Dear Kerry, I have three children and I am very proud of them. But my folks don’t seem to appreciate the kids; they criticize them as disrespectful, and say they never help out. It hurts my feelings that they don’t ever praise them and think I haven’t raised them well, but I also want my kids to grow up speaking nicely to older people and loving their grandparents. Any ideas on which side to take? NC Minnesota
It sure is hard to feel caught in the middle - you can see both sides of the issue, but it’s painful to get the message that your parents don’t approve of your parenting. No matter how old we are and how much we have accomplished, our parents are important to us and so we want their approval, love and respect. It sounds like your kids and their grandparents are caught in a negative loop of feelings and they are making each other worse.
Maybe your capacity to see everyone’s point of view and bring them together is the strength that will ultimately gain approval and respect from both your parents and your kids, and they might draw closer through that process. It sounds like it would help everyone for you to point out (in separate conversations at first) that everyone actually wants the same thing, that is, loving interactions with each other.
The next step is creating conditions for all parties to experience the best of each other and share some pleasurable times together. Is there a special holiday food one of your children could cook with one of her grandparents? Teaching and learning together affirms how precious each person is to the other, as skills and traditions are shared. Does one of your parents know how to crochet or knit and one of your children want to learn how? Does a grandparent go regularly to the library? Could one of the children share that trip each week? If one of the children is on a sports team, would they like to invite a grandparent to the game? It can be nice to have an extra booster on the sidelines. How about asking one of the grandparents to teach the proper way to address thank you notes or invitations, and plan a tea party for some older and younger friends? If grandparents are active and mobile, could the kids help them out with taking donations or supplies to the local senior center or hospital? Could a grandparent go on a school field trip, generating shared memories and stories?
Most kids don’t realize how they sound to others and usually other people have a pretty broad range of tolerance for kids. You might explain to your kids what things were like when grandma and grandpa were young, how different the customs were. With a short history lesson about ‘children being seen and not heard,’ ‘yes, ma’am,’ no television, cell phones or email, your kids might be able to see that their grandparents have actually come pretty far, and be willing to meet them halfway in terms of manners. You might challenge your kids to see if they can practice “old-fashioned” manners and see what it feels like - they may rise to the occasion. And their grandparents might have a really positive response.
You might be able to explain to your parents that you have raised your kids with explanations for your requests and requirements, helping grandparents to see that the kids aren’t being disrespectful when they question something - they just want to understand why. You can model for grandparents the way you do that with your kids. When they see that your kids mind you when you ask for something reasonably, it may help your parents move closer to seeing the kids as rational individuals, respecting them to make good informed choices, at least within the limits of childhood capacities. If your parents even occasionally explain where they are coming from, your kids might have a good feeling and pitch in.
Then you will have reversed the cycle and pushed the relationship between your kids and your parents into a better direction. Each good interaction will foster another and the feedback loop will be a positive one.
None of this will happen overnight - it’s a process of growth and change. Perhaps enlisting your parents in the process, sharing with them your wish for a whole happy family, will help them work toward the common goal of enjoying their grandchildren. These are precious years and the chance to spend positive time and create good memories is not forever.