Learning to be a parent is hard enough. Learning to be a parent with your own mom or dad hovering or giving unsolicited advice is a whole other beast. Sure, grandparents have your baby’s best interest at heart. But remember that you, the parent, are in charge; and even if they don’t agree with you on what is actually best, you, your sanity and your confidence in parenting shouldn’t become collateral damage. So what can you do when dealing with grandparents overstepping boundaries?
Here are 7 tips to handle an overbearing grandparent.
1. Remember that their intentions are good. For better or for worse, grandparents often don’t have the level of anxiety that new parents do – been there,done that, and everything turned out fine! So even when what they say or do become a source of anxiety, remind yourself that they want what’s best for their grandchild. This will be a good starting point for when you are ready to confront them about boundaries.
2. Set clear rules and boundaries. Whether it’s unannounced drop-ins or an ongoing critique of your parenting decisions, you must make your wishes known clearly, decisively, and early on. This will be easier to do with love and kindness. Try this: “We love that you want to come over and see your grandchild. Just dropping by doesn’t work for us. Please call ahead or let’s plan in advance.” Or, “Clearly you both were great parents! And, we know that you only want what is best for your grandchild. We are parenting the way that works best for us and we want to figure this out ourselves. It’s important to us that you respect this even if you disagree.”
3. Validate their concerns. When grandma mentions that you may be carrying too low, not drinking enough milk, or harboring ridiculous concerns about pacifiers, say, “Thanks! I appreciate that you care and I’ll look in to it.” When you validate someone’s concerns, it naturally moves them from an antagonistic position toward one of cooperation. An overbearing grandparent often just wants to be heard. You can even follow-up and let them know what you learned from your research and how you’ve decided to handle it. Then, thank them again for looking out for you and their grandchild.
4. Be kind AND (not but) firm. This is an example of a Positive Discipline strategy, which typically works well with children too! When you kindly respond to a request or situation that does not work for you, try replacing the word “but” with “and”. This allows you to communicate your respect for grandpa as well as for yourself. For example: “It’s lovely that you brought your grandson a gift and since we don’t allow toy weapons in the house, I’m happy to return it and perhaps we can find something together online.” Or, “You’re right, it definitely is easier to say ‘Vicki’ and we are really counting on you to help establish her name as ‘Victoria’, at least until she’s older.”
5. Compromise. They always want you to come to them. But it’s so much easier if they come to you. They want to have holidays their way. You want to establish family traditions of your own. In order to avoid ongoing arguments, there needs to be give-and-take on both sides. This is different than giving in. How about: “We always seem to argue about where and when to meet. We’d be delighted to come next weekend and then why don’t we work out a compromise plan going forward.” Taking turns selecting a restaurant or trading off holidays introduces the idea that compromise will be a regular feature on the menu.
6. Sometimes, bite your tongue. It’s not always worth it to engage in a conversation that may just go nowhere. Smile, bite your tongue, and execute a perfect and private eye-roll. Think to yourself, “Whatever!”
7. Encourage the relationship. You don’t always have to approve of how your parents or in-laws play their role for it to be beneficial. When your children see how different people – grandparents, teachers, babysitters – all have different ways of doing things, it allows them to develop flexibility. Grandparents and grandchildren often have a very special relationship. Let them know that you appreciate the love and attention they show your children. One way to do this is to encourage alone-time for their relationship. Obviously, if grandparents are unable to physically care for your child, this does not make sense. But otherwise, let go of your control over their relationship and grab some alone time of your own!
Susan G. Groner is founder of The Parenting Mentor and is a certified Positive Discipline parent educator and the author of Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World: Simple Strategies for Parenting with Sanity and Joy.