When we had our son, Tristan, I was still in college and my wife was working full time at a hardware store. My mother in law, who is an awesome and generous person, offered to watch our son while my wife was at work. I’ll be honest here, she was doing us a huge favor: if she hadn’t been willing to offer us free childcare during those first couple years as parents, either Mel would have had to quit her job, or I would have had to drop out of school. And while we were totally aware of the sacrifice she was making, it didn’t stop us from getting into a number of arguments with Grandma about all the rules she was disregarding while watching our first born.
I was a little late to going to college, so we held to this arrangement for two years. In that time, our son watched more TV than we were comfortable with, and developed a pretty serious addiction to fast food. Like so many parents in this situation, we tried to tell Grandma our expectations, and I’d say she followed 75% of them; the rest she just disregarded. And while we thanked her for her services, there was a little tension in the room each afternoon when we picked up our son. But on the whole, all of it was forgivable, and over the years, we have all figured out how to coexist as parents and grandparents.
As it turns out, however, we are not the first couple to have a disagreement with grandparents on raising a child. According to a recent national poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, nearly half of parents describe disagreements with one or more grandparents about their parenting.
Don’t get me wrong — my wife and I have gotten pretty lucky in the grandparent department. Outside of a few arguments like the ones listed above in the beginning of our parenting journey, my wife’s parents have been pretty supportive of our rules, and my mother, for the most part, just sends us money on birthdays with no strings attached. But obviously for some parents, this is a huge struggle.
According to the poll, the most common disputes are over discipline (57 %), meals (44 %), and TV/screen time (36 %). But that’s not all. Other issues revolved around differing opinions on manners, safety and health, bedtime, favoritism, and sharing photos or information on social media.
Out of the 2,016 responses from parents of children ages 18 and under, differing opinions on discipline were by far the biggest issue. 40% say grandparents are too soft on the child, and 14% say grandparents are too tough.
Not that any of this should surprise anyone. I cannot count how many times I have been to a dinner party with friends and listened to every parent in the room drop one grievance after another about how their parents try to tell them how to parent. One of the biggest irritations I see online right now revolves around different opinions on how to keep a child safe during the pandemic. And according to the study, many arguments are over changes in safety guidelines for children — one of the more dangerous examples being grandparents not getting on board with things like booster seats.
All of this can be pretty irritating, and in some cases (like COVID-19 safety and boosters), potentially deadly. But the part that really gives me pause was the fact that one in seven parents went as far as to limit the amount of time their child sees certain grandparents. Growing up, I had a pretty special relationship with my grandmother. She ended up raising me from 14 to 18, so I understand that allowing children to spend time with their grandparents can be a big deal.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital director Sarah Clark had this to say about the poll’s findings: “Whether grandparents cooperated with a request or not was strongly linked to parents’ description of disagreements as major or minor. The bigger the conflict, the less likely grandparents were to budge.”
One thing is for sure: raising children is a tough gig, and honestly it goes a lot easier with a village. But one huge takeaway here is to realize that ultimately, the parents raising the child set the rules based on their household, and their understanding of how to raise a child right here, right now, in 2020.
Sure, advice is welcome, and spending time with grandparents can be critical to a child’s development, but according to Clark, “These findings indicate that grandparents should strive to understand and comply with parent requests to be more consistent with parenting choices — not only to support parents in the difficult job of raising children, but to avoid escalating the conflict to the point that they risk losing special time with grandchildren.”
So grandparents, we love you. I think I can speak for most parents in that we want you to be part of our children’s lives. But my goodness, let us set the rules.