It takes a village to rear a child is an old saying and today it is as valid as it ever was. More and more grandparents are taking on the role of child carers. With the high cost of mortgages and child care, it is often necessary for both parents to work, to cover living expenses. Or both parents may choose to focus on career.
From the child’s perspective grandparents caring for them is a wonderful experience. All children need love, acceptance and validation in order to develop a strong sense of self and independence and being surrounded by people who love them unconditionally fosters these qualities in them.
However, issues can develop unless boundaries are made clear from the very beginning.
Grandparents need to remember that this is not their child and it is up to the parents to set out how they want their child cared for. Issues around discipline, food, sleep etc. should be clearly understood prior to the childcare starting. Parents also need to understand that their parent has successfully raised them, so they are not without parenting skills.
Children need structure and consistency in their lives, so it is important that all the people caring for them are working from the same perspective.
Differing opinions need to be discussed and negotiated. It is not appropriate for the Parents to lay down rules which the other finds difficult or impossible to implement. It is also unacceptable for the Grandparents to agree to the structures and then to disregard them and do their own thing. What happens here is that the child receives mixed messages which just confuses them and leaves them feeling unsafe and with divided loyalties.
How then can these differences be dealt with respectfully?
1: both parties need to admit that there may be a potential problem.
2: an appropriate time needs to be set aside to discuss the issues. Not when people are tired following a long day, much better to meet when both parties are free.
3: start with “I” messages, e.g. I am worried, I feel restricted, I am not sure what is expected etc.
4: then say what you would really like to do about the issue.
5: together think up ideas which are possible solutions to the issue and list them.
6: choose one idea, the one most likely to succeed.
7: plan the details.
8: carry it out
If 8 fails or is difficult to implement, go back to 6 again and choose a second option.
Allow each party space to speak without interruption, giving them your full attention.
If parents and grandparents put their love for the child first, they will find it easier to come to an agreement in the service of the child. In this way appropriate boundaries for the child will be put in place. The parents will feel secure that their child will be well cared for and the bond between the child and the grandparents will grow from the daily interaction.