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#AskAlyson: When Grandparents Parent Differently

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I know you are busy but I hope you have time for a quick question. I have read all your books and heard you speak several times. My partner and I really love the Adlerian methods you teach.  However, we are currently both working full-time and My mother often looks after my son (4) during the day. Our family came from Greece when I was a child, and my parents are old school. I love my mother, and I appreciate so much that she is proving this free childcare. But I love my son too! So, how do I get her on the same page when she just doesn’t understand our modern parenting methods?



My Big Fat Greek Family


Dear 2nd generation Greek Momma,


My heart goes out to you. I can see you care deeply about family. Now you are at a crossroads between being kind to your own mother, but also feeling a fierce sense of doing what is best for your own child. You are being pulled in the two directions. Dualistic thinking creates a tough conundrum. If you do what is best for your child, your risk hurting your mother. But if you go the other route, and protect your mother’s feelings by saying nothing, you are allowing her to continue treating your child in a way that you feel is hurting him. Who’s more important? Mother or child? Yikes!


How can you win in this scenario? If you conceptualize the problem as being an either/or, someone is going to get hurt. But maybe there is another way of seeing this inter-family dynamic that is not so black and white. Perhaps it’s not either/or but AND/BOTH.


Let me explain using a different family dynamic:


Children of divorce can feel conflicted, sensing that if they show love to their mother, they are being disloyal to their father and vice-versa. Isn’t it interesting then, that in amicable divorces where the ex-spouses get along, the children don’t feel this tear. The can love BOTH mom AND dad without feeling they are betraying the other. In a healthy and generous family system, there is an attitude of abundance in which no one needs to take sides. This family system can and should expand to grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.


So, can you build a family where there are no turf wars? No inner cliques? No one feeling that any one is taking sides or is pitted against another? Here are my suggestions for moving forward and doing just that:


Model to your children how to treat a parent. After all, this is how they will eventually treat you!! Show your mother respect and treat her with loving kindness, especially in front of your child. Don’t ever bad mouth Yiayia (Oma / Nana / Bubbe or whatever your cultural colloquial name is).


Know that your child is very capable. Even at the young age of 4, he has enough experience in his social interactions with grandma to know how harsh or unreasonable she is. If your son wants to avoid being punished by Yiayia, he can choose to stay out of trouble so that he is not punished. You don’t need grandma to adjust her behaviour. It’s the child’s responsibility to learn that different adults respond and react in different ways; it is the same as when he will have to learn to get along with different teachers, coaches, and eventually different style leadership from bosses. Learning how to get along with different people in different situations is a vital part of socializing a child. Think of this as your child’s great life lesson, not them being diminished in some capacity.


Yiayia is not Mom. Your child only needs one mother, and that is you. Yiayia has a different role. Yiayia has been waiting her whole life to have a grandson to spoil! And grandchildren need to have that special someone to dote on them since they don’t get that kind of caretaking from their parents who are trying to raise them to be responsible and independent. It’s nice to feel special to grandma and to have exceptions to the rules you have to live by under mom and dad’s roof.


What YOU do, matters most. Only focus on YOUR parenting. If you get that right – that is sufficient. The most important influence on a child is your family atmosphere and parenting practices, no one else’s – no matter how long they spend with grandma. Trust that your child understands the difference between having fun with grandma vs. following mom and dad’s established rules. He knows that grandma is a sucker who will help him get his clothes on and brush his hair, and that back at home with mom and dad these are his jobs and responsibilities. Don’t worry, grandma is not eroding, delaying, or wrecking his development.


Yiayia is watching you too. If Yiayia sees with her own eyes how responsive your son is to your methods, she may experiment with them on her own accord. Better to inspire her to be curious about trying other methods than to turn her off by forcing her compliance with Adlerian parenting practices (which is not democratic either!).


Gratitude. I have lost both my parents. I wish every single day that my kids could be having an experience with them today, regardless of what the experience was. It is so enriching to children to feel embedded in a multigenerational family. It’s never going to be perfect. Grandparents, aunts and uncles are all going to have an opinion on parenting and different ways of handling children. But the children are going to be just fine. Don’t worry so much about the nuances and enjoy the diversity of experience you are offering your child. Get on with showing how much love and good will there is in your family instead of shredding at the fibre of the relationship in the name of good parenting.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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2 Responses to “#AskAlyson: When Grandparents Parent Differently”

  1. Ivy

    Thanks I say each day for all you taught Leslie as she worked with you all those years at Rogers.
    Divorce and the challenges kids see that we dont as parents dont are a long remaining wall in the relationship rebuilding. Its very hard. But I keep trying.
    Appreciate your articles ss well.
    Leslies Mom

  2. Kelly

    This was the best article I have read about being a grandma and also being told every day that i am the reason my grandson acts up or how things are my fault. Every decision i make comes from the heart with pure love not to hurt my grandson or daughter. My daughter has not been very nice to me and i have helped her more than I want when it comes to still raising children. I also wish my mom was here to watch the kids grow.


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