Question: We are Christians but both sets of our parents are not. How do we handle their disagreement with how we are raising our children (their grandchildren)?
I was recently asked that question at a conference. Thankfully, Sharon and I had wonderfully supportive parents. However, I have talked with enough families to begin to understand some of the problems. I know I risk giving simplistic answers to complex family situations and dynamics. Nevertheless, here is my reply.
We are commanded by God to honor our parents. Although we don’t obey them as adults we are still called to honor. This plays out in several ways.
1. We should not speak evil of them in front of our children. We want to encourage honor for them in our children. Even if we must end up disagreeing or having frank conversations, we always want to present them in the best light possible to our children. In frustration, it may be easy to complain about them to our spouse with the children accidentally listening in.
2. Out of honor, seek to understand the concern they are expressing. Rather than just assume they don’t have any wisdom because they are not Christians, assume they DO have some wisdom because they have lived longer. You don’t have to follow everything they say because you listen to it. Try to dig underneath. Ask, “What is it you are seeing that you think we don’t see? What is your concern?”
3. In most cases, the biological child ought to speak with the grandparents in question. If there is a tense discussion to have, it can often defuse some of the tension by having the mother talk to her parents or the father talk to his parents. There are exceptions depending on the trust or lack of trust but in general this principle holds true.
4. Be willing to allow the grandparents to spoil in their house. That is the role of grandparents! It is their house so they can set the rules. My wife’s grandfather used to say, “If you don’t like the pancake you can throw it on the floor!” It will take work to undo some of that spoiling when you get home. That’s ok. Being spoiled a little bit will not hurt your children.
5. On the other hand, we can’t let grandparents undermine our authority. Unfortunately I have heard of some situations where the grandparent essentially tells the children “Well your mom says we can’t do this but we are going to anyway.” This is a wrong response by the grandparents. But if we, the parents, were a little less strict it might not put the grandparents in such an awkward position. Related to this, we want to secure the grandparents by-in on a standard we might ask them to enforce.
6. There is one big exception to these last points – electronic access! We want to be extra vigilant about the electronics access our kids have at the grandparents. Do they have filters on their devices?
7. In addition, electronic devices as gifts (like a Kindle, or Ipad gift) might also be an exception. Similar to #6, while we may allow the grandparents to purchase gifts for the children at our house, I would strongly discourage them from purchasing electronics. We want it to be very clear that we the parents are providing use of electronics that belong to us. Therefore we can limit access time, have passwords, and go on it anytime we want. After all it does not belong to the child but us. We are merely letting them borrow it for a moment.
No doubt there are an infinite number of scenarios based on family relationships and values. I offer these 7 principles as a way forward.
What would you add?