The Family Room The Family Room Blog Home

Their Kid, Their Rules

Hey grandparents, want to help your kids be good parents? Try butting out.

By MSNLiving Jun 18, 2012 8:40PM
Photo: Severin Schweiger / Bernhard Haselbeck/Cultura/Getty Imagesby Larry West

A grandparent, by definition, is a highly experienced parent. After all, by the time you achieve grandparent status you’ve already weathered your share of 3 a.m. feedings, potty training, and scraped knees or worse. And you’ve successfully guided your kids from their first breath, through their first step and first heartbreak, to their first real job and beyond. On the other hand your adult children, who made you a grandparent by having children of their own, are new and inexperienced parents at best. Naturally, you feel compelled to help them out by sharing your hard-won wisdom.

Please don’t.

You had your shot at parenting; now it’s your kids’ turn. And they'll have an easier time of it if you don't offer too much unsolicited advice, or ignore their wishes so you can handle things your own way when their children are in your care. Unwanted, unnecessary and, at times, unbelievable advice from the older generation about how the younger generation should bring up the next generation is one of the surest ways to create a chasm between family members that may never fully close.

And, frankly, the issues that cause the deepest emotional rifts are often just plain silly.

Case in point:  I have a friend who lives near Seattle, and she and her husband have a 3-year-old son. They fought a prolonged battle with his parents that led to heated arguments, hurt feelings and extended silences—all because of the length of their son’s hair.

The boy’s parents had decided to hold off cutting his hair until he asked for a haircut. The kid’s hair spilled over his collar, then grew to shoulder length, and eventually reached nearly to his waist. It didn’t bother his parents, it obviously didn’t bother him, it appeared to be OK with his mother’s family, but it drove his paternal grandparents crazy.

“We explained to them that hair length is one of the few things a 3-year-old can have control over,” said my friend, who agreed to let me use her story if she and her family could remain anonymous. “We wanted to give him that.”

That wasn’t good enough for her husband’s parents. They started by just mentioning the length of their grandson’s hair and suggesting that maybe it was time for a haircut. When that didn’t work, they started pulling his hair back whenever they saw him and exclaiming, “Look how cute he is. You can see his face.” Finally, the grandmother sent her husband to speak to their son, who asked his dad to please just drop it. The father agreed, but then brought it up again at the end of the conversation. They didn’t speak for a month after that.

The ironic thing here is that the grandparents were not really all that upset about the length of their grandson’s hair. What bothered them most was that their friends were making fun of them because of the boy’s long locks.

About a month ago, the boy asked for a haircut, so his mother cut his hair. She reports that the tension with her husband’s parents is much lower now. Well, sure, they finally got what they wanted, so maybe now their friends will stop giving them a hard time. But like most battles, this one caused some collateral damage.

“It was a challenging year,” my friend said. “That one issue made both my husband and me want to avoid his parents, but we felt we couldn't for our son's sake. It also made us not trust them, that they wouldn't do something rash. We went to Disney World with them in December and there were some very tense moments, and it all stemmed back to something so stupid – his hair.

“It was really about respect,” she said. “They don't like how we are raising their grandson, and so they felt it was OK to pick and pick and pick.”

So let’s review. Many people, parents and grandparents alike, probably would view as unorthodox my friend’s decision to let her son grow his hair as long as he wanted. But so what? She and her husband weren’t letting him play in the street or giving him bad food or doing any number of other things that might actually harm him. They just let him grow his hair until he was ready to stop. 

The grandparents, on the other hand, cared more about the opinion of their friends than the feelings of their family. In the process, they alienated their son and daughter-in-law, at least temporarily, and created an underlying mistrust that won’t be easy to overcome. And you have to wonder if they learned anything from the experience. This all happened over the length of a 3-year-old’s hair, after all, so what happens when other differences of opinion come up during the next 20 years or so?

It’s a cautionary tale for grandparents everywhere.

It seems to me there are two principles for grandparents to keep in mind when they see their kids doing things as parents that don’t quite jibe with their own views.

First, apply some of your parenting skills to yourself. Every parent knows that sometimes the best thing you can do for your kids is to let them make their own mistakes and learn from their own experience. That’s as true when it comes to them learning to be good parents as it was when they were learning to navigate the social environment in junior high.

Second, the Golden Rule works here just as it does in so many life situations. Think for a minute, and you’ll probably remember how you felt about your parents and in-laws telling you how to raise your kids. Why would you expect your own children to feel any better about you butting in?

This doesn’t mean you can’t be deeply involved in your grandchildren’s lives. There are plenty of opportunities for you to give your grandkids love and attention, and to teach them things their parents can’t. Just ease up on lecturing your kids about their parenting skills.

Your kids already know that you’re a great resource for them. If you can resist the temptation to give them help they don’t need, then chances are they’ll want your advice when they hit something really challenging. In the meantime, relax and enjoy your grandkids.

