Grandparents don't have to enforce parents' discipline

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 8, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara,
Should grandparents be responsible for carrying out the parents' punishment for a grandchild when the parents are busy or out of town?

From: Alexis, Spring Branch, TX

Hi Alexis,

No.

Parents are the disciplinarians of their children. If parents can't follow through with discipline, they should not initiate it, or should postpone or delay it, if the child is old enough and mature enough to understand the delay.

Parents should not expect grandparents to enforce their discipline even if grandparents are coming into the parents' home to care for grandchildren. Grandparents' time in charge begins with a clean slate. Here's why: Let's say a teen has been grounded for the weekend and it turns out to be a weekend when grandparents are caring for the kids. Can't you just hear the conversation: "Nan, this is my best friend's birthday, and she will be so sad if I'm not there, and I promise to be grounded next week, and you're the best nana in the whole world, please, please...."

Parents should not put grandparents in situations like this! It's not fair.

Grandparents can and should have their own rules in their own home for when grandchildren visit. As much as makes sense, the rules should be similar to or at least not fly in the face of the parents' rules. Here's an obvious example: if the parents have a rule that there is no hitting, grandparents would never say, "Oh, it's OK to hit each other in our house. We don't care." When grandparents' rules contradict parents' rules, it undercuts the parents.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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9 comments so far...
  1. Barbara, how is your example any different from the parents saying "John's friend Joe is having a party this weekend, and we have told John he is not allowed to go because Joe's parents are out of town." It still puts the grandparents in a difficult position when John begs - and would you really advocate for John to just be allowed to go to the party in this scenario?

    I think it really depends on the punishment and the reasons for it, too. If the kid did something minor, sure, the punishment can be suspended. If it was something serious, I would think it should remain in place, with the grandparents knowing what the offense was and giving them the latitude to enforce it as they see fit.

    Posted by akmom September 8, 10 06:43 AM
  1. Hi Barbara -

    I have to disagree with you somewhat on this. First, your advice isn't very clear. On one hand you say grandparents should be able to have their own rules but then you say when grandparents' rules contradict parents' rules, it undercuts the parents. Are you saying it's OK for grandparents to undercut parents?

    Many grandparents will use the phrase "As much as makes sense" to mean that they can ignore parent's rules whenever they disagree with them. This sends conflicting messages to a child as to what is acceptable behavior. For example, my in-laws didn't think it was a problem feeding peanuts and other hard candies (re, choking hazards) to my son before he was one, even though I explicitly told them not to. They also argued that he didn't actually need to be in a car seat if they were driving short distances. In both cases I think it's obvious that the rules should be followed but my in laws didn't think they were that important to follow.

    I think in the end, parents need to be flexible with the rules when grandparents are involved. Rules about bed times and having extra sweets can be bent. However if there are hard and fast rules that the parents don't want broken then grandparents should respect that. I was extremely uncomfortable leaving my in laws alone with my child due to their disregard to my rules. It wasn't until they agreed to follow them that I started leaving him with them again.

    Posted by Sharon September 8, 10 09:34 AM
  1. Here's another thought:
    Grandparents should not make idle threats and then expect parents to enforce them.
    Or, grandparents should not make idle threats, expecting not to be listened to.
    Only offer consequences if you are prepared to follow through.

    Posted by Lucy99 September 8, 10 10:20 AM
  1. Sharon, You make a really good point that my advice isn't 100% clear. I should have ended my answer before the last paragraph and not brought rules into this discussion, it confuses the issue and needs its own discussion. But just to respond to your post, I agree that gps who disregard rules that cover safety and health do not deserve to be trusted with the care of grandchildren.

    BFM

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page September 8, 10 11:23 AM
  1. I do not agree. I think this is downright bad advice. What message do you send to the child if the child has done something serious enough to warrant punishment, but that punishment doesn't happen at the grandparents' house? The message: "the behavior was not a big deal, because the grandparents don't even care that it happened. It's just my parents who care. No one else does."

    Barbara, in your example, a teenager has been grounded for the weekend and it somehow wouldn't be fair to ask the grandparents to say no to the teen who wants to ignore the grounding, and who begs and pleads. Well, gosh, let's examine some reasons a teen might be grounded: Maybe last weekend the teen was caught drinking; maybe the teen skipped school; maybe the teen has been breaking curfew consistently. These would all be serious issues. These issues should not be minimized or undercut, and the parents' values should not be undermined.

