Read any advice column and a question like this will inevitably pop up: “My mom is butting in on how I raise my kids, and I don’t know what to do. Help!”
Even the wealthy and privileged aren’t immune to clashes in parenting styles. Just take Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s high-profile divorce — and the apparent reasons for it. “Sources connected with the couple tell us … Angelina’s decision to file [for divorce] has to do with the way Brad was parenting the children. She was extremely upset with his methods,” TMZ reported recently.
Everywhere a new mother turns, advice is lurking:
- “Co-sleeping with a child is the absolute best!”
- “Co-sleeping will spoil your child.”
- “An occasional unhealthy snack isn’t a big deal.”
- “Unhealthy snacks lead to obesity.”
- “It’s OK to feed the baby formula.”
- “Formula is unacceptable.”
See how confusing it is to be a new parent? As if the information pouring in from books and the media weren’t enough, many new parents have to balance advice from the people who parented them.
“When my first was a newborn, he had terrible colic,” a Massachusetts mom of three told LifeZette. “My grandmother was visiting, so I had my mom and my grandmother offering me advice. I finally called the pediatrician, who told me what to do, and it resolved in an hour. I was shaken, though — I had never even thought of some of the things they had suggested, neither of which was what the doctor suggested.”
Being a new parent is a lesson in insecurity on its own, but it’s still important to set boundaries with the child’s grandparents right away — while being open to suggestions. This is your child and you’re going to do the best you can, regardless of whether that parallels your own childhood.
Even though you were spanked as a child, it’s OK if you decide to use other types of discipline. It’s also OK for you to limit sugar intake and screen time; it’s OK for you to feed your baby formula; and it’s OK to let the baby “cry it out.”
But every time you drop your child off to spend time with the grandparents, you learn they’ve ignored some of the rules you’ve set up for your own home: These sweet and beloved people gave your toddler a bowl of strawberry ice cream with red food dye — and when she acted out later because of her food allergy, Grandpa spanked her to get her to behave.
What do you do?
Cara Maksimow, a social worker and therapist in Summit, New Jersey, has a client a similar situation: Her child has a food allergy to red dye, and the grandparents keep giving the child Twizzlers and other candies with dye. Maksimow says it’s important for the grandparents to understand the rules. Explain your reasoning, whether it’s for the child’s health, development, or something else.
“Acknowledge the grandparents are doing the best they can,” said Maksimow. “Then come up with compromises. ‘If you want to give them candy, here are the candies within the boundaries’ might work. If the grandparents insist on giving them treats, reserve a certain treat for those visits, so the kids feel that is special.”
Grandparents can even be included at a doctor’s appointment — if they’re still not getting it.
Every parent will have a unique system for discipline. Whether it’s time-outs, extra chores, or something else, show the grandparent your preferred method, suggested Maksimow.
“Whatever strategy you’re using at home, do it with Grandma and Grandpa. Show them an alternative. If you just say, ‘Don’t spank my kids,’ they don’t know what else to do in its place,” she said.
And for those times when you just can’t agree, “don’t engage,” Maksimow recommended. If the grandparents continue to criticize you or offer unwanted advice, say something like: “I appreciate that you’re worried about me, and it’s nice to know you care. But right now, this (fill in the blank) is important to me and here’s why.” Then change the subject, and choose not to engage further.
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“[They’re] only going to keep doing it if you keep engaging and battling, and you don’t need to defend yourself,” said Maksimow. “And you need not take personally what other people say. Don’t doubt yourself.”
“Constant ridicule and criticism is something you cannot accept.”
Most of the time, new parents and grandparents can get along with some healthy communication. Then again, sometimes new parents come across what Dr. Gary Brown calls “the controllers” — those people “who feel the need to dominate you with their opinions and their advice.”
Dr. Brown works as a family and marriage therapist in Los Angeles, California, and he tells new parents to identify the controllers in their life and immediately set limits on the amount of time they’ll spend with them.
“Constantly having someone ridicule you, dominate you, judge and criticize you is simply something you cannot accept,” he told LifeZette. “It’s not good for you and that won’t be good for your baby … If you’re sensing red flags with someone, politely but firmly set limits.”