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Grandparents who disobey parenting rules are a tradition that is as old as the time, but the polarization over pandemic safety guidelines, social unrest and controversial elections are among the many ways that differences of opinion between loved ones can worsen to have. Grandma or grandpa sneaking candy to grandchildren whose parents don’t want them to have candy seem downright pleasant compared to families with relatives explaining to children how voting machines have rigged the election or that COVID-19 vaccines have been rigged contain Satan’s microchips.
These are obviously extreme examples, but the current climate in the United States has resulted in varied disagreements and time-tested value systems, even among relatives with healthy extended family dynamics.
In those instances where grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other relatives transgress their parents’ boundaries – but in a generally loving way – what is the best way to curb this behavior? We asked Dr. Matthew Mulvaney, associate professor and parenting researcher at the David B. Falk College of Sports and Human Dynamics at Syracuse University. His teaching and research is focused on understanding how parents and families support optimal child development.
Try to understand the other perspective
There are obviously bigger values that people will not compromise on, but in some cases pushing boundaries can be simple misunderstandings. Mulvaney notes that even minor border crossings can occur Co-parenting relationshipswhere both parties love and have the best interest in the child’s heart but approach parenthood in different ways.
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“I think with all of these questions you’re trying to be as neutral as possible, meet them where they are, and get their point of view before expressing your POV,” he says.
Particularly in relationships between generations, there will always be differences in the interaction between parents and grandparents due to different life experiences. Unless boundaries are malicious, it is important to have some level of empathy for how they are intended.
Parents can and should draw the boundaries they are comfortable with and which are important to the wellbeing of their children, but even if those boundaries are crossed or exceeded, it is still possible to try to understand where they are from.
“Try to meet them where they are and understand their perspective before you plant a stake in the ground,” says Mulvaney.
Communicate and speak for what you want
A good first step in establishing a parental limit that will not be exceeded is to explain your position and your reasons. According to Mulvaney, after most of the research on the subject, most grandparents largely understand that it is their job not to get around the parents’ wishes.
“I think it’s fair for parents to say what they want largely, and most research on grandparenthood shows that it works better when grandparents comply with parents’ wishes that they be in the background and be able to to intervene where and when It is necessary, but the grandparents must respect the parents and what they think is safe or not safe about their households, ”says Mulvaney.
Mulvaney also advocates with “I” statements as often as possible. “I” statements are ways you can communicate your feelings and arguments as clearly as possible without blaming or creating defenses.
“As with many conflicts, when you stand firmly but respectfully [is important], “he says.” Are you really trying to emphasize why it matters to you – “I think this is important to me and my family,” or “I think this is a really important safety concern.” That kind of thing contributes goes a long way towards winning over grandparents. ”
The impetus lies with the grandparents to respect the parents and what they consider to be safe or unsafe about their households.
There are some issues where little or no common ground is found. Political or social justice hot button topics are a good example. Often times, the best way to avoid passing these values down to children is to end conversations and make it clear that certain things are forbidden for close relatives to children.
“Do you have a consent to disagree base,” says Mulvaney. “There is a point where we ignore. If there is more, I would talk to the children afterwards. These problems are deep and hard and systemic and will not be resolved, but it is also important that children have good relationships with their grandparents. So change the subject or change the conversation and then talk [with the kids]. ”
Understand when differences of opinion are healthy
Mulvaney notes that it is important for parents to understand the difference between “disagreement” and “conflict”.
“I think disagreement and disagreement are actually healthy. It is healthy for children to see that people have different perspectives and how they resolve these differences, ”he says. “Conflict is not healthy, [but] If it’s not a conflict, it is healthy for them to see how you resolve it and deal with differences, and that people who care about them may have differences of opinion. ”
In disagreements between parents and grandparents or other family members, seeing and seeing these interactions handled in healthy, positive ways is a good teaching moment for them and how they deal with similar situations when they are older.
“If kids are too protected from complexity or difficult things, it’s not really good for them,” says Mulvaney. “People can still have the same end goal for their wellbeing, but different approaches.”
Consider the ultimate goal
Mulvaney notes that if repeated requests not to cross a certain line are ignored, it becomes “another conversation”, but that most conflicts in non-malicious families do not rise to that level.
Ultimately, it’s important for parents to remember that they need to make decisions, especially in complex situations. However, also note that good relationships with loved ones are an important goal for most families. The main goal of healthy family dynamics is to simply ensure that there is a positive relationship between the child and the grandparent or loved one.
“When you really get closer to them [the relative] and explain your rules, in general they will obey them, ”he says. “It becomes a bigger problem when they’re this resilient, but most situations can be controlled [at least] to the point of ‘agree, disagree and let’s not warm it up in front of the kids.’ ”