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How to free your parenting when your own parents are causing problems

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I was asked to write about how to get your parents to understand attachment parenting, but I don’t think that the issue of your children’s grandparents refusing to ‘get’ your style of parenting is one that is unique to attachment parenting.

If our children have the

sort of grandparents who like to make comments and interfere, then they’re going to do that however you choose to parent unless it is exactly the way they think it should be done.

And herein lie the real issues – those of disrespect, power, control, fear, closed-minds, guilt and lack of open, honest, clear, loving communication and empathy.

I am lucky. My parents and my husband’s parents have always been very supportive of the ways we choose to parent our children, but I hear so, so frequently that other parents aren’t so lucky, and I wonder if the easiest starting point is to try to see the situation from your parents’ point of view.

Just like we are, our parents are the product of their own childhoods, parenting and life experiences. If they were brought up in a way that gives parents power, and makes children powerless, then they will have been taught certain ways to behave.

If they had a difficult time at school, they may have learned certain patterns of behaviour from that as well. And countless other things.

Some of our parents will have learned a pattern of behaviour that makes it difficult for them to function if they are not in control, and they may have spent your, or your partner’s childhood passing on similar behaviour patterns to your or your partner.

If they find lack of control terrifying, then they may have come to live in a way that we call ‘controlling’ or ‘interfering’ – and it is exactly that. But it can be easier to deal with when you can empathise with what may be the basis of this behaviour.

Let’s say your mother-in-law is finding it difficult to let go of her control of her son and to deal with the fact that he is not only his own person, but that his priority is no longer her, but his children and his partner. It is her problem, of course, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t view her actions with compassion and unconditional love, and that approach can make any difficult situations a whole lot easier to bear.

That’s not to say that you should say all this to your children’s grandparents, but just know that things such as these may be factor when you communicate with them and discuss ways of talking to them about how you wish to parent your children and how you would like them to be supporting you in this.

Another issue that I feel often gives rise to discord between a child’s parents and his grandparents is that of guilt. As I have discussed on this blog before, we are set up by our culture to feel that the upbringing of our children is solely our responsibility and therefore that we should feel guilty if we don’t manage to do it perfectly.

It is easy to see judgement in other parents making different choices, and even more so when our children making different choices about how they parent their children. Imagine that you left your babies to cry all night long, because you were told that was the best way to do things. And then your daughter-in-law says to you ‘I think it’s damaging for babies to be left to cry’. To her this may well feel as if you’re saying ‘I think you damaged my partner with your parenting’. It is unsurprising that some grandparents react defensively if this happens.

I would suggest that if you are finding a problem with your parents or parents-in-law constantly interfering or being rude about the way you are choosing to parent your children, it is always best to be lovingly open and honest.

With compassion in your heart, ask them to offer the same in return to you, and ask for opportunities to discuss how you parent in an open, loving way. Make it clear that the choices you make are no criticism at all about the choices they made, and that you dearly want them to be involved in your children’s upbringing. It is well known that plenty of contact with loving grandparents can be incredibly beneficial to children.

Remind them what the consequences of constant interference and negativity could be; that your children will pick up on antagonism and find it hard to reconcile their love for their grandparents with their innate loyalty to their parents.

With love, tell your parents or parents-in-law that you understand that they parented the way they thought best, and that they loved their children and that that is the most important thing. Say that all parents do the best they can with the knowledge and resources (financial, practical, support) they have at time and that the knowledge and resources you have may be different to those that they had when they were parenting children.

And above all ask them to try to support you in your choices, even if they disagree with them, because ultimately you are your children’s parents, and you will parent them how you feel is best, with or without their support, but that, of course, life for all of you will be far easier and more pleasant and loving if they do offer their support.

And please, please be open to questions – often it is just that your parents don’t understand. They were told that children who weren’t left to cry would grow up spoiled. Just because our current understanding of children’s emotional development has changed and we know this, it doesn’t mean your parents know it. Suggest books or websites for them to read, tell them what you’ve learnt (but remember to keep that compassion, love and empathy in your heart when you do!), and invite them to please ask when there are things they see you doing that they don’t understand or are worried about.

I hope that’s helpful. If anyone has any other ideas, please add to the comments.

Image credits: Salim Virji, Jaaron, Flickr

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