How to deal with strict grandparents

  • By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
  • Friday, February 17, 2012 7:36pm
  • Life

Question: Your parents are the opposite of indulgent grandparents — stricter rules than yours, harsher scolding. Do you step in?

Answer: A flinty grandma with little tolerance for shenanigans is unlikely to hurt your kids.

“Children from age 3 and up are able to differentiate between their parents’ authority and their grandparents’ authority,” says family psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of “The Self-Aware Parent.”

“A grandparent who misses a child’s emotional cues and doesn’t encourage expression of feeling is not nearly as impactful on the kids as a parent who does so. Not even a fraction.”

And you may see some benefits in your children learning to navigate different styles of authority as they weave their way through a life of teachers, coaches, mentors and bosses — all of whom will have unique personalities.

If the grandparents’ behavior is harsh or borderline cruel, however, you should step in. Gingerly. “You don’t want to be in the position of telling Grandpa off in front of the child,” Walfish says. “But you want to bring the heat down and clarify for both your child and for Grandpa that there is another way.”

She suggests interjecting with a gentle “You know, Mommy and Daddy have a different way of doing things than Grandpa does,” directed at your child.

“It takes the abusive tone off the child and lets Grandpa know that Mom and Dad have their way too,” Walfish says. “Many grandparents believe they are more potent or powerful than the parents. This lets everyone know you’re not interested in going to war with your in-laws, but you’re also not abandoning your child.”

If a later discussion with the offending grandparent is warranted, she says it should be initiated by the child of that grandparent — so Grandpa’s son, not daughter-in-law. And it could go like this:

“‘Dad, I know how much you love Johnny and care about him learning right from wrong,’” Walfish suggests. “‘But you know every one of us gets our chance to be a parent and I don’t want to miss out on my chance to do what you got to do with me. Now it’s my turn.’

“If your father challenges you and doesn’t accept your reasonable boundary, you repeat the message: “‘I’m not comfortable with you intervening that way,’” Walfish says. “Anytime someone won’t respond respectfully to your comfort level, something is off. If your father says, ‘Yes, but. Yes, but. Yes, but … that’s the marker of a narcissistic trait. It shows you that his needs come before your comfort level.”

And that is something you should protect your kids from.

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