Even before the birth of my first child, my mother-in-law and I were in conflict (over a name, of course!). At my daughter’s birth, the conflict went full-blown. This was my first child and I wanted to do everything right! When my daughter was four months old, my pediatrician decided it was time to introduce rice cereal to her diet. He had a schedule of how solid foods should be introduced and I was determined to adhere to it. I was looking forward to introducing fruits and vegetables, one at a time, to determine what she liked, what she didn’t like, and possibly even to identify food allergies. Can you possibly imagine my distress when I leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother for an afternoon and return to find that, according to my mother-in-law, she “simply loves mashed potatoes and gravy!” What?!? Mashed potatoes – and certainly not gravy! – are not on my daughter’s feeding plan! Then I am told to “calm down.” After all, “she liked it and she didn’t choke once.” I look back now and I have to laugh at how totally distressed I was over this event.
Granted, I do strongly believe that grandparents should respect the wishes of parents when it comes to the raising of children. But I have come to understand as well that parents need to learn to listen to grandparents and hear them out, rather than dismiss them as “old-fashioned” and “incapable of understanding” modern methods of child-raising. MUTUAL RESPECT between parents and grandparents when it comes to the child/grandchild is a vital ingredient in the relationship.
After my divorce, I felt sure that our conflict would only worsen. If I could not do anything right before, she certainly was not going to give me any credit for being a good mother now that I was divorcing her son. I found out, however, that I could not have been more wrong.
While my ex-husband would often renege on plans he made to spend time with our daughters, my mother-in-law never did. If she committed to visiting them at our home, to taking them for the weekend, or just picking them up to go to dinner or shopping, she did it. In fact, most times when their father cancelled on them, she would come get them for an outing to try to lessen their pain. I don’t really know if it was her attitude or my perception that changed, but I began to recognize her voice as soft-spoken and concerned, rather than harsh and accusing.
This is not to say that we did not have our disagreements – for we certainly did! But I learned to talk them out with her – to listen to her perspective and to explain my own. When I took this approach, she would usually give in to my wishes. [I can hear some parents stating: “I should not have to explain myself; I am the parent!” While this is certainly true, the distress is lessened and the support increased if you take the time to explain your reasons. You also gain respect. Why not take the extra time in order to preserve peace?] Sometimes I would even give in to hers.
Looking back at that afternoon when my daughter first tasted mashed potatoes and gravy, I realize that I never made my intentions clear. I was excited that my daughter was experiencing her first solid food – rice cereal. But I never told my mother-in-law that it was the only solid food she was allowed; I thought that was understood. She was also excited that her granddaughter was experiencing her first solid foods and mashed potatoes were the softest, blandest food she had at that meal – so they tried them together. Honestly, there was no harm done, until I took the smile off of her face with my harsh words of admonishment when I found out about their experience. I wish that I had her here today to apologize.
As parents, with the awesome responsibility that comes along with that role, we tend to forget that our parents – and other family members – have raised children, too. They may not have used the same approach we have chosen, but for the most part, they have managed to successfully bring them to adulthood unscathed. We will all make mistakes as we raise our children. There is no fool-proof way to protect our sons and daughters from our unintended errors. If we can remind ourselves that we are not the first to raise children and that the parents that came before us have wisdom from which we can benefit, we might find our job a bit easier. The logical place to start is with grandparents – that boundless source of knowledge and experience that raised us.