I think this is such a common issue for most families. I live in Australia and my parents and in laws in Spain, so we don’t see them often, but when we do is 24/7. It is hard to land into their houses, their habits, their needs and wants and try to enjoy them and please them while you try to protect yourself and your kids at the same time. There is so many unpacked emotions and needs in each visit from both sides: ideas of worth, competition, jealousies, not very healthy ideas about protection and affection, comparison… I would like to talk about this in more depth in another post.
Again, for me here the problem was about control. I think my parents’ ideas about education are outdated and ineffective, and although they express their love in beautiful ways to the children, it hurts when I listen to them bribing, throwing illogical consequences, o lecturing them. I had to learn to try to stop them and educate them on how I think they should be with them. I tried it of course, in gentle ways when the situation is calm and neutral and in more hysterical ways in the middle of a blow-out (not recommendable). It didn’t work, especially for my mum. She became very frustrated and quite lost. It was like asking her to keep talking but using a language she didn’t know the words of. That was insensitive and painful, at the end of the day it is your daughter telling you you don’t know how to educate kids which can easily being read as: you did a poor job with me that’s why I am doing the opposite. Imagine your employer tells you after 20 years of (unpaid) work that you did a really bad job. It must hurt a lot especially if you did your best and no one taught you. So now I try to not control the situation, nor control them, nor the outcome of the relationships with my kids.
So this is what now works for me:
1- Remember they are the grandparents, not the parents. They don’t have the same educational duties you have, therefore they don’t play the same role for the kids. YOU are the one that needs to be consistent and follow -through but you can’t expect your parents or anybody else will do the same. That is actually liberating because you have the power of parenting, and that power of educate and coach your children. Other people don’t have that power, so you don’t need to control them.
2- state the difference clear to the kids: different people, different rules, different beliefs systems. Use this opportunity as a way to teach diversity and authenticity to your kids. Nobody believes in the same stuff or talks in the same way. Your kids have to follow and adhere to the rules, routines and practices you have created for them, but at the same time, you can’t deny what they see: that some people don’t have those rules or don’t follow them. That’s ok: here is when the authenticity piece kicks in. Respect to what others do, but stick to what you do and believe it is ok. As a parent this is key, but as a kid is equally important, as it helps them to stand up and be assertive. Of course, there are rules they are not happy about and they will break (going to bed later during sleepovers or watching more TV). So draw a line for yourself: ESSENTIAL RULES AND PRACTICES and NON ESSENTIAL. When you are visiting your parents, make sure the (few) on the first list are clear to everyone, kids, parents, spouse. The other ones, I personally adhere myself when I am with my kids visiting, but if I leave them for a sleepover I forget about them. This means: if we all sleep over at my parents’ house, they go to bed at 7. If I am not there, that rule doesn’t need to be followed to suit my parents’ schedule. So if works for them to put them later to bed so they can have a loner bath or listen to music for a little bit longer that’s ok. When you are not use to take care of kids, time slips into your fingers very easily, so it is common finding youself realising it is already 6 pm and bedtime routine hasn’t even started. At that point I rather want my parents to keep things at the usual path and put them in bed later than rush them to make it to bed by 7. I think this works best for them and for the kids too.
With this technique I keep the important rules for me in place and make it more manageable for my parents, where I let them space to take their own decisions and have fun. Kids and adults don’t want to be told of all the time, so give them the chance to take choices for your kids without showing up with an endless list of do’s and don’ts.
3- Don’t ask, build trust. If my kids are happy and my parents don’t seem too exhausted or worn out, the outcome is successful. I try not to ask questions about times, routines adhesion or sugar intake. I try to wait for them to tell me and then I ask follow-up questions, such as: “and when you went to this new park, how he reacted?”. That way
The don’t ask wait method works for me for three reasons : 1)there is nothing to do about it 2)if there is something they did they think I won’t be happy about chances are they don’t tell me or they tell me feeling ashamed or guilty. Not good outcomes anyways. 3)I learned also how my parents interpret situations and how they describe them. That also helps me to put things in perspective and learn strategies from them.
Their time together is not a test or an interrogatory. It is their experience to bond over and I have to respect it by kindly staying outside. By doing this, I know that if there is something that went wrong or they are unhappy about they will let me know because they can trust I won’t be harsh or blame them. They also will learn from their mistakes and see the negative consequences of not adhering to sensible rules about sleep, eating habits or too much TV. The deeper educational stuff, that’s harder to change but I have already see with my mum that if she sees that descriptive prising works, she will slowly and safely incorporate it into her toolbox, without me saying a word. Set the example and they will follow it when they see the value. If they don’t, they won’t, and that’s your time to accept it and adapt it by following the steps above.