It was the Sunday after my third grandchild was born. A well-meaning friend at church asked me if I was heading to Texas that week. I told her I wished that I was, but Erica and Kendall had asked me to wait to come until Marie was home. My friend said, “Well, did you tell them that it’s grandma’s prerogative to come now if she wants?” I smiled and said that I wanted to respect Erica and Kendall’s wishes.
The conversation bothered me, but I wasn’t sure why.
However, it was several other conversations with both of my girls that helped me formulate my thoughts. The girls shared with me disappointing stories friends have shared of dealing with moms or mother-in-laws after a baby is born, such as:
- One young mom’s mother insisted on coming the week that the baby was born. This grandma pulled no punches in saying that she was there to hold the baby and nothing else. She said she’d hold the baby so her daughter could keep up with meals and laundry. So selfish.
- Another young mom’s extended family–all 8 of them–came to visit for a week arriving the day everyone came home from the hospital. They didn’t stay at a hotel…they stayed in the small home of this young couple. So inconsiderate.
- Another friend of one of my daughters shared that when they visit her in-laws or when the inlaws come to town to visit or take care of the kids, Grandma and Grandpa don’t follow the instructions for bedtimes or boundaries that Mom and Dad have set for their kids. The grandparents communicate that that they get so little time with the grandkids that they “deserve” to have the extra time with the kids plus the kids didn’t seem tired anyway. They also have let it be known (by their attitudes and actions) that they believe Mom and Dad’s guidelines/boundaries/routines are foolish. So sad.
- Another young mom said that when her inlaws come and visit, it’s not a help, it’s a chore. They rarely offer help and they insist on eating out rather than home prepared meals. This young mom finds eating out unenjoyable with little ones, not to mention the fact that eating out doesn’t fit this young family’s budget. So stressful.
- Yet another mom shared her frustration of a grandparent who smokes and has cats. This mom doesn’t want her kids around smoke and two of her kids have animal allergies. Yet this grandma complains that mom (her daughter-in-law) is keeping her from her grandkids. That isn’t true. The daughter-in-law graciously offers to meet grandma at a park or invites her to their home (smoking not allowed), but instead of being grateful for the offer, grandma is stubborn and refuses to see the kids unless it’s on her terms. So stubborn.
There are no grandma’s prerogatives. There are only mom and dad’s prerogatives. A grandparent’s job is to help and encourage, offering assistance within the lifestyle and routines of this new family.
What does this mean practically?
For me, Erica is using cloth diapers so I’m learning to use the new generation of cloth diapers.
Anne and Matt want their kids in bed by 8pm. When we’re caring for the kids, Mark and I do our very best to follow their instructions even if we wish we had more time to play with the kids.
Other practical ideas include:
When babies are born, make the extended family visit a day visit or a one-day-in-next-day-out visit to keep from adding to the stress that already accompanies adding a baby to the home.
Ask mom what she wants or what help she needs, don’t assume.
Grandparents can offer help with laundry, cleaning, meals, and dishes. (Not controlling help…blessing help–but that’s a topic for another blog post!)
Defer to the parents way of doing things. When you are visiting someone, your preferences take a back seat. My dad always says, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.” That’s a good way to think about it!
I am blessed to have had my parents model balanced grandparenting for me. They have given much love, been available, but never once pulled the “grandparent prerogative” card. Anytime I leave my kids in their care, I’ve never worried if they would follow my instructions. Even to this day, when they visit they offer to help with meals, dishes, laundry, running kids to activities, or whatever is going on that day. When they’ve come to town for weddings and our house is filled with adult kids and their families, they have offered to stay in a hotel for the night.
Whether you’re the grandparent or the parent, it’s important to know that “grandma’s prerogative” doesn’t exist. The parents call the shots on how their kids are to be cared for and treated. (Of course, grandma can also set her own boundaries, especially if she’s being taken advantage of by the parents.)
If you’re the parent, stand firm on what you want for your family. If a grandparent doesn’t respect your wishes, set boundaries in place to protect your desires for your family. Yes, you may make some people mad, but your loyalties are now to your new family, not your old family.
If you’re the grandparent, check your expectations and remember that your job is to defer to mom and dad’s wishes–even if you don’t agree with them. Be a good house guest if you have to travel to visit family. Build trust by doing what your child and their spouse ask you to do.
The goal is to have a good relationship between mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. Understanding that “grandparent prerogative” doesn’t exist is a start to making that relationship strong!