8 Tips for Getting Grandparents to Respect Your Parenting Decisions: Ask Dr. Degler
Q: What can I do to get my parents (my daughter’s grandparents) to respect and abide by my parenting methods when they spend time with my child? We have a very strong-willed four-year-old whom we raise using the love and logic model, such as giving her choices, putting things in her court, giving her time in her room to cool down, positive affirmations, etc. Grandma (my mom) really struggles with my daughter who knows it and pushes Grandma’s buttons already. My mom doesn’t really try to interact with our daughter like we do. She has little to no patience and speaks in a harsh tone. I don’t know how to talk to my mom about this situation, and it’s going to come up as we spend more time together this holiday season. She doesn’t do well with confrontation.
A: This is a great question that many parents and grandparents have to navigate. Here are tips for getting grandparents to respect your parenting decisions even when your methods are different from theirs.
- Invite the grandparents to meet you for coffee without any kids around. You want to be able to fully focus on them and the conversation. Depending on the relationship, you may want to talk to your parents by yourself and have your husband talk to his parents by himself. This arrangement also allows your spouse to watch the kids at home while you meet elsewhere with the grandparents.
- Prior to the meeting, spend time praying for receptive hearts, clear and concise communication, the ability to guard your tongue, and that the conversation will end with everyone feeling heard and respected. Ask a trusted friend, and if you’re married, ask your spouse as well to be praying for you and the conversation as well.
- Also prior to meeting, clarify what your goal is for the conversation because it needs to be achievable. For example, if your goal is to convince the grandparents that your discipline methods are better than their methods, you are setting yourself up to fail. Your parents are entitled to their own opinions, and they may always believe that their way is best, just like you believe your way is best. A more suitable goal for the meeting is to open up a conversation about how all of you can partner together to help your child have a loving, respectful relationship with her grandparents. You can achieve this goal. It’s highly unlikely you will achieve a goal that involves changing your parents’ opinions or getting them to agree that they will interact with your child exactly like you do.
- Start the conversation by expressing appreciation for them as grandparents. Be specific, mentioning what they do that blesses you and your child. Everyone needs an “attaboy” or “attagirl,” including grandparents. They are having to figure this grandparenting thing out, and babies don’t come with parenting or grandparenting manuals.
- Let your parents know how the experience of becoming a parent yourself has made you appreciate what they did for you as a child. Raising kids is largely a thankless task, and it warms a parent’s heart to hear that their adult children can finally see the sacrifices involved.
- After expressing appreciation for them as grandparents and parents, acknowledge that you have some differences in opinion around discipline, nutrition, schooling or clothing choices, or whatever the issue is. Tell them you would like to understand their perspective better. As you ask the following questions, maintain what I call an attitude of “compassionate curiosity.” This means you listen with an open heart, showing genuine interest in what they say without getting defensive or trying to explain why their perspective is wrong. Your job is to listen and understand their perspective even if you don’t agree with it.
Good questions to ask grandparents:
“Is there anything you’re afraid will happen with your grandchild if I do things differently than you would in this situation?”
“What would you like your time with your grandchildren to look like? How can I help make that happen?”
“What has been harder as a grandparent than you thought it would be?”
“What are your favorite parts of being a grandparent?”
“Looking back on raising your own kids, what do feel most proud of when it comes to your own parenting?”
“Is there a specific time of day or a situation in which interacting with your grandkids becomes more challenging? How could I help with this situation?”
- After you’ve gained a fuller picture of what grandparenting is like for your parents, thank them for helping you understand them better. You may want to end your conversation at this point and schedule a second conversation at a later time when everyone has had time to process. Or, if time and energy allow, you could continue the conversation by respectfully sharing where you can bend and where you must stand firm as the parent of their grandchild. Another way of thinking of this is your “Non-negotiables” and your “Preferences” when it comes to your kids.
For example, if your child misbehaves when in the grandparents’ care, and you absolutely do not want grandparents to spank or yell at your children, then this would be on your “Non-negotiable” list. Your “Preferences” list might then include: putting your child in time out, taking away a toy or privilege or screen time, requiring your child to write sentences or do extra chores, sending the child to his room so he (and the grandparents) can cool down, etc.
Try to make your “Non-negotiables” list as short as possible. Otherwise, you’re trying to control too much, and this will lead to more frustration on everyone’s part. Let go of the idea that grandparents should do everything exactly like you do when it comes to your kids.
- If the problem situation involves a decision you’ve made as parents that the grandparents disagree with and have then publicly questioned your decision and possibly undermined your authority, you could follow the above steps but also say something like, “I felt disrespected and undermined when you questioned our parenting decision in front of our kids. In the future, if you have a concern about a parenting choice I’ve made, I would appreciate it if you would talk to me privately.”