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I think we can all agree, in an ideal world, grandparents would hold a special role within the family. They would have access to their grandchildren, maybe make life easier for the parents, and in turn be appreciated and valued.
As with any area of life, which involves people, there can be conflict and it can be very upsetting for grandparents and grandchildren alike if family disputes lead to denied or limited access.
It sounds extreme for grandparents to be denied access to their grandchildren, but there could be deal breaking issues which parents can’t ignore.
Maybe we ought to quickly consider some examples where grandparent’s behaviour could lead to major conflict.
If grandparents flout safety rules
If grandparents flout common sense safety rules and potentially put the grandchildren at risk, most people would accept access should be denied or limited. A couple of examples we can think of here would be if the grandparents insisted on putting the children in a car without using an appropriate car seat, or making the grandchildren wear seatbelts. Another extreme example we heard about was a grandfather who thought it was a great idea to take his young grandchildren swimming, but it didn’t occur to him he would need to be in the water with them. When approached about this after the event he argued he was watching them from the café area and couldn’t see there was a safety concern. Obviously, the parents and the swimming pool manager thought differently.
Another area where parents could be justified at limiting access could be if the grandparents were undermining and speaking ill of the parents, especially if that was to the grandchildren. Children are very smart, and it wouldn’t take too long for them to realise there was a situation which could be manipulated to their own advantage, making it harder to parent in a sensible way. I guess if a grandparent had a mental health issue, or maybe couldn’t be trusted not to drink or use other substances while looking after the grandchildren it would be reasonable to think twice about leaving them in control.
On the flip side, it can be difficult for grandparents if they are very supportive and maybe give financial assistance and find their efforts are not appreciated, or maybe taken advantage of.
So, those are the more extreme reasons for conflict, but what about in a standard family environment what can help to avoid disagreements?
Communication – it sounds obvious, but it really is the key to most areas of conflict, and this is no different.
Grandparents can feel they ought to be respected as being older and wiser, and their experience ought to be acknowledged and appreciated.
Conversely, we all know unsolicited advice is never very welcome and can be heard as criticism. We touched on this in a previous blog – when grandparents can see parents are struggling so offer some helpful advice, which isn’t well received.
From a grandparent’s perspective maybe, the best advice is to assume the parents know what they are doing, and go along with their guidelines and instructions. If the parents try to talk to you about something you have done which they disagree with, then listen. They wouldn’t be saying it if they weren’t upset or worried.
Define your role
We spoke about this in more detail in our blog Grandparenting: Managing expectations about your role and availability. A great deal of conflict can be avoided if both sides understand exactly what they need and want. It is understandable that some grandparents feel they have done their share of parenting and may only want to see their grandchildren once a month, and not be a weekly childminder.
Sometimes parents and grandparents can disagree over issues such as religion. Perhaps your child chose to marry someone outside your faith. Under these circumstances there will need to be mutual respect and understanding, but the grandchild is likely to be brought up under the parent’s rules and guidance. If your faith means a great deal to you, maybe you can talk to the parents and ask if you can introduce important faith dates and rituals into the extended family if you agree to respect important dates for them too. The grandchildren could learn a lot and it may help iron out disputes which have drifted down the generations.
Perhaps one of the most important areas to avoid dispute if, as a grandparent you can’t see eye to eye with the parents is to remember they are in charge and are doing their best. Providing the grandchildren are safe, it is the parents who are in charge. So, as a grandparent trust the parent’s judgement and appreciate things have changed since you were a parent. It sounds easy to write that but it can be so difficult not to wade in with opinions and views if we see our children repeating mistakes we made ourselves.
So, providing major boundaries aren’t crossed and parents and grandparents are open and honest with each other it should be possible to enjoy a mutually respectful and wonderful relationship. At the end of the day, all parties want the best for the grandchildren.
Here at Snuggle Sac, we hear often from grandparents and their experiences with young children. We are grateful for what you do and proud when our Snuggle Sacs help you out even a little bit. Sign up to our mailing list below for our Snuggle Sac for Grandparents newsletter, full of helpful articles and ideas for activities with your grandchildren.
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