• Every family is different. But one thing most of us have in common is Grandparents. Grandparents who are involved or uninvolved, who are too lenient, too strict, and the few gems out there who hit the grandparent role at a ‘just right’ pitch. For most parents, even if we’ve had rocky relationships with our own parents or in-laws (the now Grandparents), we want our children to know them. Yet these are the people who push our buttons (consciously or subconsciously) like no one else. Except for maybe our siblings – whose we can push back. Grandparents, if seen in the correct perspective and treated as the incredible resource they can be, are a rich and invaluable part of our lives.

    You may remember all of the things your parents did wrong, but they look at you and see how great of a job they did

    What you realize soon after you have or adopt your first child(ren) is that the only people who even come close to loving them like you do are the Grandparents. You can call them about every tiny milestone (even non-milestones) and they will often share your excitement and applaud the new development. They have a wealth of love and wisdom to share with your children and with you. Despite the fact that at times, you would likely rather be spared much of their ‘wisdom’. You may remember all of the things your parents did wrong, but they look at you and see how great of a job they did.

    You need to first figure out what the Grandparents’ level of comfort is. How involved do they want to be? Do they like to spend time alone with their grandchildren or do they prefer to have you there to provide all of the care/discipline while they enjoy from the sidelines? Are there certain ages they are more comfortable with (some love the non-mobile ages when they don’t have to chase after a rambunctious child, others prefer the out-of-diapers and speaking clearly ages)? Talk to the Grandparents and watch them interact with your children so that you have a sense of their, your children’s and your own comfort. Grandparents are icing. They do not need to baby sit for you, or help you to raise your children. They’ve done that job already. Whatever help they offer is a bonus.

    If you have a Grandparent who is not interested in your children or who does not want to spend much time with his/her grandchildren then forcing this will backfire. Better to just call once a week, invite him/her over maybe once a month, and leave it alone. You can let him/her know that you would love to see your children spend more time getting to know their grandparents but leave the ball in his/her court. Avoid bad mouthing the Grandparents in front of your children. Be generous if for no other reason than that the way in which you speak to/about and treat the Grandparents sets the example for your children of how to treat you, their own parents, in the future. Sobering thought, eh?

    People want to feel appreciated and expectations nearly eliminate the appreciation factor

    Expectations will be your downfall. I think this is a life lesson and applies to much more than the Grandparents. But here it is: If you expect any person to do something for you or act in a certain way then what you are really doing is projecting the way you would be/act onto them. It’s the “if that had happened to me I would have…” syndrome. And it is almost inevitable that they will disappoint. If they are amazing enough to meet your expectations then you will probably not feel as grateful as you should, but might just feel satisfied or deserving. It doesn’t make for a very positive relationship. People want to feel appreciated and expectations nearly eliminate the appreciation factor. If you have hopes for how something will go then you will be happy and appreciative if it goes that way, and disappointed, but hopefully not angry, if it doesn’t work out. So, with the Grandparents, abolish your expectations. They walk to the beat of their own drums and some, unfortunately, have no sense of rhythm.

    Let the Grandparents know how you feel about food, discipline, gift giving, sleep, safety and anything else that is important to you. You should speak only to your own parents about this. Your spouse needs to have this conversation with his/her own parents, and each of you need to own the requests as your own and avoid saying that your spouse really wants things a certain way. Whether or not you are in 100% agreement with one another you need to present a united front to the Grandparents about parenting issues. The last thing you want to do is pit your spouse against your parents, so be careful here.

    Whether or not you are in 100% agreement with one another you need to present a united front to the Grandparents about parenting issues

    Go back to the basic principles of communication and if you see something happening that you do not like then use the “I” and “me” words—“It makes me feel uncomfortable when I see you ignoring/yelling at the children. It would make me happier if you allowed me to discipline the children or if you let the children know that you were going to focus on a book/the television for a bit before zoning out.” Again –Ideally this conversation should only happen between blood relatives. I don’t care how close you are with your in-laws. If you want to ensure a long lasting positive relationship then only your spouse should speak to them with criticisms or anger. If the Grandparents are shoppers who give your children a barrage of gifts at holidays and birthdays, or every time they see them, and you are not happy with the message it sends (and don’t want to bring one more toy into your already overflowing house), first make it clear that you appreciate the love and thought behind the gifts. Then explain that you have hit maximum capacity at your house and that all of the forthcoming gifts, except for a single gift at birthdays and holidays, can be kept at Grandma’s/Grandpa’s house so the kids can enjoy them when visiting. My guess (OK, my personal experience) is that you’ll be able to sit back and watch the needless buying come to a screeching halt! They don’t want all of that junk in their own house, either. Maybe a teeny bit passive aggressive, but so gratifying and fun when it works!

    If the Grandparents are providing childcare then you need to really think about your priorities. If you want to call all of the shots, if you want to be in control of all of the food options, schedule, discipline, etc, then you need to be paying a person who you have screened and chosen on your own. When Grandparents are caregivers you are walking a fine line. They are doing you a favor and they made mistakes (as you will) in raising their own children, but here you are: Alive and well! So you will need to take a step back and swallow the criticisms, reign in your controlling tendencies. Life is full of trade-offs, and this is a big one. If you don’t trust the Grandparents to care for your children then don’t use them in this capacity. If you don’t think that you can avoid micro-managing your children’s care while they are with the Grandparents then you should not have Grandparents as sitters. End of story.

    You love them, you hate them. They irritate the hell out of you. They point out your flaws with eerie precision because they know you like no one else (sad, but true). They love you and your children, they want you to all be happy and healthy, and they are often willing to put their own lives on hold, on occasion, to keep your lives moving ahead smoothly. That’s Grandparents! Learn how to swallow your words, keep your eyes steady (no rolling) and thank them for their love and time. Cherish them for the wise, loving souls they are. Just know that when you see loving, close relationships develop between your children and your parents you will feel an incredible sense of joy, peace and satisfaction deep in your soul.