Managing Expectations with Grandparents:
And how to keep the holiday family peace
The holidays are upon us again and, if you’re like many American families, it’s off to Grandma’s house we go. Visiting family is part of what the holiday season is all about, but it can also be part of what makes it so stressful. You love the together time, of course, but sometimes your well-meaning parents and in-laws can create a lot of tension by second-guessing, criticizing or even overriding your parenting choices, especially during this jolly time of year. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has some tips for dealing with parenting power-struggles, and says the balance is in keeping the upper hand while also keeping the peace.
First off, remember to be specific. You can’t expect grandparents to pick up on your subtle, polite hints. While you may think it’s completely obvious that you never spank your kids or that a third candy cane is overkill, you can’t assume that grandparents will realize this without saying it. Instead, try to be very specific about your wishes, requests and rules.
Don’t be a drama mamma…or daddy. Try to remove emotions from the equation. Don’t take it as a personal insult if grandparents don’t agree with you. Just be very even-toned about the issue you’re raising or the problem you’re confronting. And try to remember that, chances are, you’re both coming from a loving place.
Pick your five non-negotiables. When it comes to your children, there are certain things you shouldn’t budge on, like safety. And there are things you shouldn’t have to budge on, like raising your kids a certain religion. AARP suggests parents determine their top five non-negotiable items and stress those to grandparents so there is no confusion.
Personally, one of my parenting non-negotiables dealing directly with holidays and special occasions is gifts. I know how grandparents love to spoil their babies with lots of gifts, but starting on our daughter’s first birthday, we asked that in lieu of toys, everyone bring one book. Then at Christmas, we asked that the grands keep it to one to two gifts.
But make sure to explain yourself. As parents, you’re certainly allowed the “because I said so” stance (they’re your kids after all) but AARP family experts believe grandparents deserve an explanation as to why you choose to do something a certain way. They don’t have to agree with it or even like it, but sharing the reasoning behind your decisions can help grandparents understand.
The gift rule didn’t go over well with our families. We still had grandparents bring a book and a toy to the party or buy extra Christmas gifts. But, when we explained that we didn’t want our daughter associating love with things you buy, they understood where we were coming from.
Try to let a few things slide. If grandparents are respectful of your non-negotiables, then try to let a few minor things slide. Allow grandparents to have some rules that are just for their house. You want your parents and in-laws to feel like they can love and spoil your children, and it’s fun for kids to have special, only-at-grandma’s-house rituals or treats. So if your kids get sugary candy at grandma’s or grandpa lets them stay up an hour later than you’d like, try not to turn it into a big deal.
The holidays are a very special time for family and full of moments your children will remember and cherish. No matter how stressful things get, remember that grandparents are the same loving moms and dads that raised you and your spouse, so they must have gotten something right.