It's common to hear complaints among parents about grandparents overstepping boundaries in terms of raising their children.
The special role that grandparents play in a family is undeniable.
With their experience, they can offer support and advice to parents on various aspects of parenting, especially first-time parents.
They also provide reliable and trustworthy childcare whenever parents need to be away from their children.
A precious part of children’s lives, grandparents are fond of pampering grandchildren, and sharing stories and wisdom.
Grandparents may sometimes interfere with parenting methods, leading to conflict within the family. Intentionally or otherwise, they may offer unsolicited advice, criticise how their grandchild is being raised or spoil the grandchild by bending the rules and routines parents have set.
Grandparents may offer kids too many snacks or be lackadaisical about using the child car seat, but there are also those who insist on stricter disciplining.
Most parents will overlook an occasional case, but repeated incidents may cause them to feel that their authority is being undermined and their capabilities questioned.
Furthermore, differing instructions from parents and grandparents may confuse children, who feel trapped between the opposing sides. Without careful consideration, minor disagreements can lead to major clashes and arguments, causing family instability.
Most parents appreciate the presence of grandparents and want them to be involved in their kids’ lives, but at the same time they are wary of their parenting vision being disrupted.
To balance this up:
• Define roles: The key to reducing conflict and misunderstanding is for parents to clearly define their own roles and their expectations of the grandparents.
Experts agree it is parents’ role to delegate authority to grandparents, not the other way around.
• Be clear about your rules: No matter how good your intention is, unsolicited advice is rarely welcome.
If it’s coming from one’s own parents or from the in-laws, it will likely be heard as criticism.
You and your spouse should first agree with each other on your parenting rules.
Together with your spouse, clearly and calmly communicate these rules to the grandparents. Let them know how they can help you and what they should not do.
• Manage differences with tact: They may disagree with your methods, but try to understand their point of view and gently reason with them. Inform them that what worked years ago may not work now. Stay calm and avoid getting defensive.
You can say, “I appreciate your opinion, but I hope you understand I’m the one who is responsible for my kids.”
This is particularly true for medical or safety issues.
• Be flexible: Everyone wants the best for the kids, so find a middle ground that is agreeable to both sides. Sometimes it’s okay to let them have their way.
Grandparents should be allowed to make decisions when parents are not present, when a child’s action directly affects them, when safety is at stake, or when house rules are broken.
• Make them feel included: Involve them in your discussions about the kids and let them contribute.
For example, they can help send the kids to and from tuition. Invite them to join you in parenting classes or visits to the paediatrician to help them understand your decisions better.
Diffusing the tension
Conflicts are bound to happen due to different opinions and clashing personalities.
As this often happens between the spouse and the in-laws, it falls on the son or daughter to mend the relationship.
In case of a heated argument:
• Cool down: The son/daughter should lead both parties away to different rooms to calm down and have space away from the intense atmosphere.
This is important as hurtful words may be exchanged and further damage the relationship.
• Become an intermediary: It is better for grandparents to discuss with their own son/daughter to resolve matters.
Alternatively, consult a respectable elderly in the family.
• Don’t hold grudges: Arguments or the silent treatment should not drag on.
Waiting for the other person to realise his or her “mistake” or “apologise first” may result in frustration.
Sometimes parents may have to lower their ego and seek reconciliation for the sake of the family and grandchildren.
The spouse should provide the necessary support to the hurt partner.
• See a family therapist: If all else fails, consult a certified family therapist to help the family reconcile.
Good and open communication is essential in any relationship, including the parent-grandparent relationship.
Both parties need to have mutual respect and understanding, recognise their respective roles in raising the children, and avoid overstepping boundaries.
Family members need to understand that when a couple has their own children, they will have to learn to be parents.
This parenting process is necessary in the formation of a family.
If grandparents interfere with the parenting process, they are literally taking away this learning opportunity.
Alexius Cheang is a behavioural psychologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.