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Dealing with Difficult Grandparents

Handling unwanted advice from well-meaning family members

Dealing with Difficult Grandparents
December 2013

Being a grandparent is one of life's greatest rewards. This new status lets one enjoy the fun and excitement of a new baby without shouldering all the responsibility. Making a successful transition from "parent" to "grandparent" however, is not always easy and may require time and patience from everyone in the family.

Many child-rearing practices have been updated over the years, and grandparents may find it difficult to be corrected on what's best for baby by their own child – the one they raised who turned out just fine, thank you very much. Add this stressful family dynamic with a dash of mom's post-partum hormones, and you can have a recipe for some major blow-ups.

Here are some common points of contention between parent and grandparent – with tips for how to deal with them peacefully.

You are breastfeeding, and your mom/mother-in-law suggests formula

Dr. Dorota Szczepaniak, a pediatrician with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, says "One way to kindly explain your choice to breastfeed is to lay out the medical evidence for breastfeeding."

Dr. Szczepaniak adds that, if possible, parents-to-be should determine their Parenting choices before the baby is born. "There are many different approaches to raising a child. One of the first things to do is to establish ground rules before the baby arrives. These rules can then be shared with family members in advance, and can help you explain your reasoning for your choices."

Your in-laws criticize your adherence to a strict bedtime schedule

You put your baby to bed at 7 p.m. sharp every night, regardless of whether it's a holiday or get-together, which creates tension with family members who want the baby (and you) to be a part of the festivities. "Understanding the type of family structure you come from is important with regard to handling potential family conflicts," says Gloria Hood, a licensed social worker and the executive director of Indiana Center for Children and Families.

For example, if group activities are a big deal in your family, your absence at these events could be taken personally. As such, it's important to emphasize that your parenting decisions aren't personal in nature, and talk to your in-laws about scheduling family events at more convenient times during the day as a compromise.

You plan to practice time outs for misbehavior, not spanking

"This goes back to the whole idea of family structure," says Hood. "Are you starting a more open family system when you came from a more authoritative background?" If you're doing something very different from your parents, it's important to explain to them what your methods are. "That way, everyone will be on the same page, so your child will be disciplined consistently," adds Hood.

Consistency with kids is critical, agrees licensed clinical social worker Nico Squadroni. "As parents, we need to be consistent with our rules and consequences on a day to day basis." Squadroni says that the use of groundings and time outs has proven to be more effective than physical punishment; information than can be helpful when explaining your rationale to grandparents.

Grandpa puts the baby down on her stomach to sleep, not her back

"As with breastfeeding, medical evidence can help support your effort to articulate your parenting style in the area of safety, too," says Dr. Szczepaniak. She cites the "back to sleep" campaign, which has dramatically helped prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). "Citing facts can aid you as you seek to explain your parenting style," adds Dr. Szcepaniak. Parents can also guide grandparents to the American Academy of Pediatrics' website or suggest they take an infant care class to get up to speed on the latest best practices for children.

Just like any other major life change, adjusting to being a grandparent takes time. "One thing to remember as a parent, is that we have the goal in mind of doing what we think is best for our children. Our parents/grandparents also had the same goal in mind. No one wants to be told what they are doing as a parent is wrong, just as grandparents don't want to be told what they did as a parent was wrong either," says Squadroni.

Remembering that your parents' actions are probably motivated out of love, can help you put their advice and comments into a frame of reference that makes it easier to hear their good intentions.

Tags: Featured Article, Featured Article, In This Issue, Parenting

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