The masterful mentors called grandparents
“Apoopa! Can you please tell me another story?” That was the sixth time my daughter was requesting her grandfather for a bed time story and my dad was weaving stories one after the other and each time with the same interest and enthusiasm till she fell asleep. Not only this, there is an ever ending list of questions, demands, requests and tantrums which my parents have to face and handle as they support me in raising my daughter. I am sure most you also have a similar experience.
Times have changed the role of grandparents, in this day of the modern family, in homes managed by either single parents or both the parents. We lead very active lives and work longer as compared to the past years where the role played by the grandparents is much beyond babysitting. It’s a common perception that the grandparents spoil their grandchildren with treats and maybe complain about the new parenting styles that we adopt. In fact, grandparents fill many needed and integral roles in our busy lives. I remember a very dear student of mine sharing her experience where her grandfather was the world to her, from a role model to a teacher, a friend, a guide and a moral support. They shared such a strong bond that the child could not cope up with the loss of her grandfather as he was her strength.
In this context we must realise that we might tend to have different parenting styles and ideologies from those of our parents but keeping open communication, honesty and being respectful of each other is the need of the hour. This will help us adapt to the new situation and challenges.
As parents, it is natural for us to get biased to the perceptions favoring our children and we rarely welcome unsolicited advice from our parents or in laws and treat it as criticism but what we must empathize and understand is that they have the best intensions both for us and our children. So it’s our responsibility to make them feel wanted and honor them as they surely make life easier. Now there are some situations when grandparents interfere, intrude or undercut what we as parents say or act and we stand confused on how to handle? should we correct our children? Our parents? Our thought process? What could we do to create a balance in the situation and maintain peace at home.
In my opinion, in such situations both parents and grandparents need to work in sync towards the welfare of our children. Here are some ways where we can stay calm and not be undermined as a parent or grandparent:
1. Assume the best
If you are feeling that the grandparents have been interfering in your parenting style, start by trying to assume that they have the best intentions. Like all of us, they might also make mistakes or be unaware of the boundaries they’re crossing. Let them know how they can be helpful to you. Help them feel included, important and needed.
2. Don’t criticise
It is very important for grandparents to not to criticise. No one likes to feel judged or blamed, most of us become defensive and angry when criticized, and then we shut down. Instead of criticism, ask how you can be helpful. Focusing on the positive can do wonders in your relationship.
3. When a boundary has been crossed
Let grandparents know when they have stepped over a line that you’re not comfortable with their advice. You can say, “I know you may see it differently, but let’s do it this way as I feel it would be more appropriate.”
4. Avoid being pulled into power struggles with your child
Now this one is for grandparents. If you are saying something to the grandkids like, “Your parents don’t know what they’re doing,” or “I would never do it this way,” or to the parents, “C’mon, give them a break, you’re too strict with them,” I feel as grandparents you are stepping over a boundary and might end up hurting your children who have their own parenting visions.
5. Unless asked, don’t tell
Dear grandparents, Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, and if it’s coming from one’s own parents or in-laws, it will most likely be heard as criticism. If your children respect that boundary and find value in what you are saying, they will ask you for your opinion, where you will be free to express your advice and wisdom.
6. Don’t get stuck in the middle
Don’t let your grandkids put you in the middle when they complain to you about their parents. They might tell you that their parents won’t buy them what they want or how they won’t let them engaged in certain activities. Just respond with empathy, but don’t take sides or down talk the parents. This will only lead to trouble.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)