Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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unsupportive grandparents

We would all like to live in a perfect crunchy world where our parents understand our crunchy choices and have no problem with how we raise our children. There are some families who are lucky enough to be blessed with either pro-crunchy parents or at the very least crunchy-tolerant parents. For others, taking the kids to see the grandparents might just mean walking on eggshells and heated debates.

When your kids’ grandparents are less than thrilled that you use cloth diapers, are STILL breastfeeding, do not want plastic toys, or are staying away from canned food, what is the best way to deal with the issue? Here are some ideas to help when dealing with the anti-crunchy grandparents.

Explain

Sometimes the grandparents simply do not know why a crunchy practice is a good thing. Maybe they do not realize that rear facing is the safest and recommended way for a toddler to ride. Perhaps they don’t know that cloth diapers have come a very long way from when they had babies. Sometimes they just need more information.

Smile and nod

When Grandma spouts off for the hundredth time that she thinks this new line of imitation butter is so healthy and good for you, just smile and nod. Odds are she won’t listen to you when you explain that butter is actually better than the fake junk.

Don’t say anything at all

If they don’t know you do something “crunchy,” they can’t oppose it. Sometimes, if you just know your parents will not understand or agree with your choice, it’s best not to mention it at all. Yes, perhaps you would love to share about how Junior is not getting his vaccinations like everyone else and why, but if you know this will not be received well, then do not mention it. It will only cause issues.

Drop names

Sadly, no matter how much research you do, your opinion and conclusions may not amount to much for others. However, often times you can sway them to seeing the validity in your argument just by saying, “Dr. So-and-so discovered…,” or “Actually the AAP now says….”

Prove them wrong

When your in-laws think you are crazy for wanting to try cloth diapers and they say that you will never stick with it, prove them wrong! I had this happen to me. When I mentioned how we would be cloth diapering my daughter, a family member told me that “everyone tries cloth diapers, but they never stick with it.” One year later, I have proven that I can stick with it, and that person actually sees that cloth diapers are pretty awesome and has even recommended them to somebody else!

Debate the issue, not the person

This might seem obvious, but to those on the receiving side it may not be so clear. They hear, “Well, we are avoiding this,” and interpret it as “You’re a horrible parent for still allowing this.” The only real way to bypass this issue is to clarify that you do not believe that those who do things differently are wrong or bad parents, but that you simply prefer your way and believe it’s best for YOUR family.

If you have to, pull out the big guns

Sometimes you might have an issue that the grandparents just will not drop, or perhaps they refuse to follow a crunchy choice that can harm your child (like perhaps your child has bad eczema so you’ve eliminated a bunch of food…only to find out that Grandpa has been sneaking it in on the sly). When this happens, sometimes it’s best to draw the line. When it’s a real endangerment (I’m not talking about when Grandma puts a disposable on the baby just once), then perhaps it’s time to give the grandparents a cease and desist. If they can’t follow this rule, then they won’t be able to watch your child anymore. Harsh, but when it comes to your child’s well-being, it’s sometimes necessary.

Times have changed

If you’ve ever gotten the quote “But this is how we raised you and you turned out fine” from your parents, you might need to explain that times have changed. Chemicals and ingredients are no longer the same as they were just twenty years ago. Twenty years ago people were fine with BPA; now it’s been banned from baby products. One hundred years ago people thought lead was perfectly safe; now we know better. Even with the things that are still deemed “safe,” we are now exposed to them in greater quantities from when we were being raised: Flame retardants are used in everything now; when we were kids, we got about ten vaccines, whereas now kids get around forty. Times have changed and not necessarily for the better. There is also the fact that odds are you didn’t “turn out fine” — sure, you might be pretty healthy, but who’s to say that your eczema isn’t from something in your childhood? Or your food allergies?

Make your spouse do it

When dealing with the in-laws, it’s best to have your spouse do the talking. This isn’t because you can’t do a good job of stating your case, it’s because your spouse knows your in-laws better. They can relate in a way that you never can, no matter how close you might be to them. It is also important because your spouse’s parents might get the wrong idea and think that your spouse is just going along with things and isn’t actually fully supportive of the crunchy choice. Don’t ask me why that may be, but it can and it’s happened to me. You want your in-laws to know that both you and your spouse are on the same page.

