A father and grandfather struggle for control of a child.

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Bad Grandpa and Grandma!

How to manage challenging relations with grandparents and kids
Priscilla Greear
Thursday, September 2, 2021

Offering the grandchild that third cookie—for lunch. Overruling naptime rules. Grandparents can be helpful, invaluable resources for parents --but also a handful! If they have very different parenting (or life) values, undercut your parenting and are disrespectful in front of your children, their grandparenting engagement can be a chronic headache to medicate. Ideally, they are sensitive and loving but if they start to cross boundaries, here are five tips to deescalate any conflict.

Address the Minor Issues: Some behaviors like addiction justify cutting off contact between the grandparents and grandchildren. But when a grandparent undermines parental authority, disparages others or ignores parents’ rules, address the concerns reasonably and respectfully before they fester. “The best bet is to discuss boundaries and behavior and talk about issues as soon as they crop up,” states Susan Adcox in verywellfamily.com. “Many family disagreements are the result of miscommunication and hurt feelings. Healing small disagreements and family rifts before they become full-blown breaks is the key to maintaining a positive relationship and maintaining contact.”

Express Gratitude: Heather Taylor’s article “How to Handle Difficult Grandparents in 4 Easy Steps” outlines an affirm/petition/compromise strategy to confront grandparents disregarding parents’ wishes. For example, when grandmother likes to wake up baby instead of letting him wake himself, minimize the conflict first by showing appreciation for the precious support.

Gently Remind: Then explain why you’d prefer the baby wake up himself to sleep through the night. But “have a backup compromise” such as dropping the baby off earlier for more pre-nap cuddle time. Follow that with another affirmation of their important role and next time with a gentle reminder of your preferences, Taylor suggests.

Stand Your Parenting Ground: If your parenting choices or values are overruled consider “what the boundary needs to look like and then change your plans, adjust your expectations and figure out how to prevent this issue from happening again.” But keep it positive, saying “I really need Tristan to sleep well tonight so I’m going to run my errands in the morning with him,” Taylor concludes. Or try something like “I appreciate your concern or your worry. I’m comfortable the way I’m doing it,” advises Debbie Pincus in Empoweringparents.com. “You can say ‘I appreciate your expertise. I will definitely ask you if I need help.’”

Perhaps invite them to your parenting class or pediatrician, including any from The Children’s Trust Parent Club, to understand your perspective and include them. “Communicate boundaries but find ways to make grandparents also feel respected, honored and wanted,” adds Pincus.

Make Every Effort: Taylor advises to think “very carefully” before eliminating contact as it’s hard to rebuild relationships. “They provide a ‘this is my generational family and I belong in it’ feel that will help her in the teenage years of confusion.” And Pincus encourages parents to “work to make this work.” “This relationship is enriching for all and doesn’t last forever. Whether you live close or far away make sure you find ways to make everyone a part of each other’s lives.”