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.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

The Stumbling Fiddler Band is scheduled to perform March 3 in Everett. (Photo provided by Port Gardner Bay Music Society)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Get ready for St. Patrick’s Day with music by the Stumbling Fiddler Band in Everett.

In this Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 photo, Jillian Woolley, Certified Veterinary Technician, takes care of a cat at Bayshore Animal Hospital in Warrenton, Ore. (Danny Miller/Daily Astorian via AP)
Best veterinary clinic in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied. Here are the results.

A heart shaped hand tossed pepperoni pizza, left, and eight-corner Detroit style veggie pizza, right, from Jet’s Pizza on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, at the Everett Herald newsroom in Everett. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Detroit-original Jet’s Pizza lands in WA with thick-crust pies and more

The national chain’s Lynnwood joint is the first in the state. The pizza is tasty — hot or cold. And it makes good date food.

The future of fashion: Moving toward a sustainable wardrobe

Over 22 billion pounds of textiles are thrown away each year in the U.S. How do we tackle such a massive problem? Start small.

What we might call a bar cart began as Victorian England’s tea trolley

Whatever you call it and however you use it, this birch wood cart with white enameled wheels attracted $2,650 at auction.

Bring summer’s bounty home by growing blueberries in your own backyard

Here’s a look at great several varieties to consider, along with tips on how to ensure your little home orchard thrives.

The 2024 Volkswagen Atlas includes new wheel designs for all trim levels. (Volkswagen)
Volkswagen Atlas more handsome than ever for 2024

The mid-size SUV also has a new engine and an increase in the number of standard features.

Ryan Carlson’s goose Bubba honks at cars outside his home on Monday Feb. 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
What’s honkin’ on this Everett thoroughfare? Have a gander

Henrietta and Betty, a goose duet, entertain passersby in the yard between Colby Avenue and Evergreen Way.

Jon Pardi performs during the 2023 CMA Fest on Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Country star Jon Pardi’s “Mr. Saturday Night World Tour” stops in Everett for a show Feb. 16.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE 500 (Provided by Mercedes-Benz)
2023 Mercedes-Benz EQE 500

The electric SUV certainly stands out from the crowd.

Red foliage of the weeping Laceleaf Japanese Maple tree (Acer palmatum) background texture. High quality photo.
A well-pruned laceleaf Japanese maple can liven up your yard year-round

If you have one of these stunning specimens, now’s the time to cut back dead branches. If not, add one to your landscape.

The Snohomish County PUD’s outage map can be found online at outagemap.snopud.com. (screenshot)
New and improved outage map keeps you in the know when you’re in the dark

The interactive online tool lets you report an outage, see outages around you and receive updates on restoration efforts.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.