In my last blog I looked briefly at how much influence you can have on the children in your life that are not your children, ie grandchildren, nieces and nephews. How much influence can you have on their behaviour, attitudes, diet, values? This is such a delicate, complicated area. It is also difficult if you have separated from your partner and now share custody of children. There is plenty of scope for conflict on how children are being bought up. Okay, I’m going to start off by saying, keep in mind that you are not 100 per cent perfect. When we see parents making mistakes with a child, it’s easy to jump in and tell them how they should be doing it, but we have all made mistakes in our parenting, and frequently we are blind to that, however our own children are not blind to our mistakes. They are very aware where we went wrong, so even advice given with the best intentions to your adult children can be heard as criticism. When you give advice, your adult child may be prompted to think of when you failed as a parent, and feel that you are not in a position to be giving advice. Always be mindful of that.
Next, remember that times have changed. Yes, I still believe in many old-fashioned values like teaching children a sense of responsibility, honour and self-respect. I believe in discipline, but parents today are much more mindful about their children’s emotional wellbeing then parents were in the past. This is not a bad thing. Children today live with social media, which can be very damaging and can hurt self-esteem, especially if a child is bullied online. Many studies have shown that children today are much more vulnerable to anxiety and depression because of the pressures of social media and media. Parents today might be more reluctant to discipline or be strict with children because they are concerned about their child’s mental health given there are so many new external pressures. I want you to also keep this in mind whenever you have contact with other people’s children, whether they are your grandchildren, other relatives or just the children of friends and neighbours.
Finally, remember that today’s parents are under their own unique pressures. Look at the price of houses, many young families are saddled with enormous mortgages and are under a huge financial strain. Parents who are stressed often struggle to parent well, and need love and support. Are you in a position to offer that? Here are some tips on how to support parents with children. I will continue with these tips on my next blog.
Tips for supporting young families
The role of grandparents or even surrogate grandparents (like friends and neighbours) is to make life easier for the parents. In turn, parents should be grateful and show you respect and honour and make you feel wanted. But we know it doesn’t always feel like that.
1. Parents and grandparents need to have good will
Grandparents can have very real concerns about the way children are being raised but when they try to improve the situation, conflict can occur. Often parents don’t consider the feelings of grandparents and instead think the grandparents are interfering and intruding.
Parents and grandparents need to remember that everyone wants to be the best and are acting with only the best intentions. Sometimes grandparents need to say this. They need to tell their adult children that they love them, and they are doing a fantastic job parenting and caring for their children. Be very careful offering advice.
Also grandparents should ask their adult children HOW they can help out. Ask the parents what sort of support they need. Perhaps your adult children will be more willing to accept your advice if you also offer very practical support, such as doing the washing and dropping off the occasional cooked meal. Ask the parents of children what you can do to make their life easier. You may find that your adult children automatically become better parents when they have a bit more practical support in the home.
If you are already babysitting grandchildren, but feel you are not being listened to or respected, you could gently remind your adult parents that you are trying very hard to help and would like to feel respected. Remind them that you appreciate their life is difficult. This is a relationship like any other and it takes effort to make it work. Don’t just assume that you automatically have a place in the lives of your grown-up children. It is now an adult-adult relationship and you must respect them.
2. Don’t be critical
The most important thing is not to be critical of your adult children. Remember they are much more aware of your short-comings as a parent than you are. Any advice you give could be taken as criticism. And do you know what people do when criticised? They shut down. Who wants to be near someone who is always judging them? Instead of criticism, focus on what they are doing right. We all doubt ourselves as parents – have we got it right, have we got it wrong, etc. Tell your adult children what they are doing well as a parent often! They will really appreciate hearing that they are a good mother or father, because let’s face it, our kids don’t often tell us that.
3. Know your place
If your adult child says to you, “I know you see this differently, but I’d appreciate doing it my way,” then you have to listen and respect this, even if you think they have it all wrong with their children. If your grandchildren are the children of your son, be mindful that the children’s mother has grown up in a household different to your own and will be creating a home that does not mirror yours. This may also be the case of an adult daughter, but often (not always) it’s the mother who has most influence on the home space and will incorporate aspects of her childhood home in her home.
Again, ask the mother and father how you can contribute. This can solve problems rather than lead to conflict. Never criticise the parents in front of the children. This is an important rule for parents, grandparents and separated parents. Don’t even say something as subtle as, “Oh, you’re too strict, let the child have that toy.” You are undermining the parent’s authority and also the child will become consciously or subconsciously aware that there is conflict between you, and this could make the child anxious. Always remember that the welfare of the child comes first.
I will continue this discussion on best ways to support parents in my next blog.
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