Finding a clear and safe path through the thorny field of your raising children, while staying respectful and appreciative of their grandparents, can be a truly burdensome task. One of the reasons intergenerational tension so often brews is that many new parents don’t have confidence in their own parenting style and choices. Parents also struggle to agree on a plan themselves, before even addressing the grandparents’ strong opinions!
I remember during the first six months of my son’s life, I was in a near constant state of overwhelm and freakout. Between sleeplessness, rioting hormones and straight-up panic that I was now responsible for this tiny, precious human who I loved more than anything, I regularly felt hurt, offended or defensive by often innocent, well-meaning comments or actions by my parents and in-laws.
Another reason that arguments often occur is because many grandparents feel hurt when your parenting choices differ from theirs. They can feel, even unconsciously, that by making different choices from them you are, in effect, saying to them, “You did it wrong. You were a bad parent to me.”
These issues can show up very strongly in families in which the older generation might feel their cultural and/or religious traditions are being ignored or forgotten. I recently coached a male client who struggled with this. His wife wanted their baby to be baptized, and he supported her choice. The man, who was half Jewish, had not been raised with much religious guidance. However, his Jewish father, the baby’s grandpa, was very hurt and angry when he found out about the baptism.
To handle these tensions and struggles while maintaining a calm and peaceful environment, I recommend some internal work for yourself as well as specific language you can use with your children’s grandparents. The most helpful thing for you to remember is that while you can expect and demand a certain level of respect from people, even close relatives, you cannot expect them to be exactly how you want them to be and you cannot expect them to change. You have to learn to handle how they are in a particular moment—in the way that best supports you, your children and the important relationships themselves.
It is helpful to remember that all humans, regardless of age, gender and other factors, for the most part are trying to do the best they can, as they understand it at any given moment. We all operate from our own set of triggers, fears, insecurities and viewpoints that drive our actions, words and choices. Try to focus on not taking another person’s actions, words or choices personally.
It is also helpful to remember that you and your children’s grandparents all have the same desires and goals, even when you disagree on how to achieve them. You all love your children and want them to be safe, happy and loved and grow up to be healthy, happy, successful humans. Remind yourself that you and your children’s grandparents are on the same team; and this team’s foundation is all love.
For specific words to say to your children’s grandparents to expand understanding and honest communication, play with the following language on your own at first. Imagine saying these to one of your child’s grandparents that you have a particularly contentious relationship with.
1. Thank you for all you do for my children. I appreciate you very much.
2. I see how much you love your grandchildren.
3. When my parenting looks different than how you remember yours looking, it is not a reflection on your parenting skills or style.
4. I am doing the best I can.
5. I need you to respect me and my parenting choices so that I can continue to do my best for my children.
The above are meant as templates for you to work from—examples to help you formulate the best words for you and your particular situation.
Remembering to not take other folks’ actions personally—and that the foundation of your relationship with them is love—will create a bit of spaciousness inside you, enabling you to take a moment, and a deep breath. Then your actions, words and choices are more likely to come from a calm, compassionate place which will diffuse tension and allow for more productive communication.
Margot Schulman is a love, sex and relationship coach, workshop facilitator and the author of Choose Love: A Simple Path to Healthy, Joyful Relationships. Join Margot’s email list to receive a weekly dose of wisdom, as well as access to her free guide, “5 Habits to Embrace to Infuse Greater Peace and Joy into all of your Relationships.” Join her Facebook group Choose Love to learn about her upcoming live and online teaching events.