Child Caring

Grandfather Questions Dad's Discipline

Dear Barbara,

I have a grandparent question. The grandchildren come over to our house with their parents. The following are two situations:

1. While we are playing with the kids, the father felt his son was not being respectful to me when I asked his son to do something. The parent yelled at the child and told him to go in the other room and not play with us for 20 minutes. We lose out -- the dynamics of the family playing changes. How should the situation have been handled? My thinking is the father should have said to me that his son was not being respectful and would like me to handle it better; I think it is my choice how to handle the situation.

2. 7 of us are eating dinner, 3 grandchildren, their parents and the grandparents. The father tells the sons several times to sit straight and not sleep on the table or turn around and sleep and tells him if he is so tired, he will take him right to bed. The son, after a little while, turns around in his chair. The father just picks him up and says, "I am taking you to bed." The son goes crazy asking to stay, crying and screaming as he goes upstairs with his father. Again the grandparents lose out being with the grandchild, the family dynamics at the dinner table is lost. How should the situation have been handled? My feeling is that when the grandchildren are at our house, the disciple can be modified: the grandchild can be given a last warning; there can be time out in another room for a short time.

We have a wonderful family but in the last two weeks, these two episodes have come up. I would like to get a solution that will work for us all.

Thank you for your help

From: RW, Boston

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Dear RW,

There are a lot of unanswered questions here (How old are the grandchildren? Is the father your son or son-in-law? What is the mom doing while all this happens? How often do you see the family? Do you get alone time with the kids?) but the bottom line is that the parents are the parents, even when they are in your home, and it is your job to show respect for their parenting even when you disagree with it, at least in front of the children. I can't offer alternative responses to the situations you describe without knowing kids' ages, but asking you to handle the situation because it's your house? That can only happen if you have an agreement beforehand with the parents.

My advice is to talk to the parents when the children aren't around. Tell them that:

1. You support, admire, respect -- choose a word that feels sincere to you -- their parenting.

2. You love having the grandkids visit.

3. When dad disciplines the kids by removing them from the scene, it hurts you because it reduces your time with them. Chances are, that consequence hasn't occurred to dad.

4. If you think there's a bigger issue here -- that dad is too strict or excessive or even abusive in his discipline -- it is your responsibility to point that out privately by making "I" statements ("I've noticed, I'm wondering, Mom and I have some thoughts.....") as opposed to "You" statements which tend to cut off communication before it begins.

In the meantime, maximize your time with the children by planning activities that don't include mom and dad. Not only does that give mom and dad a break but then you are in charge of the dynamics. (Good rule of thumb: set guidelines for the kids' behavior before you embark on an activity as well as consequences. Make sure your choice of activity and your expectations for behavior are in line with their abilities and interests.)

Also, here's what not to do:

1. Don't tell the parents how to discipline their kids, especially if the father is your SIL and not your son. And even if he is your son? Tread lightly. It all depends on your relationship.

2. Don't criticize mom and dad in front of their kids. You want them to keep coming back, right?