Over the years I’ve heard from members that sometimes it’s too painful for them to attend our meetings because of the challenges they face in their relationships with the parents of their grandchildren. That’s why I decided to revisit a popular topic for our January 8 meeting: When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand.
Judging from the record turnout, the topic resonated with many grandmas. Let’s face it, as grandmas we’ve all faced challenges of varying degrees at some time and there are no easy answers. But it’s comforting to know we’re not alone and that’s why our meeting was so satisfying.
We listened to each other’s challenges with empathy and some humor, including my personal favorite—a suggestion that I market a new product: GaGa Sisterhood Duct Tape, for those moments when we need a little extra help keeping our mouth shut!
After each member introduced herself and described her challenge, we broke up into two groups to discuss three basic themes: difficult relationships, hurt feelings, and different parenting methods.
The #1 challenge for many grandmas is dealing with a difficult daughter-in-law. A DIL can feel threatened by the relationship between her husband and his mother, she may have a parenting style that is different from yours, or she simply has a difficult personality.
Ellie Slott Fisher, author of It’s Either Her or Me: A Guide to Help a Mom and Her Daughter-in-law Get Along, offers some advice to new grandmas–make yourself invaluable to the new parents: be available to babysit, follow their rules, and help with meals and laundry. If you can be there to help out with items not directly related to the baby, you’ll find yourself rewarded with a lot of time with your grandchild.
Remind yourself that every generation revises and personalizes child-raising techniques just like you did when you were a new parent. If you can accept this, your relationship with your DIL will flourish.
If your DIL has a difficult personality, you may have to change your attitude and relate to her as she is, not how you wish she would be. Lower your expectations and try very hard to find qualities you admire, so you can genuinely compliment her about the way she’s raising your grandchild.
“If you’re feeling neglected,” says Ruth Nemzoff in Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children, “you might want to have a discussion with your children about how you feel and what role you can play. They may be unaware of your feelings, and may have very good reasons for not including you.”
Feelings of being left out can be magnified when our children start their own families, especially today’s families who are busier than we ever were. We’re no longer the core of the family unit. Our children are now the center of their own children’s universe, while we are satellites. One piece of advice that’s easier said than done is don’t take it personally.
Ideally, it’s important to discuss your role and commitment before the baby is born or soon after the baby has settled in. This way you can envision together the role you want to play in each others’ lives. If you don’t, your children may expect more than you wish to give or you may try to impose more than is welcome.
Different Parenting Methods
If you want access to your grandchild, you need to be open and receptive to your children’s “parenting” program. Things have changed since we raised our children and today’s parents have access to vast amounts of new information that may seem completely foreign to us.
Sit down and discuss some of your questions in a non-judgmental way. Become the “student” and express genuine interest and curiosity about what the parents are reading and learning.
Discipline is primarily the parents’ responsibility. As a grandma, you should be available but not interfering, and respect their parenting style. It helps to remember how you felt as a new mom when your parents questioned your decisions.
If one or both parents are around, you should not take on the disciplinary role. However, if you’re alone with your grandchild, then it’s okay for you to teach the child what is right. It’s a delicate balance knowing when to remain silent and when to interject.