Communication and understanding are key components for when grandparents and their adult children don't agree on how their grandchildren/children are being raised, local experts say.

"It's becoming an increasing issue," Kevin Doll, an associate professor in the human development and family studies department at UW-Stout, said of child rearing disagreements.

"Parents may feel that the grandparents are spoiling their kids," he said. "And grandparents may feel their children are being too soft on their grandchildren."

The biggest issues between grandparents and adult children seem to be when the grandchildren have issues related to their health or problems at school, said Michael Axelrod, a professor of psychology and director of the Human Development Center at UW-Eau Claire.

"Think about perspective. We caution both sides as to issuing ultimatums," he said.

"Put yourself in your parents' shoes or you son and daughter-in-law's shoes," Axelrod said. "Work collaboratively for the benefit of the child and not place blame on anybody. Sometimes those common sense concepts are thrown out the window."

Child rearing disagreements between grandparents and their adult children "is something that is probably rather universal," he said. "Caring grandparents want what is best for their children and grandchildren."

The most common issues of disagreement between grandparents and adult children are over discipline, food and screen time, said Mary Beth Leibham, a professor of psychology at UW-Eau Claire.

"Disagreements are quite common," she said.

Grandparents and adult children have to always keep in mind the common goal, Leibham said.

"What everybody wants is what is best for the child," she said. "If everybody keeps that in mind, it makes it easier when disagreements arise. Boundaries have to be communicated. But grandparents must feel involved, respected and wanted."

The quality of the relationship between the grandparents and adult children go a long way in the overall scope of child rearing disagreements, Doll and Axelrod said.

The biggest complaints, historically, by adult children are that their parents are spoiling their grandchildren or undermining the authority of the adult children. And grandparents, historically, often complain that they are not being listened to, Doll said.

"They feel their experience is not being honored," he said.

Grandparents may disagree about their grandchildren's diets, the number of activities they are involved in, or their sleep schedules. Younger parents today are more inclined to let their children sleep whenever they want and not be on such a set schedule, Doll said.

"Nobody is necessarily right or wrong," he said. "There are just different perspectives."

"Sometimes feedback is viewed as natural, appropriate and valuable," Axelrod said. "Other times it can be viewed as being critical or overstepping bounds. That is certainly a big part of it."

It depends on the relationship between the grandparents and adult children "as to whether those comments are taken good or bad," he said. 

Raising children is different now than when grandparents were young parents. There is social media, more involvement with youth sports, and academic pressures have increased, Leibham said.

"That needs to be acknowledged," she said.

Basic concepts need to be kept in mind, Leibham said.

"When advice is unsolicited, it's often perceived as criticism, even if the intention is good. If it pertains to the day-to-day stuff, pause before we give that advice, even if it is well intended," she said.

"Parents have a right to make mistakes and a right to learn from their mistakes," Leibham said. "Let them learn from that as long as it doesn't involve the health and safety of the grandchildren."

In the vast majority of cases, unless the disagreements are related to the health or safety of the grandchildren, "different opinions by the adult children and grandparents are not really right or wrong," Doll said. "But almost everything that is written out there on this subject says the grandparents should honor the parents' decisions. You have to be in the experience to understand it."

Discussion is always a good approach, Doll said.

"If there is a conflict that is not addressed, it gets problematic over time," he said. "Be respectful and listen to each other, and don't take sides. Respectful communication seems to be what is promoted the most."

Adult children should keep in mind that grandparents can be a good guidance device because of their experience, Axelrod said.

When there are disagreements, mixed messages are not a particularly good situation, Leibham said.

"It's not good for kids to hear one thing from grandma and something else from mom. They need to have the clarity and expectation and not the mixed messages," she said.

Many grandparents view their role as spoiling their grandchildren, Leibham said.

"They've earned that right. Kids perceive grandma and grandpa as being fun, and that creates a closer bond," she said. "Maybe grandma and grandpa can give them two cookies instead of one, so it can be a little looser than at mom and dad's house."

Cooperation is the key for grandparents and their adult children, Leibham said. "Children benefit when parents and grandparents get along," she said.

Grandparents should generally defer to their adult children for most child rearing issues, Leibham said.

"It is important for grandparents to give parents the space to be parents. The hardest part for grandparents is to realize they are not parenting that child anymore," she said.

"Grandparents have to figure out their role and boundaries once their own child becomes a parent," Leibham said. "You have to be willing to trust your kids as parents. You have to trust they have what it takes to be a parent." 

Contact: 715-833-9207, dan.holtz@ecpc.com

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