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Managing Grandparents and Children

Written by Diane Baker

How communication can help you avoid a family tug of war.
To grandkids, Grandma and Grandpa are a source of treats, unconditional love and indulgent babysitting.

But even with your children's happiness at heart and loads of love thrown in, it's inevitable that differences of opinion pop up. What do you do when Mom and Dad insist on doing things contrary your family's parenting style?

For Annette Jackson the frustration came when her mother insisted on buying the expensive sports shoes her son loves. They're forbidden because of issues at her son's urban Oakland, Calif., high school. "I've told her and we end up in a fight."

How could Jackson have avoided the conflict?

"The first time, grin and bear it," suggests Leslie Lindsey, author of Totally Cool Grandparenting. Be prepared with positive suggestions that focus on building the bond between grandparent and grandchild. For example, instead of buying expensive sneakers, why not encourage taking a kid to a ballgame, or with a book problem, suggest a trip together to a bookstore."

And, above all, says Lindsey, "Don't assign each parent their own family; I'll talk to my parents, you talk to yours. You present a united front to your children. Do the same with grandparents. When it happens again, choose a quiet time that's not filled with emotion. Try rehearsing before you have your discussion."

Lynne Dawson's problems stemmed from a different situation. Her mother felt hurt because Lynne refused her mother's favorite children's books for her granddaughters. "My mother thinks they're harmless, but they're blatantly racist. What was OK 40 or 65 years ago is just not OK today."

What's the answer to Dawson's dilemma?

"Parents need to lighten up," says Judy Ford a psychologist and author of Wonderful Ways to Love a Grandchild . "Even in really serious matters, a lighthearted approach works best."

"Invite their input and communicate that you are pleased and delighted with their caring concern," says Ford. "Remember they have only good intentions."

Ford is also quick to remind parents that many of the troubles stem from unresolved issues between adults, something that children rarely understand. "Keep a clear focus on the problem and what's best for your child," she explains.

Chances are you're not going to change your parents, but with a little honest and open communication you could avoid an all-out, generational tug of war.

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