We asked Sally Tannen, Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center and Grandparents Center (and grandmother of three), to share some insights on the joys—and the jostles—in parent-grandparent dynamics …
I’ve been leading new-mom groups for 17 years, and along with the many challenges that come with first-time parenthood, is navigating the relationships with your own parents and in-laws. You and your partner are not the only ones figuring out your new roles. Consider your parents’ perspective: Their baby just had a baby! Everyone is overjoyed, everyone is overwhelmed (with emotions, if not logistics). Some advice for both sides:
What Parents Most Want from the Grandparents
Not to Be (or Feel) Criticized
Grandparents make themselves out to be experts and can be quick to point out the things they think you are doing “wrong.” And new parents (especially women) tend to hear things through the lens of criticism. Well, now you’re the expert. You may not feel like one, but you are. You and your partner need to trust your own instincts. Take the “voice of experience” advice that feels right to you and put aside that which doesn’t. You’re the parents now.
Help, but Custom-Made
A grandparent’s assumptions, however well-intended, can lead to mutual disappointment. The question parents most want to hear from the grandparents is simply, “How can we help you?”
That help could come in the form of babysitting or cooking meals, or countless other things. Either way, it shouldn’t be assumed that the help your parents or in-laws imagine you want is the help you actually do want. Talk through the expectations on both sides.
It can be difficult, particularly for new parents, to set rules—to say to their parents, “Please don’t come visit every Sunday” or “Please don’t call from a block away and say you’re just dropping by.” The boundaries may be different for everyone, but everyone needs some drawn. I also think that what parents want more than anything is the acknowledgment from their own parents that life with a new baby is hard. Start a conversation. You’ll be glad you did.
What Grandparents Most Want from the New Parents
To Forge Their Own Relationship With Their Grandchild
In the baby stage, it’s natural for grandparents to take on the tasks you and your partner ask them to, to follow the guidelines you set for feedings, naps, outings, etc. But as your child grows, grandparents should be encouraged to have their own relationship with them, with shared experiences that are unique to them. Yes, that means losing a bit of control, but this is a good and healthy thing — don’t be afraid of it. I meet with many grandparents at the Grandparents Center who tell me how upset they are that their kids act like gatekeepers. A child’s parents are the gatekeepers but within reason. A child is blessed to have grandparents. They should be encouraged to cultivate a special place in your child’s life.
Not to Feel Jealous
One couple, a baby, four grandparents? Maybe more? Everyone wants time with the baby, everyone wants to claim the holidays. An expanding family is an opportunity to establish new rituals. You and your partner should be flexible and come up with plans that feel fair to both sides, and which don’t result in anyone feeling left out. This can be particularly challenging if one or both sets of grandparents live far away. In this case, embrace technology. FaceTime and Skype are great ways for grandparents and their grandkids to stay connected and involved in each other’s lives.
“Don’t Rob Me of My Joy”
It is not grandparents’ intention to spoil your children, it is their intention to love them unconditionally. Their expectations and goals are different from yours. As parents, your love for your children must include discipline and rules and limits. Grandparents did all of that already. With you. Their love for their grandkids is without all but the most basic rules and limits. So, let them shower your kids with delight. Let them eat ice cream for breakfast together. They deserve the privilege. Your kids will treasure the memories. And one day, you’ll be the grandparent.
For other posts by Sally, check out Ask Sally: Traveling With Your Young Kids & How Not to Hit the Skids!