    Grandparents can have fantastic, special grandparent time without caving to a teenager's begging to avoid punishment for serious misbehaviors. Is it really so hard to say no? For pete's sake, the teen could lay that guilt trip/promise on a grandparent over just about anything ("Can't I just have one beer? Please? Nana, you're the best Nana in the whole world..." "Do I have to go to school tomorrow? Please can I just sleep in and miss just one class, Nana? I promise I won't miss school all next week...").

    Posted by jlen September 8, 10 11:30 AM
  1. The great thing about being a grandparent is our love for our grandchildren. We just want our grandchildren to be safe. I am not going to discipline them. What would happen when we don't agree with our kid's parenting style? They have to find the best way to manage their families. Consistency is absolutely the most important aspect of discipline. The parents will set the tone, grandparents need to support their kids in parenting, not replace them. Grand-kids are the best!

    Posted by Mark Stone September 8, 10 03:15 PM
  1. Wrong.

    The only way to have discipline if it is CONSISTENT. If I give 3 strikes and a time out for 2 minutes, I require that my caregivers (family, not family, whatever) do the EXACT SAME THING. If they don't like it, they can't be the ones to take care of my children unsupervised.

    Posted by C September 9, 10 12:30 AM
  1. I also disagree. If I am leaving my child in temporary care of someone else, I expect that they will follow the rules that I set out. Of course, no caregivers can be expected to enforce rules that aren't explicitly laid out, but if I say "X p.m. is bedtime, and bedtime preparations start 20 minutes before that," then I expect the caregiver to make that happen.

    I really don't think that's noticeably different than saying, "A is grounded this weekend. He may do X, Y, or Z, but not A, B, or C." If the child is old enough to understand grounding, then they are likely old enough to understand that those are the parents' rules, and that grandparents are just following them, too. Which has the side benefit of teaching that you respect the rules when in someone else's home.

    Now...all that said...I read the letter as meaning that the grandparents were staying with the children at the children's (and parents') house. If the children are going to their grandparents', then some compromise may be reasonable depending on the circumstances. But I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution in that case.

    Posted by Tempest September 10, 10 11:33 AM
  1. I respect the way my grown children parent and I try to respect their wishes and the way they raise my grandchildren, especially when it comes to health and safety. I however don't think it's fair if they have had a discipline problem at home to expect me to carry out the punishment when bringing the children to my home for me to take care of.
    I also believe the punishment should fit the behavior and it shouldn't be decided in haste or anger. You need to choose a punishment that you can realistically stick with, sometimes it's more painful for the parent than the child!
    I want my house to be a safe haven for my grandchildren and I tell my kid's
    "what happen's at Mimi's house, stays at Mimi's house"

    Posted by Kim March 26, 13 09:57 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. Barbara, how is your example any different from the parents saying "John's friend Joe is having a party this weekend, and we have told John he is not allowed to go because Joe's parents are out of town." It still puts the grandparents in a difficult position when John begs - and would you really advocate for John to just be allowed to go to the party in this scenario?

    I think it really depends on the punishment and the reasons for it, too. If the kid did something minor, sure, the punishment can be suspended. If it was something serious, I would think it should remain in place, with the grandparents knowing what the offense was and giving them the latitude to enforce it as they see fit.

    Posted by akmom September 8, 10 06:43 AM
  1. Hi Barbara -

    I have to disagree with you somewhat on this. First, your advice isn't very clear. On one hand you say grandparents should be able to have their own rules but then you say when grandparents' rules contradict parents' rules, it undercuts the parents. Are you saying it's OK for grandparents to undercut parents?

    Many grandparents will use the phrase "As much as makes sense" to mean that they can ignore parent's rules whenever they disagree with them. This sends conflicting messages to a child as to what is acceptable behavior. For example, my in-laws didn't think it was a problem feeding peanuts and other hard candies (re, choking hazards) to my son before he was one, even though I explicitly told them not to. They also argued that he didn't actually need to be in a car seat if they were driving short distances. In both cases I think it's obvious that the rules should be followed but my in laws didn't think they were that important to follow.

    I think in the end, parents need to be flexible with the rules when grandparents are involved. Rules about bed times and having extra sweets can be bent. However if there are hard and fast rules that the parents don't want broken then grandparents should respect that. I was extremely uncomfortable leaving my in laws alone with my child due to their disregard to my rules. It wasn't until they agreed to follow them that I started leaving him with them again.