Jan 19, 2013 3:01PM
I totally agree with this phylosaphy..I visit , have fun,keep opinion to myself and give  all respect.  I would never interfere if they didn;t lay it on me.  Though I have one out of four children who lays his problems in everyones lap. And it is very unpleasant and stressful.  I blamed myself for such a long time.  Thinking it was my fault for not giving the attention he might have needed when he was young.  Now,after all the lessons learned I don't even get in it and am staying away from the whole situation.  If they want to see grandma they know where I am.  And they will have respect or stay away.  I love my life and don't need the aggrivation of all thier personal stuff which they created.  Maybe one day they will wake up and smell the coffee/ I hope not too late,
Jul 10, 2012 7:35PM

I don't think that we grandparents need to be lectured about how to parent our adult children. Especially in the ways of raising their children. With all the single parent families and the tough economic times, too many adult children find themselves in need of their parents for emotional, financial, and other support. Don't tell me to keep my mouth shut now. If you'd said, "try to wait until they ask for advice", or "learn to listen to their ideas of parenting,", I'd say you were right. But assuming you need to tell us to shut up and mind our own business is just stupid - and if some random set of grandparents were upset about waist-long hair on their grandson, oh, well. Most of us wouldn't push it, no matter how annoying it was. I had my share from my in laws back when I was raising mine. Oh, well. If they keep going they'll ruin the relationship, which indicates that something more is very wrong. Don't blame the grandparents. We do have something to give, and we shouldn't be brushed off.

Very Involved Granny

Jun 23, 2012 7:28PM
We're challenged enough with the important things, hair length would hardly be a concern of ours. You'd think we accomplished nothing in the 60's after that!

I'd be telling MY friends to mind their own business on this one, and support my kids' decision.
Jun 22, 2012 5:30PM
Wow! Tsk tsk grandmas. You should know better than to point the finger at mom or daughter-in-law or whoever you're blaming. Especially since youre saying youre so seasoned. You should take a timeout. Being a grandparent is a privilege not a right. You should never use your grandchild as a way to right your past wrongs as a parent. Parents aren't perfect but they should at least have the opportunity to take on their role. It's far nicer to be asked for advice instead of giving it unsolocited don't you think? Looks like you don't trust the parents which is insulting. Every child is different, respect that. As for the time being, let mothers and fathers make their own parenting decisions and ask you for advice when needed. 
Jun 21, 2012 5:36PM

Is'nt it amazing how differently our grandclildren act when their parents aren't around!!! they don't take fits on the floor,cry or wine. you don't have say things a 100 times.Because they know,you know they heard you the first time. They know you love them with all your heart. Because you tell them and show them. You would rather spend time with them doing what ever,then talking on the phone,texting or being on the computer (far longer then you have to) Than the parents come home and crazy starts!!!!!!

                   Did you ever think that we've been through what your going through. And if we could do thing differently we would. So we get a second chance to possibly help you to not make the mistakes we made! Because we LOVE YOU and OUR GRANDCHILDERN so much. That we only want the BEST for you!!!! So just SHUT UP because your turn is right around the corner!!!!!                                                              

Jun 21, 2012 6:14AM
IMHO I think kids make the world go around and having grandchildren is Gods way of making up for that bit of extra time you weren't able to set aside when raising your children. I have four grandchildren by the way.
As long as my grandchildren are taken care of and the decisions their parents make are in the best interest of the children's health and well being, it's really none of my business.
Given the fact that until just recently, my daughter and her family lived with me (which was my choice btw), most of their life, this was home for my grandchildren. I'm VERY close to all of them, they respect how I feel toward them and what I say. If they are being rude, disrespectful, dishonest or mean toward someone else... I'm usually involved. But that's not always my decision. My daughter, son-in-law and close friends as well all say that I have a special way of connecting with children and kids will listen to me. So if they get in trouble, besides having to answer to their parents, they know that there is a good chance they will be talking to Papa as well. I never punish them though, that is up to their parents. I just make them aware of how their actions effect everyone around them.
With all of that said... I think what a grandparent can or can't do, comes down to a families structure and how you raised your kids. If you were open minded with your kids and raised them with strong family values, there's a good chance you can offer advice "if" it's in a positive way. If not, your kids probably didn't see you as being a good parent and there is no way in hell they will listen to you.... and who could blame them. 
Jun 20, 2012 5:09PM
What a stupid article.  I don't care if my step-daughter grows her 5-year old son's hair long, shaves it off, cuts a mohawk into it, or dyes it purple with green stripes.

i DO care however, that he is polite and respectful, and learns to take responsibility for his actions.  If at any point in time he is rude, disrespectful, hurtful or mean, you'd better believe I'm going to interfere and have something to say!!!!!
Jun 20, 2012 2:19PM
Sounds like daughter-in-law went looking for a fight.  Does a 3-year old have the reasoning power to make this decision?  Cut the dang hair! 
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?

News, stories, tips and laughs for moms & dads

buzzing now on msn living
follow us
follow us follow us on facebook follow us on pinterest follow us on twitter
family videos