“My daughter tells me not to give my granddaughter high fructose corn syrup. But I raised my daughter on Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops. What?” Might this be you?
As a father of three with a long career as a school teacher, educational director, and parenting coach, I have witnessed countless battles over what kids are, and aren’t, eating. It’s certainly been true in my own family where four lively, engaged grandparents have participated actively in raising their grandchildren. It seems simple, but it’s not. And the friction points don’t end with what the kids are, and aren’t, putting in their mouths.
Regardless of their age, every adult formulates expectations and opinions about the ideal time for bed, brand of toothpaste, layers of clothing, social media consumption, choice of friends, shoe style, shoe fit, shoe price… Oh, money? Forget about it!
So we get stuck. Grandparents often inadvertently contradict the rules their adult children have laid out for their grandchildren. Or there can be an open disagreement over the right way for a thing to be done. Sometimes a parenting decision was already provided and not everyone was informed — children will always suss out those opportunities to get another answer they like better than the first one they got!
Of course there are always pockets of hypocrisy, like the sugar fiend parent telling you not to give your grandchild some form of sugar. Given that we have constant, innumerable opportunities for intergenerational misalignment and conflict in this golden age of active grandparenting, we all could use a little step back to consider our approach.
Here are some practical steps to create alignment across differing points of view, and put the “grand” in your grandparenting.
1. Start With A Little Perspective — And A Lot Of Empathy
Remember that your adult children have their own points of view, ones that are not as long-established as yours. Grandparents might lean toward certain permissions because they have been there and done that through more life experiences and they know a “command and control” approach won’t work on a certain topic. On the other hand, certain topics can feel urgent to a grandparent because they have seen the long-term effects of playing a key issue fast and loose. Or they just can’t stand feeling cold anymore and don’t want anyone else to either!
A critical difference is that a grandparent has had an extra couple decades of experience in parenting, and life in general. Whether that means considering things more or less seriously, there can be big differences when a situation is your first rodeo versus having seen it many times before. So a little patience and respect for the junior party goes a long way toward finding common ground.
Another key difference is there’s a level of accountability and self-consciousness that is felt by the parent. No one gives Grandpa much of a side-eye if he brings a grandchild to an event with messy hair and the wrong type of footwear — the judgment or the question does not land on him. Parents feel the weight of that directly and are more inclined to care than a grandparent who has learned to let go of others’ opinions.
2. Recognize Who Ultimately Gets to Decide
The sooner we can align with this simple truth the better: The legal guardian of a child is the ultimate authority for all parenting decisions. This is helpful both because it grants respect to the extra stressors on that parent (mentioned above), and it also creates an effective hierarchy. This is true even when the grandchild spends a lot of time under the care of their grandparents.
A generation prior, when directly parenting their own kids, the grandparent’s job was to call the shots. Now, the grandparent is an influencer and a collaborator. Grandparents who support the new boss, their adult child, are going to have a more enjoyable and effective experience, along with everyone else involved.
Disagree with the boss? You’re still not the boss, so you better get strategic about what you want to say and sharpen up those communication skills as you decide how to say it.
3. Decide Which Rules And Details Are Worth Fighting For
Get out a piece of paper or digital document and come to terms with what’s important to you. First, write down your top three priorities as a grandparent.
Is it the physical safety of your grandchildren? Social connection and fun? Teaching the grandkids the value of money and how to work with it? Vegetables? What few points are worth putting in real effort and concentration, or even going toe to toe?
Second, write down the top three ways in which your priorities are not being met.
Be specific about it. What is or isn’t happening that is important to you? Or what has gotten confusing and contradictory?
4. Define Your Goal And Have The Conversation
Now that you’ve got your points of misalignment identified, it’s time for you to get on board. Remember, you’re not the boss. You’re bringing this shortlist of topics to the boss so you can get on the same page — their page!
Set a goal for yourself: What is this conversation going to accomplish? Useful talking points in the conversation include:
- Say why this is important to you — it’s in that first list of your priorities.
- Concede that you’re not the boss — acknowledge that ultimately everything is their judgment call.
- Name the thing that you wish was different, and make a proposal for them to consider.
- Ask what the parent would like you to do differently — they might have a proposal of their own.
- Confirm the new plan: What’s supposed to happen now, and who’s supposed to do what?
- Decide when to have the next grandparenting conversation to keep things on track.
The Grandparenting Discussion Cycle
As parents and grandparents, what we really need are clear agreements and a regular discussion cycle to account for whether we are living up to them.
At the end of the day, relationships and connection matter most. For a deeper look into what’s important to you and to make a legacy plan that honors you, your adult children, and your grandchildren, visit ELDR. For more in-depth support in approaching hard conversations, check out Handel Group.
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