During a recent discussion with a group of grandmothers I shared one of my strategies for becoming a go-to grandma: don’t give unsolicited advice to the parents of your grandchildren. But what if you observe a potentially dangerous situation, asked one of the grandmas? When a child’s safety is concerned, I believe it is your responsibility to say something. The question is, what’s the best way to phrase it without making it seem like criticism or judgment?
The grandmother explained that her four-year old twin granddaughters love to play with their Barbie dolls and all the little accessories that come with them. Now that their six-month old baby brother is starting to crawl, grandma’s afraid he may put one of those small toys in his mouth and choke.
Everyone in our group agreed that this grandmother should tell her daughter that her grandson may choke on some of the girls’ Barbie accessories. Sometimes you just have to speak up and put aside any fear of offending the parent. Hopefully, her daughter will not get defensive and recognize that it’s not meant as a judgment of her parenting. For example, grandma could say: “I know you have a lot on your plate and I’m wondering if we can find a way for the twins to keep all their accessories out of reach from the baby.”
Parents can be very sensitive to criticism, so it’s important for grandparents to remember how they felt when they were young parents and keep their advice to themselves. If this grandma told her daughter that the girls shouldn’t play with their dolls when the baby’s around, she would be overstepping her boundaries. But brainstorming with her daughter about finding a solution to the problem would be welcome.
Grandparents often feel the need to walk on egg shells when talking to the parents of their grandchildren. It would make all of us grandparents feel much more comfortable if our children would give us permission to express our opinions rather than having to tip-toe around and carefully weigh our words. I think we would all welcome an agreement that allowed us to say how we’re feeling, and then our children could say “I hear your concerns and appreciate your point of view, but I’m going to discuss that with my pediatrician.”
If our children understand and appreciate our good intentions, and we limit our suggestions to only the most important ones, then we can build feelings of mutual respect. By looking for opportunities to praise our children’s parenting skills whenever possible, we can also help foster a supportive atmosphere in which parents will feel free to ask their parents for help.