Wednesday, November 29, 2023

When grandparents undermine parents’ authority

Bringing a cute little bundle of joy into the world is exciting, but defending your parenting style to family and friends is not.

Societal expectations of grandparents only serve to compound the problem.  Many grandparents look forward to this time as their reward for all the hard work of parenting their children many years before.  They view their new role as an indulgent one, where they can enjoy spoiling the grandchildren without the burden of responsibility for discipline.  Taken too far, this often undermines the efforts of parents to instill a sense of order, limits and routine into their children’s lives, and a clear idea of who is boss.

Senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Grandparents can be overbearing and demanding. They can insist on spending time with the grandkids more often than is practical. They may make unplanned visits and disrupt the household routine. Some even get annoyed if you don’t follow their advice or make decisions that they have no involvement in. They may also insist on taking care of the kids when the parent is unable to even if the parent has made other arrangements or is not comfortable with leaving the kids with them for long periods. This is a clear show of not respecting boundaries and their demands can cause a lot of conflict and mental stress. Then there is the dissatisfied grandparent. This one has extremely high expectations for their grandkids but doesn’t show much support for the parents. They demand that the grandkids excel and have nothing but the best. This may sound great but it can put pressure on the parent to give the child everything their parent expects as well as for the grandkids to live up to unreasonably high expectations.” 

Many young adults live a very different lifestyle than their parents did at their age. They have different views on a myriad of things than the older generations. They also aren’t too fond of asking their friends and family for parenting advice. Younger parents are bound to make different decisions about raising their kids than their own parents did. But a clash of personalities of parents on both sides is usually where problems arise. As a new parent, this transition means you’re suddenly making major decisions almost nonstop, whether to breastfeed or use formula, when to introduce new foods, whether you want to co-sleep, what religion to raise your child in, if they should get sweets after dinner or not, when and how much TV they can watch, the last thing you want is criticism. The parent-grandparent relationship these days is not all smooth sailing. Several issues are causing friction. The biggest issue stems from disagreements over how to raise children. Grandparents love their grandchildren and they want their grandchildren to love them. At times grandparents go a bit too far, they give grandchildren too muchdo too much for them and don’t do things according to how the parents’ want. They are either too soft, too tough, or both. In short, many grandparents overindulge their grandchildren. As a result, some parents actually limit the amount of time their child sees their grandparents.

Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist says, “In many cases grandparents try to impose their parenting strategies merely because they consider themselves more experienced. They think they know what is better for the child; therefore, it is their right to guide the parents. Everyone wants their parents to offer a positive impact if they are involved in their grandchildren’s lives. When grandparents have a negative impact or undermine how their kids want to raise their children, it can be painful to break ties with them until they can change their behaviors, but it may be necessary for your health and that of your kids. Grandparents that willfully do the opposite of what you have decided for your children, who try and enforce their version of parenting on your kids and even argue with you in front of the kids may be doing more harm than good. Some of this may come from cultural or religious beliefs that you may not agree with.”

There are many situations which lead to parents feeling disrespected, being pressured into having more children, guilted to choose a specific name and continually posting on social media your children without your permission are all signs. It can even go as far as, palming your child off, allowing anyone to handle them, forcing your child to eat all their food, being relaxed about car safety, giving haircuts without your permission or using unsafe sleep practices. Initially, grandparents may seem helpful, they might buy the children treats and toys, help around the house, or assist with the childcare responsibilities. However, sometimes their unsolicited advice is irritating instead of useful.

Another issue which is similar to the undermining grandparent is the controlling grandparent. This is when the grandparent assumes control of the parenting decisions and believes they have the rights to make decisions for the children without your input or despite your input. They see the parent as being their child and the grandchildren as being an extension of this relationship. The grandparents try to parent both you and your kids. This can be a very toxic relationship and may or may not be able to be repaired. It is somewhat normal for parents to disagree with their children’s parenting choices, but it is not okay for them to override them in front of their children. Sometimes these types of grandparents may also use financial support as a way to control the parent. They may offer financial support but threaten to withdraw it if things aren’t done their way. This can even be more difficult if one is living with their parents due to financial difficulties.


Read this week's paper