them.

And as much as grandparents are enthralled by their grandchildren, it’s important for them to remember that every parent needs their own mom and dad to communicate to them that they are doing an absolutely fabulous parenting job. Of course, grandparents love hearing from their adult children that they’re appreciated. Such affirmations on both sides of the generation gap ultimately make discussing tough topics easier.

About The Author

JanFaullesizedJan Faull, M.Ed., has taught Parent Education for more than twenty-seven years. Jan's weekly column Parenting for The Seattle Times ran for ten years.

She is a recognized speaker to a wide variety of local and national organizations. Jan is the author of five books: Mommy, I Have to Go Potty (Raefield & Roberts, 1996); Unplugging Parent-Child Power Struggles: Resolving Emotional Battles with Your Kids Ages 2-10 (Parenting Press, 2000); Darn Good Advice-Parenting (Barrons, 2005); and Darn Good Advice-Baby (Barrons, 2005). Her latest book: Amazing Minds: The Science of Nurturing Your Child's Developing Mind was published in August 2010 by Berkley Books a subsidiary of Penguin.

Jan was a board member for PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) and currently serves on the PEPS Advisory Board. The mother of three adults and grandmother to three granddaughters, Emilia, Flora and Violet and one grandson, George, she resides in Seattle.


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