It’s the Grandparent’s right to spoil the grandchildren, isn’t that so? On the surface this seems innocent enough, but there are some dangerous pitfalls. Generosity and expressions of love are one thing. Undermining the parents is another. Let’s look at how to keep these straight, and to establish clear and healthy boundaries.
Just as it is unhealthy for parents to undermine one another in front of the children, it is equally harmful for grandparents to do this. Not all grandparents are welcomed to participate with their grandchildren, so if you are it is important to consider this an honor. But you must let your children raise their own children without interference. If they ask for advice and support, then go for it. If the children are being abused, then you must act. Otherwise you need to take direction from your children as to the role they wish you to play in the lives of their children.
This can be hard for grandparents, because often they are fulfilling some of their own needs in relation to their grandkids. Perhaps they felt they were tough on their own children, and now they have an opportunity to enjoy children, without the responsibilities. It may be that grandchildren fill a void in their lives, and they want these youngsters to like them, and to want to be with them. Or maybe they just enjoy seeing these children being happy. There is nothing wrong with these feelings. They just have to be handled carefully.
Let’s take a simple example. Maybe the parents are very health conscious, and have decided that they do not want their toddlers having candy. No problem, because they do not keep any in the house so the child does not even know what it is. Then Grandma or Grandpa brings some over, and really want to give it to the child. The parents are in a quandary. They do not want to hurt your feelings, so they agree, that just this time, it’s okay.
Problem is, now the child knows what candy is. He associates it with Grandma and Grandpa, and begins looking for it whenever they come. Then, Mom and Dad are the meanies if they say no. Not wanting to be the bad guys, they may finally relent. Or if they are steadfast in their resolve, the grandparents may begin sneaking candy to the child. An innocent little secret. The good resolve of the parents has now been sabotaged from inside the family.
But the worst is yet to come. Unwittingly, unintentionally, the child has been primed for giving in to temptation, and for seeing that the parents’ boundaries can be manipulated or ignored. If the grandparents continue in this manner, giving things to the children that the parents do not want them to have, the children become confused. Slowly the parents influence and control is eroded. As they grow into teenagers, they continue this pattern, saying yes to alcohol, drugs, lying to parents, doing what they want regardless of the parents wishes.
It is of course not only grandparents who can dilute parental authority. It happens often with ex-spouses, other relatives or friends. The point is that when dealing with children, we must always consider the long term effects of our actions. What seems right for us is not always right for them.
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