Making the most of grandparents

publication date: Apr 23, 2007
There’s nothing like a baby to change relationships - yours with your partner will take on new dimensions - and suddenly you start looking at your own parents in a new light.
Problems may arise when the older generation start giving you the benefit of their wisdom - very often without you asking for or even wanting it. But before you close lines of communication, act wisely and benefit from what they have to offer.
Undeniably grandparents make good babysitters and as it’s important for you to have some sort of social life even when finances are tight, it’s a 
sensible idea to keep in their good books! If you find they are trying to take over or insist on their way of doing something, you’ll have to be confident that your way is in fact better, more suited or whatever, and then stand firm.  
One way to ease the tension is to talk about how their parents acted when you or your partner was born. How did they feel about receiving advice or being told what to do? What were the points they disagreed on? Fashions in childcare change with each generation and new grandparents, if gently prompted, will be quick to draw the parallels. My own mother and I ended up having quite a laugh about how her mother had tried to interfere and how she had reacted. It didn’t stop her giving me advice – often unwanted – but the bond that grew between her and my daughter was something I’ll always treasure.

Special bonds
The relationship between a child and his grandparents if allowed to develop naturally is a very special one. Interests which may have skipped a generation  may be a common bond. For instance a grandparent who adores gardening - which you or your partner loathe - may find a like-minded green-fingered soul among your offspring.
Grandparents may have more time on their hands and may be able to help with one child while you’re occupied with another. They offer a sense of history and another perspective on the world which will be fascinating for you children - especially when they hear about what you got up to as a child! Grandparents are particularly valuable for immigrant families in any society, offering cultural and religious links to the country of origin.

Differences of opinion
There may be times when you need or want to take a stand. For instance:
  • If grandparents smoke it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask them not to do so in the same room as the children (or to go outside!).
  • You may have strong feelings about your child not eating the sweets grandparents constantly offer. Try to reach a compromise by suggesting a chocolate bar you’re happy with.  Or you could have a “treats tin” for anyone to put in the money they would have spent on sweets. When the sum reaches a certain amount you can buy a new toy.
  • It is also acceptable to ask grandparents not to use bad language or slang in front of the children and to be considerate of any different religious or political views you or your partner hold.   
One thing parents should remember, before criticising grandparents, is that they have their own child’s best interests at heart. So when your dad comments on the fact that you are breastfeeding too long or too often, he’s probably thinking how tired you might be and worrying that you’re not looking after yourself. They have to adjust to seeing you as a parent rather than their child.  It’s a major transition so be generous - you’ll be there one day yourself.