Raising Children in a Family that Doesn't Share Your Values
- 2006 14 Mar
Pioneer parents grew up in homes they don’t want to duplicate. Whether your upbringing was lacking key Christian values, or included various forms of abuse, brokeness, or dysfunction, you’ve struggled to parent differently than how you were raised. You’ve read parenting books, examined your own issues, and done your best to ensure your children won’t have to deal with the dysfunction you experienced growing up.
But what happens when your parents want a relationship with your children, particularly if your parents have not dealt with their own issues? And what if the influence they have in your children’s lives is negative or even harmful? How do you foster some sort of positive relationship between children and grandparents while still protecting your children?
As a pioneer parent, I’ve wrestled with these questions. Maintaining a good relationship with grandparents (or even other relatives) while protecting our children is no easy task, particularly because it involves navigating a minefield of negative emotions. Saying no to a parent who may still be unsafe emotionally may cause hurt in an important relationship. But saying yes may damage our children.
What can pioneer parents do to protect their children?
• If you are a person of faith, pray. Pray for the visits, that your children would be protected, wise, and carefree.
• Overcome your fears. If you live your life in constant fear, you may end up protecting your children so much, they could miss out on an important relationship.
• Ask good questions. Instead of yes or no questions, ask children how their visit went. "What did you like best about your trip to Grandpa’s house?" or "If you could change anything about the visit, what would it be?" Open-ended questions help you to probe about the visit without coming across as harsh or judgmental.
• Keep things out in the open between you and grandparents. It’s difficult to express expectations to grandparents. Do it anyway. Tell relatives sleeping schedules, food allergies, and what type of media you permit your children to watch. If there is someone who habitually drinks and drives, you must say, "My children are absolutely not allowed to ride in the car with you."
However much you want to preserve the relationship between your children and their grandparents or other relatives, there are times when you must limit visits. There are several reasons why parents would limit contact:
• Relatives battling substance abuse
• Relatives who have sexually abused others
• Relatives with extreme views (extreme racism, occultic activity)
• Relatives with a pornography addiction (particularly if it’s in plain sight)
• Relatives who have habitually broken the law
• Relatives who are careless or neglectful and have difficulty remembering the importance of supervision
• Relatives with a bent toward cruelty
Yes, it is extremely uncomfortable to say to a relative, "Aunt Martha, I can’t let you stay with the children. I love you very much, but I can’t trust you’ll take care of them properly," but you must. It is your job as a parent to protect your children no matter how much you’ll hurt someone else’s feelings.
Even if there is tension between you and your family of origin, there are things you can do (as long as it is safe to do so) to preserve your children’s relationships with their grandparents.
• Don’t talk negatively. Hold your tongue. If you have personal grievances with your parents, don’t burden your children with them. The more you place your children in the impossible situation of choosing between the two of you, the more they will resent you. Let your children get to know your parents regardless of your own issues. There will come a day when your children are older and wiser, when they discover discrepancies on their own. In that case, be honest, but always kind. "Yes, Grandma does drink a lot, and it’s hurting her body" is better to say than, "I’ve talked to Grandma about her drinking, but she won’t listen." One statement is observation; the other is judgment.
• Maintain love for your parents. It’s important as a pioneer parent to deal with forgiveness issues first. Forgive your parents. Understand they are frail human beings just like you. Pursue relationship with them, even if it’s one-sided. Our children need to see us loving people who are hard to love.
• Emphasize forgiveness. There may be times when our children witness the angst between parents and grandparents. We may even blow up. Or grandparents may sting our children with mean words. In any of those situations, it’s important to be authentic and forgiving. "I know you saw me yell at Grandpa. I didn’t hold my tongue like I should have. I hope Grandpa can forgive me. Can you forgive me, too?" Modeling forgiveness is an essential trait our children will need as adults. After all, they may grow up and need to forgive us!
• Keep the connection alive. We as a society move around a lot, sometimes relocating far away from relatives. If this is the case, be proactive about encouraging a connection between your children and their grandparents. Set up a family web page or a blog. Teach them the lost art of letter writing. Send artwork to grandparents. If they live nearby, encourage outings and visits.
• Get rid of jealousy. Chances are if you had a difficult relationship with your parents growing up, you may battle jealousy if your parents now dote on your children. Remember that people can change. Instead of lamenting the fact that your parents never went to your baseball games, rejoice that they’ve changed enough to watch your daughter’s ballet recital. Jealousy will only poison your interaction.
Some pioneer parents are not able to reconcile with their parents for various reasons. If this is the case, be proactive about finding surrogate grandparents for your children who will greatly benefit from cross-generational relationships.
Preserving our children’s relationship with their grandparents (and other relatives) while still protecting them is a delicate dance requiring wisdom, tenacity, and forgiveness. But it can be done. It’s my hope that your children may serve as a bridge between you and your parents—a bridge of reconciliation, and, ultimately, healing.
Adapted from Building the Christian Family You Never Had: A Practical Guide for Pioneer Parents (WaterBrook)
Mary DeMuth is the author of Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God, Building the Christian Family You Never Had, and Watching the Tree Limbs: A Novel. She loves to write and speak about the redemptive hand of God in impossible situations. She lives with her husband and three children in Southern France where they are planting a church. Check out her website at www.relevantprose.com or browse her blog at www.relevantblog.blogspot.com.