The tightrope all grandparents have to walk: Discipline

You’ve been a parent and raised your children and now it’s time for you to enjoy your grandchildren, but how do you manage the delicate relationship between you, your children, your grandchildren and discipline? No matter how understanding you are, there will be times that you don’t agree with the way your children are bringing up their children and discipline can be the biggest bone of contention. How, when, and who’s rules do you follow? If you’re lucky, you and your children will have similar values and many people parent their children with very similar rules to their own childhood. But what do you do if your views on discipline aren’t the same?

Your perception of what your grandchildren are doing may be very different to the perception your kids have of their behaviour. One persons vision of “spirited”can be another’s vision disrespectful insolence.

On grandparents.com, Dr. Ruth Nemzoff  tries to address some of the issues grandparents face. One of the big questions is, what can you do when your leniency, or your toughness, conflicts with the way your children handle discipline?

Dr Nemzoff advises that parents are responsible for their children, so, in most cases, you should defer to them, even if their approach differs from yours. Sometimes, mercy and kindness work. Sometimes, strictness is required. Remembering the love and anxiety that went into setting rules for your young children when you were a new parent will help you be more understanding of your adult children’s approach, whatever it is. Reading current books on parenting to make sure that your expectations for your grandchildren’s behaviour are age-appropriate can also help.

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She goes on to explain that location can and should affect this hierarchy of authority. She firmly believes that each generation has the right to make rules in its own home: for example, where children can eat food, where their nappies can be changed, and how other standards of cleanliness will be upheld. When you visit grandchildren in your children’s homes, the parents’ rules should apply. When kids are visiting you in your home, your rules can take precedence.

It’s such a sensitive subject that feelings can get caught up and trampled on along the way. I remember both my husband and I mentioning things our parents had done when we were growing up, and asking our parents not to the same with our kids.

My husband asked his mother never to put honey on our son’s dummy saying “it would be nice if he grew up with some teeth”. The implication being that his mother had some how failed him and his dental health. Of course in the 60s lots of kids had their dummies dipped in sugary solutions – that’s what mums did back then. He should have been more sensitive, but it was his mother who had to bite her tongue, and to her credit she did.

Dr Nemzoff says “We can’t change the past, but we can share the lessons we learned from it and, if necessary, ask our children for forgiveness or understanding”.

Dr. Ruth Nemzoff is resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center. She is also the author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave Macmillan).

How do you deal with discipling your grandchildren? Do you have your own rules, or do you follow your children’s guidelines? Are there areas of discipling grandchildren that you and their parents disagree on and has it caused friction?