Tuesday 17 September 2019

'What happens at Granny's stays at Granny's' - Should grandparents be given instructions?

Parents often make a list of dos and don'ts for a babysitter, but would you do the same for your own mother or father? Kathy Donaghy talks to families about how to approach the delicate issue

Learning curve: Aileen O’Neill (left) plays a big role in the lives of her
daughter Aileen’s kids, Oscar and Olivia (right). Photo: Patrick Browne
Learning curve: Aileen O’Neill (left) plays a big role in the lives of her daughter Aileen’s kids, Oscar and Olivia (right). Photo: Patrick Browne

Kathy Donaghy

There's a sign inside the front door of my parent's house. It reads "What happens at Granny's stays at Granny's". It's a bit of fun but perhaps a gentle reminder that when mine or my sister's children are there, Granny's rules apply.

I was reminded of the sign when reading how Kate Rope, a mother of two from Atlanta in the US and author of the new parenting guide Strong as a Mother, furnished her parents with a list when they were minding her new baby. Or perhaps a more appropriate term would be an instruction manual on how to look after her granddaughter.

"I gave them a typed, single-spaced, three-page document that was, as I look back on it now, embarrassingly detailed and patronising," she said in a recent interview. "I even told them to wash their hands before preparing her food. I basically treated them like people who could not take care of themselves, let alone a baby. Thank goodness they love me."

So much has changed in parenting over the past 40 years - from sleep practices to feeding - maybe it's not surprising that some new parents do feel the need to leave some guidelines about how they do things when leaving their children with grandparents.

But while it's easy to be clear with babysitters or childminders about how you want things to be done in your absence, it's altogether a more delicate matter when it comes to grandparents. And the last thing you want to do is cause offence. So just how can parents approach this topic in a sensitive way without causing a rift?

Psychotherapist Susi Lodola, who works with adults and teenagers, says because new parents are bombarded with so much information on how to rear their child, it can leave them feeling anxious and stressed that they're not doing things right.

She says communicating clearly about how you're doing things as a parent can make it easier for grandparents to understand.

"If you're leaving your child with your parents you must have a trusting relationship with them or you wouldn't leave the child. Leaving a list of things to do is really over the top. If there's something you want them to pay attention to, tell them and tell them why it's important to keep the routine going," says Lodola.

"Everyone is trying their best. It comes down to communication. A little understanding goes a long way on both sides. Things have moved on, child psychology has moved on. Grandparents love to hear that stuff as well. If you explain it to them and tell them there's different advice about things now, they will love to hear that. Give grandparents the opportunity to learn all these new things."

Aileen Deegan, from New Ross in Wexford, is mum to Olivia (5) and nine-month-old baby Oscar, and says her own parents Aileen and Noel have a big role in her children's lives, even though they have differences about things like correcting the children and reprimanding them.

"I'm the fussiest of my four siblings. My sisters would roll their eyes at me because I am finicky about things. I probably wrote down things for my mum too. I think she laughed at me," says Aileen, who blogs as Olivia's Mother.

"I think I would have written down things like feed times and what food to give and what not to give. But I feel so lucky because I'm one of a few people who have my parents to mind their children when I went back to work.

"While we would have differences, Mam's still the person I would ring for advice - she's my first port of call for an opinion. Even if I didn't take her opinion, I would still value it.

"I think Mam has learned from her kids as well. She learns from us parenting our children. Even though she has her ways and they work, she's learning new ways from us too. It's a constant learning curve."

Aileen's mother Aileen O'Neill (right) says she's been minding her seven grandchildren for many years now and wouldn't have it any other way.

"I would follow their requests but they just let me get on with it. They trust me - you have to trust someone 150pc if you're going to leave your child with them. I find every single child is different - they have different ways. Mine trust me so much; it's all about the trust between us," she says.

Frances (not her real name), a grandmother to three children aged between 10 and 14, says while she may not have been given written instructions, her daughter gave her very detailed verbal instructions about how to mind her children.

Frances says her relationship with her daughter has become strained at times and it hasn't become easier as the children have grown older and have begun to test the boundaries with her.

"At times I'm walking a delicate line. I was crying here the other night because I corrected the eldest child. I was perceived to have been incorrect. I had to put it to my daughter that if they are in my house, I will be strict," says Frances.

"I feel hurt by it and if words are exchanged between us and the children hear, it adds fuel to the fire. If people are honest it's a common part of the story. I played a big part in my grandchildren's lives because my daughter was a single mother. I still do. I always end up apologising even though I feel I shouldn't be because it opens the door to conversation. I just feel life is too short," she says.

Child psychologist Sarah O'Doherty says while differences of opinion between parents and grandparents can be tricky, it's actually good for a child to have different experiences. "This thing that you have to have the same rules all the time - it's good for a child to know there are different rules," she says.

"You do have to be explicit about things that are bad for the child. With anything that's contentious, pick a time that's calm when you're not angry and talk things through. Be open and accept that your children are going to do different things at their grandparents and that's okay.

"As a parent, you have to accept they are entitled to that relationship with their grandparents. That relationship may be completely different to the one you have with them. For example, if you don't get on with your mother-in-law, that doesn't mean your child isn't going to have a good relationship with her," she says.

Ann Woodlock (79) from Dublin's Drimnagh, who has reared five children and has six grandchildren, says her kids would never dream of telling her how to do things when it comes to their children. She says they would think it's a bit like "telling a hen how to lay eggs".

However, she says she knows some grandparents who are afraid to offer their grandchildren a biscuit or correct a child for being bold because it goes against modern parenting norms.

Ann says she sees friends her own age who can't make the time to meet up because they are so busy minding their grandchildren. "I do think grandparents take on too much - they can't say no. Grandparents need to be there for their grandchildren but not take them on all the time. I don't think that's fair," says Ann.

So the next time the kids come home from their grandparents still high on a sugar rush and refusing to eat dinner because "it's not how Granny makes it" perhaps we should remember that, for those few hours, it's Granny's rules and not ours.

Irish Independent

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