Who doesn’t love a room full of new toys?
Parents. That’s who.
Whether you’re an expecting parent, a new parent or are already knee-deep in diapers and Disney-princess dresses, there’s a surprising challenge that can sometimes arise: Grandparents.
In most cases, Nana and Pop just want to share a little extra love with their grandchildren. But, in some scenarios, they can overstep their boundaries, whether it’s by offering unneeded — or outdated — advice or sending little Jayden home hopped up on a sugar rush rivaled only by King Candy from Wreck-It Ralph.
So, in the interest of helping you find that common ground with the grandparents in your life, we talked to Katie Miller, a wise Minneapolis mother of two, and Maggie Klefsaas, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Washburn Center of Children, to compile a list of tips to take to the grandparents in your life.
Focus on intent
When grandparents swoop in with suggestions or advice, it often leads to new parents defensively feeling like they’re doing it wrong. Remember that parents instinctively try to help their children.
So, when Nana asks, “Are you sure the baby isn’t hungry?,” her intent isn’t to second-guess your abilities as a parent. She’s trying to find a way to help you in this journey of parenthood.
If the advice feels overwhelming, feel free to say, “Thanks for your opinion. I’ll think about it.”
Communicate ‘house rules’
When grandparents come over, casually verbalize your routine or “house rules” by explaining, “We’re trying to sleep-train, so we may hear some crying tonight.” Or, “We’re still breastfeeding and haven’t introduced a bottle yet.”
Communicate your parenting techniques to grandparents preemptively — presenting a united front with your partner — with the hope they’ll respect your boundaries.
If they don’t, ask your partner to support you in having a conversation with the grandparents. Explain to Grandma and Grandpa that you know they’re coming from a place of love, but it’s important to you and your spouse that they support your parenting decisions.
Ask for help
Parenting a newborn can be exhausting, overwhelming and emotional. Grandparents can be an important support system for you, allowing you to run errands or even take a nap while they coo over their new grandbaby.
It’s OK to lean on them, but not too much. They have their own lives and may not be able to make you and your children the center of their universe.
Spoiling is spoiling
When the kids get too much of a good thing from a grandparent, it’s OK to let the incident slide, but have a conversation with them about future “treating.”
Explain your reasoning and what you plan to do if it occurs again. For example, in this day and age, when multiple Christmases are common, explain that not only is it overwhelming to have three or four Christmas celebrations — complete with stockings and piles of gifts in one day — but that you also don’t have the need or space for the toys. You can explain that you’re also trying to start new traditions of your own.
Another strategy is to decide that each child should receive one toy from each side of the family. Any others will be donated. That will help make each present more important and thoughtful. It may also make the day less overwhelming for the grandchildren.
Try to notice when grandparents are right — and when you find their wisdom comforting.
Positive reinforcement can go a long way in making grandparents feel honored, respected and wanted.
Keep in touch with them and affirm their efforts. After all, grandparenting can often be as demanding and exhausting as parenting.
Don’t get stuck in the middle
Sometimes Gigi and PopPop, especially if they’re the caregiver of a child or children during the day, can be lenient with candy, ice cream and the like — very lenient.
You may find yourself asking specifically what was given so that you’re not fooled into allowing another treat that same day (those little teeth!).
Especially if your children are young, you may need to rely on the grandparents for the truth.
However, as your kids get a little older and, dare we say, more conniving, they may know how to work the situation to their benefit. Seek the truth from the outset and avoid issues later.
Word expectations positively
Instead of using “Weekdays aren’t great for guests,” try, “We would love to see you this weekend.”
Be clear about your needs
When talking or venting to grandparents, be clear with what you would like from them.
Say: “Right now, I just need you to listen,” or, “What would you do in this situation?”
Vary roles as needed
It’s important to realistically define the role each grandparent can play in a child’s life.
One grandparent might fit perfectly into your lives and parenting style. Another might be someone you feel isn’t equipped to care for your kids properly.
Not all grandparents have good decision-making skills — or the physical strength and speed required to restrain a toddler in unsafe situations or care for a cranky infant when things get stressful.
That may mean one grandparent will see your child every week, while another might visit monthly and take on different activities for different durations.
It’s OK to have different rules for different grandparents. Grandparents should respect that you’ve set a structure for how you want to raise your children. If they don’t, you can always redefine their role by limiting time with the grandchildren. Be confident and stick by the rules you’ve created.
Be flexible and empathize
Remember they’ve been excited to become grandparents and “spoil the kids” for a long time.
Be flexible while still maintaining your limits and expectations.
Empathize with the grandparents. They’re no longer in control as parents, and they’re adjusting to their new roles, too.
Corey Butler lives in Northfield with his wife and two children.