Give them some room

You will need to choose your battles. Yes, ideally you would love to strip the grandparents’ home of everything non-crunchy. However, you need to realize that it’s their home and you cannot change what goes on in it. This means that if Grandma’s house is full of plastic toys, you cannot tell her to get rid of them. Sure you can explain why you don’t like your children playing with plastic, but don’t keep from visiting just because you hate plastic. Yes, there are some issues that you need to hold your ground on, but for the more trivial ones (plastic toys, processed food, etc.) it’s best to let the grandparents be themselves, so long as it’s not going to instantly affect your child’s health. Of course, you might grimace when they hand your child a corn dog, but you need to realize that in your child’s life, a grandparent is more important then not having one corn dog.

We would all like to live in a perfect world where we all agreed on the hot topics. However, for those of us who have to deal with unsupportive parents, it’s nice to know some ways to combat the opposition.

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Brittany lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (a 5-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a 1-year-old). She enjoys researching everything that involves living naturally and writes about her increasingly crunchy life at The Pistachio Project.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child’s grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family…
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What’s Next can’t imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son’s life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt… until she remembers what it’s actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My ‘high-needs’ child and ‘strangers’ — With a ‘high-needs’ daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter’s extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family’s summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the “village” even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don’t get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must’ve been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don’t have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs– Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn’t an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama‘s sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We’re Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.

19 Responses to Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents

  1. Kat @ Loving {Almost} Every Moment

    Great advice! I’ve had to follow many of these with my inlaws–and other extended family members. It was especially hard when we did have to “pull out the big guns” at one point, things are tolerable now, not ideal but better than before!

  2. Jenny @ I'm a full-time mummy  

    Great tips! I find myself nodding and agreeing to each and every one of it!

  3. Olga  

    Thank you for your post, I think its a helpful list for those parents who are struggling with an extended family that is not so supportive. I do think that your first point is the most important one. Often people (not just extended family) don’t have enough information. We don’t have to force our ways on them or even claim that what we are doing is the “right thing to do”. But it is important to take the time and explain why we are doing it.

  4. Crunchy Con Mommy  

    Great tips! I was totally unprepared for the hostility I encountered about some of my parenting choices and a list like this would have really helped when my son was brand new!

  5. Laura  

    Just this weekend, I slipped it into the conversation that I thought it was great that the diapers my MIL grudgingly bought as a shower gift were still in use and had been used so much that they were paying for themselves. Sometimes, it’s hard for the older generations to understand why we would want to do something so radically different from them… and they take it as an insult, as though we think they did a lousy job. It’s hard to get past that sometimes and your list is great for helping with those times! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet

    “Of course, you might grimace when they hand your child a corn dog, but you need to realize that in your child’s life, a grandparent is more important then not having one corn dog.” I really loved this line. I sound like a broken record when I say this, but I believe that relationships we form (and allow our children to form) are WAY more important than a few non-essential seldom-broken “rules”. To remove our children from grandparents who (to use your example) serve a corndog sends a powerful message, a message that says: my ideas are more important than a person. It tells a child (without really saying it) that what they eat is more important than who they are around and who is allowed to love on them, and that’s just plain tomfoolery. I loved this post!

  7. Lauren  

    What a great list of suggestions! I think I’ve tried most of them at one point or another. Smiling and nodding seems to work for me most of the time, if I’m pretty sure they don’t actually care about the reasons for what I do. I love that your commitment to cloth changed someone’s mind, though!

  8. Justine @ The Lone Home Ranger  

    I laughed out loud at your description of the butter fight because we had that exact conversation with my in-laws. Your list is great for anyone wishing to learn conflict resolution tips with their family, even if a good relationship is present. Family interaction is a dance, and it can be a coordinated waltz or an ugly jig depending on how much planning and communicating is done. Thanks for a great post!

  9. Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip

    Something I tried (with middling success) was to point out all the things hubby and I were doing the SAME as how his parents raised him. I think my MIL was offended that we chose differently for most things, thereby insinuating her way was wrong.

  10. Gretchen  

    Such great advice! I think alot of issues I’ve run into are simply misconceptions about how things have changed/new information.

  11. Terri  

    My children’s Grandmother (my MIL) and Great-grandparents are our main family members we have around us and who can look after them on occasions. So we’ve pretty much been through all the ups and downs of ideological differences and worked through all the tips you’ve listed. MIL was a nurse her whole working life and APPALLED that we would not vaccinate. She still offers foods we won’t eat and thinks we are insane for co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding etc but her heart is full of love for them so we have to work through our differences with care and diplomacy as much as possible. Our world views are so different that we may never see eye to eye on most things but I realize that we at least need to cultivate mutual respect and the love we have for these little people is the most important thing of all.

    • Chelsea

      I have had similar experiences with both my parents, as well as my in-laws.

