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The Best Way for Grandparents to Help Parents


You know a lot about parenting - after all, you raised your own children and wisdom that will (and should) be an invaluable resource for the next generation. So with a new grandchild, you're ready to pitch in and help - and it's imperative that you let the new parents know just what they're doing right and what they can do better. After all, what's wrong with guiding your kids through one of life's biggest challenges?

Nothing, except that the cliché of the meddling grandparent exists for a reason. Sharing your hard-won knowledge is important, but it's easy to overstep. For starters, we're living in a different world than the one you parented in. With each generation come seismic social shifts. Child-rearing styles are constantly evolving, and thinking yours trumps theirs is likely to trigger breakdowns in communication.

The Rules of Getting Along with Parents

It's your grandchild, so why on earth can't you speak your mind? You should, of course, but it may be best to wait for your children to consult you on a parenting question instead of proffering your wisdom without being asked. As Barbara Richert, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City, puts it, it's wise to "err on the side of zipping it. No one can listen to constant criticism; they turn off."

She adds, "Many people think that with family you can express yourself any way you like. But with people you love, you should be that much more respectful of the bond you have." One way to soft-pedal is to present your strategies as a suggestion ("I've found it helps to put some veggies on the baby's tray even if she doesn't seem to like them at first so she has the option to grab some") rather than a critique ("How will she learn to eat well if you never offer anything healthy?).

You can also draw from your own experience with a telling anecdote that parallels the situation at hand. This, experts say, gives the parents a chance to make their own inferences without you directly telling them what to do. Keep in mind, however, that you're no longer the ones in charge - and this can be a surprisingly liberating concept. You're here in the most joyous of roles: to love, comfort, and support your new extended family. What an honor! With mutual love and respect, your hard-earned wisdom and insights will find their way to the next generation over time. 

This information is not a substitute for personal medical, psychiatric or psychological advice.

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