    Posted by Sharon September 8, 10 09:34 AM
  1. Here's another thought:
    Grandparents should not make idle threats and then expect parents to enforce them.
    Or, grandparents should not make idle threats, expecting not to be listened to.
    Only offer consequences if you are prepared to follow through.

    Posted by Lucy99 September 8, 10 10:20 AM
  1. Sharon, You make a really good point that my advice isn't 100% clear. I should have ended my answer before the last paragraph and not brought rules into this discussion, it confuses the issue and needs its own discussion. But just to respond to your post, I agree that gps who disregard rules that cover safety and health do not deserve to be trusted with the care of grandchildren.

    BFM

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page September 8, 10 11:23 AM
  1. I do not agree. I think this is downright bad advice. What message do you send to the child if the child has done something serious enough to warrant punishment, but that punishment doesn't happen at the grandparents' house? The message: "the behavior was not a big deal, because the grandparents don't even care that it happened. It's just my parents who care. No one else does."

    Barbara, in your example, a teenager has been grounded for the weekend and it somehow wouldn't be fair to ask the grandparents to say no to the teen who wants to ignore the grounding, and who begs and pleads. Well, gosh, let's examine some reasons a teen might be grounded: Maybe last weekend the teen was caught drinking; maybe the teen skipped school; maybe the teen has been breaking curfew consistently. These would all be serious issues. These issues should not be minimized or undercut, and the parents' values should not be undermined.

    Grandparents can have fantastic, special grandparent time without caving to a teenager's begging to avoid punishment for serious misbehaviors. Is it really so hard to say no? For pete's sake, the teen could lay that guilt trip/promise on a grandparent over just about anything ("Can't I just have one beer? Please? Nana, you're the best Nana in the whole world..." "Do I have to go to school tomorrow? Please can I just sleep in and miss just one class, Nana? I promise I won't miss school all next week...").

    Posted by jlen September 8, 10 11:30 AM
  1. The great thing about being a grandparent is our love for our grandchildren. We just want our grandchildren to be safe. I am not going to discipline them. What would happen when we don't agree with our kid's parenting style? They have to find the best way to manage their families. Consistency is absolutely the most important aspect of discipline. The parents will set the tone, grandparents need to support their kids in parenting, not replace them. Grand-kids are the best!

    Posted by Mark Stone September 8, 10 03:15 PM
  1. Wrong.

    The only way to have discipline if it is CONSISTENT. If I give 3 strikes and a time out for 2 minutes, I require that my caregivers (family, not family, whatever) do the EXACT SAME THING. If they don't like it, they can't be the ones to take care of my children unsupervised.

    Posted by C September 9, 10 12:30 AM
  1. I also disagree. If I am leaving my child in temporary care of someone else, I expect that they will follow the rules that I set out. Of course, no caregivers can be expected to enforce rules that aren't explicitly laid out, but if I say "X p.m. is bedtime, and bedtime preparations start 20 minutes before that," then I expect the caregiver to make that happen.

    I really don't think that's noticeably different than saying, "A is grounded this weekend. He may do X, Y, or Z, but not A, B, or C." If the child is old enough to understand grounding, then they are likely old enough to understand that those are the parents' rules, and that grandparents are just following them, too. Which has the side benefit of teaching that you respect the rules when in someone else's home.

    Now...all that said...I read the letter as meaning that the grandparents were staying with the children at the children's (and parents') house. If the children are going to their grandparents', then some compromise may be reasonable depending on the circumstances. But I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution in that case.

    Posted by Tempest September 10, 10 11:33 AM
  1. I respect the way my grown children parent and I try to respect their wishes and the way they raise my grandchildren, especially when it comes to health and safety. I however don't think it's fair if they have had a discipline problem at home to expect me to carry out the punishment when bringing the children to my home for me to take care of.
    I also believe the punishment should fit the behavior and it shouldn't be decided in haste or anger. You need to choose a punishment that you can realistically stick with, sometimes it's more painful for the parent than the child!
    I want my house to be a safe haven for my grandchildren and I tell my kid's
    "what happen's at Mimi's house, stays at Mimi's house"

    Posted by Kim March 26, 13 09:57 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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