Can Grandma be too Involved? Grace for Generational Conflicts
- Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Kelly’s mom is always telling her she’ll ruin little Jadon if she doesn’t potty train him before his baby sister arrives. Krista’s mother-in-law constantly drops by unannounced to see her “darling boy” and then proceeds to take over his care and feeding—in Krista’s house! Pam’s father-in-law is appalled at the “loosey-goosey” way Pam and Brad discipline their son, and he’s not afraid to tell them so, sometimes in front of little Brody.
These are true stories, unfortunately, each one told to me as I travel around speaking at moms groups. I never fail to be amazed at the angst caused by differences in opinion between young parents and their one-generation-older parents. To be honest, I can’t completely relate. My parents and in-laws are pretty hands-off when it comes to how I raise my kids. Oh, I’ve gotten comments here and there that have bugged me at least a little. My dad thinks it’s slapdash indeed when we occasionally eat a meal in front of the TV. Doyle’s dad has this sort of John Wayne mentality that men of all ages shouldn’t wear shorts or sandals, and he has mentioned this more than once. And one of the grandmas thinks the kids are somewhat lacking in table manners. Although that’s not the way she puts it, I can clearly read between the lines.
But I’ve never experienced the outright rancor, competitiveness, and deep hurt between the two generations that so many young couples have felt. Whether your issues with the grandparents of your kids are just annoying, or worse, here’s a guide to tackling the most common problems our generation of moms faces. I’m calling the solutions “Extreme Granny Makeover,” but “Granny” in this case represents Gramps too.Granny Just Does Things Differently
Few mothers and daughters do their job of mothering in exactly the same way, so there’s bound to be a little bit of misunderstanding, if not friction. In some ways, every family is a different culture, so when you marry into your husband’s family, it can be like marrying into a new civilization, with varied “laws” and ways of doing things.
Kim truly married into a whole new world when she wed Sam from Nigeria. Like in any other daughter-in-law/parents-in-law relationship, there’s been some need for give-and-take:
For me, I guess the touchiest stuff in our relationship comes from the difference in my culture and my husband’s. Respect is a big thing in my husband’s culture—right down to using titles for anyone that’s even a few years older than you. It’s expected that you call so-and-so Aunt or Uncle even though they aren’t related, just so you aren’t calling them by their first name. Trying to emphasize this extreme to my kids is going to be difficult growing up in the States. I worry that I may be criticized by his family for how my kids turn out. For now, I know in my heart that they are kind and polite for their ages—Elana already says her pleases and thank-yous at appropriate times, for example. Although we do plan to spend time in Africa as well as here, I don’t know quite how the girls will be affected by all of it. My hope is that they’ll take the best of both cultures and blend it into something great.
Bottom line: Different generation, different personalities, and different backgrounds shape you, your parents, and your in-laws, so Granny may well think you’re doing things wrong because you’re not doing things her way.
Extreme Granny makeover: Next time your mother-in-law sniffs that her little Bobby never ate “that fast-food junk,” try not to get defensive. Hard, I know. Try to use a light touch to disarm her, and show her you understand at least partially where she’s coming from. “I know fast food was probably worse in those days than it is now. These days they have fruit juice, milk, and applesauce on the menu for kids. We usually get the chicken strips and some apple juice when we go through the drive-through, and it’s such a treat for Cate.” Leave it at that, because less is more here. Try to keep in mind that she also didn’t drive much when your husband was small, on account of their having one car. Her lifestyle was completely different than your mobile, out-and-about days with your little ones. She just doesn’t get it.
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