Dealing With Grandparents That Don’t Follow the Rules

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Whether you’re forty and invite your ailing elderly mother to share your household with you, your husband and kids or a teenage parent still sharing a roof with your mom while you’re still growing into the role, raising your children while living with parents is at the least, a challenging situation.

According to DailyFinance.com multigenerational households in The US are becoming the new norm. As of the end of 2009, 51.4 million Americans (or 1 in 6 people) lived in a home with three or more generations under one roof. It's almost 5 million more than the 46.5 million Americans who had similar living situations in 2007.  As well-paying jobs grow scarce, the cost of childcare rises and parents choose to return to school in hope for better career prospects, it’s clear this isn’t just a teen parent issue. More and more parents of all ages are finding themselves under their parents’ roofs again, while their parents foot the bill.  Unfortunately, many of them feel like if they are supporting their grandchildren financially, they are entitled to a say in how they are raised as well.

“I am trying to teach my child not to curse, but my mom watches the baby while I’m in school and drops F-bombs all crazy.”

“My daughter doesn’t hesitate to tell me she is telling Nana on me when I tell her to do something she doesn’t want to.”

“My son calls me by my name and calls his Grandma, “Mom”.

These are just a few of the most common complaints I hear from young parents raising children in a multi-generational household.  Grandparents are overbearing and more concerned about maintaining control than allowing their children to assert their authority and children are confused about who they should listen to.  Frustration often results as young parents feel like their own parents pick and choose when to let them raise their children, "It's like grandparents want all of the perks of being a parent with none of the responsibility." So while the parent is insisting that the child not have a cookie before bed, Grandma reassures that it's "OK for the baby to have just one cookie." When it comes to raising your children in your parents’ house, conflict arises from two sets of parents that refuse to let go of their parental pride to work together in the child’s best interest.  Some parents take their children’s effort to adopt different parenting styles than the ones they were raised with as an insult. If it’s not “spare the rod, spoil the child” or “In the house before the streetlights come on” it can’t possibly be effective, can it?

It can be difficult for a parent to see what they still view as their baby raising babies of his/her own, especially when that parent hasn’t even come to terms with the fact that their children are in fact adults. Young parents that have moved out on their own often express that the relationship with their improved once they had their own space because the boundaries became so much clearer.  It’s natural to feel like just because your child has a baby, that doesn’t make them an adult especially if you’re the one buying the diapers, driving to doctor appointments and staying up all night with a teething toddler because mom has a calculus test in the morning. But holding this over a child’s head only makes room for resentment and they can’t learn to be a better parent if they are never given the chance to fully take on that responsibility.  In the game of parental support, a parent should cheer their children on from the sidelines and sub when necessary while they’re playing, not sit them on the sidelines while they take all the shots.  You can’t take over and then ask them why they aren’t stepping up. Parenting is about cooperation, not competition. As painful as it can be for everyone involved sometimes you have to learn to listen as much as you talk, respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses and focus on what’s in the best interest of the children, the big ones and the little ones.

Grandparents don’t think the rules apply to them?  Here are few tips that can make life easier for everyone involved:

  • Every disagreement doesn’t have to be an argument.

The fact that your parents were raised in times of peace signs and Motown and you grew up with Facebook and MTV means that at some or another your values will conflict and you’ll disagree what’s the best way to raise a child.  But every disagreement doesn’t have to end in threats of eviction and reminders of the all the extra support that’s being given.  Respect works both ways and it’s important for grandparents to recognize that supporting your child is requirement of the job.  Holding all of the help you offer over their head is not only immature but a one way ticket to resentment.  It’s OK to agree to disagree, but disagreements should be drama-free and handled with mutual respect and compromise.

  • Remind yourself of the benefits of living in a multi-generational home.

My mother often tells me people think living with a grandparent seems like the greatest thing in the world until you have to actually do it.  But for all of the grandma’s out there that aren’t mean and crotchety, living with grandchildren can create ideal times for passing on wisdom and a sense of history to little ones.  And don’t forget the availability of financial and emotional support.

  • Have a discussion about boundaries and entitlement.

Some but not all parents feel like, “Their roof, their rules”. This can be rough waters to navigate when adults in the household are all contributing financially especially when public assistance comes into play.  If everyone is getting food stamps and paying rent, then who makes the rules?  It’s also important that clear boundaries are set in place.  Who’s allowed to discipline the children and if so, how? Keep arguments between a spouse or partner private.  Venting is one thing but you can’t wonder why your mom is hating on your husband when you refer to him as your “Bastard Baby Daddy”.

  • Create rules that work well for everybody and be clear they are for EVERYONE on the household.

Rules don’t work if people don’t play fair and they don’t apply to everyone.  If you don’t want your child to curse, everyone in the household should work on being PG.

  • Be the example of the type of respect you want from your child.

So often I see young mothers yelling at their mamas and cursing at them.  Even worse is that some of the mamas are throwing the first blow.  Break the cycle; even if your parents still haven’t gotten that whole respect thing down, it doesn’t mean you have to dish it right back.  Teach your children respect by respecting them and your own parents as well.

  • Make the most of the time you do get to spend with your child.

It’s natural to build strong bonds with the people you’re surrounded by the most and today’s parents often struggle between working and spending quality time with your children.  The best defense against a child who seems to be unclear about who is truly the parent is to make the most of the time you can spend with them. Plan special mother/daughter days, call to check-in during the workday if you can and most importantly, when you are home turn off your cell phone, shut down the computer, turn off the TV and take time to get to know your child.

Is it difficult for you and your parents to agree on how to raise your child?

Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog BulletsandBlessings.

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