      Vaccination is a touchy subject between crunchy and non-crunchy parents, but working through our differences will make us all better people in the long run. not to mention, it’ll set a good influence for the little ones.

      we’ve just got to stand by our choices, and teach our babies that it’s ok to be different!

  12. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama  

    These are such good ideas – not only for family, but for anyone who might disagree with any parenting method. It’s just harder when it’s family, isn’t it?! It’s like we feel like we owe them something more, but really, we’re still the parents, and what we’re doing is not a reflection on anyone else.

  13. Ursula Ciller  

    I can relate to many of these situations. Thank goodness all my little one’s grandparents are not oppossed to cloth nappies (that’s one small step for mankind!). Disposables are an environmental hazard – image you live on a landfill block and are digging up some potatoes in the garden and get a fossilized diaper instead – yucky! And definitely, the spouse is the best agent for sensitive inlaw communications.

  14. Chelsea

    This advice is excellent!!!

    I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had argumentative conversations with my parents, as well as my in-laws about so many different things.
    More recently, I got upset with my mother for letting my l.o. watch t.v. (he is 5 months old), AND insisting that he drink water. tap water.
    gah. i couldn’t tell you how angry i was. However, i did try my very very best to stay calm and explain why I didn’t agree with either of those things. Needless to say, she was offended, and offered her “but you did these things and are just fine” two cents. After a few minutes of explanation, she decided to just drop it and not let it happen again.

    With many things, I find, it’s best to agree to disagree.
    sometimes, living crunchy is hard!
    but it’s ALWAYS worth the effort.

  15. Sandy Wasserman

    Hi there, I say with sadness after reading your posting and all the comments.Perhaps you’ll want to ban me from your site, consider me ‘the enemy.’ And my daughters and I have had our issues in the past over parenting and other things too. BUT, the flip side is the sense of ‘family’ that I do sense is so missing in your life. So you’ve made a trade-off, which I respect. I am guessing though that in years to come, you will look back and wonder if the issues were: the diapers, the butter, the tv watching or just the desire and right, as the child’s parent to “do it your way.” In the long run, though, would that 1/2 hr of tv, or that slice of bread with (yuck) fake butter really harm your child, or be a memory of ‘grandma’s house?’…or a lack thereof, of memories. I wonder if you have memories of your own grandparents and whether they are perfectly aligned with what your own parents wanted for you. Perhaps your parents’ meddling into your parenting, and your own resistance is a sign of the fact that you both share the same rigidity that you so staunchly wish to let go of. I often wonder about families who do not ‘do battle’ over the small stuff and how they manage to ‘look away’ for the greater, long term good of all the relationships. Genealogy is a lovely social science that’s become a hot interest of late, even more than perhaps even …’slow food’ and ‘scrapbooking!’ And these family trees are best appreciated when there’s love and connection when those names and faces on the tree are still alive.

    • Brittany @ The Pistachio Project  

      Sandy,

      I’m sorry to hear that you got the impression that I (or any of the commenters)have a lack of “family”. First, I do not think you read my entire post very carefully, as you seem to have missed the part where I mention that we should allow grandparents some grace in the more trivial areas. As I stated, we might not enjoy letting grandma give Jr a corn dog (or watch t.v or have fake butter) but if it’s not a serious issue then obviously it’s better to allow those things (at least occasionally) for the sake of keeping relationships with the family. So as you can see, family is very important to me. If it was not so, then I would have written a post on how to sever ties with unsupportive family instead of writing the post which I did, which sole purpose was to help crunchy parents have ways of dealing with family when they do not support their choices. Most of my tips, actually make it easier for families to stay together despite their disagreements.There is only one tip that is harsh and would separate a family (the cease and desist one) and that should only be used in life threatening instances where the health of the child is compromised by the grandparent (I do not mean a one time accident either, I mean consistent, blatant refusal to follow a serious rule).

      There is one more point I feel I need to bring up (for you and all the grandparents out there) this post wasn’t written for those with supportive grandparents (obviously they probably have no issues to deal with, at least to the degree which I posted about). This post was written for those who have unsupportive, disapproving, perhaps even critical grandparents. I would love it if all families could not only agree to disagree but have open and honest communication where the crunchy parent would feel welcome enough to share what they are learning about and doing with their family. However, there are many families in which this is not the case, these poor families either are given the cold shoulder, become the outcasts of the family, or at very least are not given the respect that they deserve (whether the grandparents/family agrees with their choices or not). My post was written for those parents.

  16. Karen

    While it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your child and their grandparents, no one should be allowed to make you feel bad as a parent. I found this article helpful as well:
    How to Cope with Exasperating Grandparents – Famlii

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