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Mom's Interfering with
My Relationship with My Grandchild

QUESTION: I have a wonderful time with my four-year-old granddaughter. She and I are very close. The problem is that her mother sometimes interferes with my relationship. She tells me what to feed my granddaughter, and she objects when I take her out for desserts. I don't believe there is any harm in a few sweets, so I sometimes tell my granddaughter not to tell her mom we had cake. It's just "our little secret." My daughter found out, and now she is threatening to forbid me to see my grandchild because she says she cannot trust me. What should do?

ANSWER: You have no doubt heard the old adage that children bring us in touch with our own childhood. Looking at the world through our grandchild's eyes can indeed rekindle our own "inner kid" even more than when we first became parents. While it is tempting to forge a mischievous bond with your grandchild (and movies with this theme abound!), you must stop to consider the ramifications of putting your grandchild in the middle of conflict between yourself and her mother. Although we may once again remember what it was like to be a child, we must not make the mistake of acting like one!

Clearly, your daughter takes serious objection to your undermining her authority about her child's diet. It is possible that you see things differently in this area, but she is the mother! While you may disagree with her, it is important that you abide by her rules, rather than teach your grandchild that it is all right to disregard her mother's instructions.

Consider the ways that putting your grandchild in the middle of conflict between yourself and her mother may cause your granddaughter problems:

  1. It threatens family structure and healthy problem-solving. Your grandchild learns not only that it is all right not to listen to Mom, but that "sneaking" is a way to resolve conflict. This can undermine her relationship with her mother, disturbing the healthy hierarchy of the family. A child's security depends on the knowledge that her parents are in charge.
  2. It complicates love with disloyalty. Your grandchild's "closeness" to you comes at the expense of feeling disobedient to her mother. Her bond with you is forged on having secrets from her mother. This puts her in the middle of your conflict, creating tensions around disloyalty and a false sense of intimacy with you. Your granddaughter is robbed of an uncomplicated love between grandparent and grandchild.
  3. It teaches intolerance for differences. Your grandchild does not learn to respect the fact that differences of opinions occur in families, and can be accepted. Room for differences is key to maintaining healthy family relationships, along with clear lines of authority.

What can help? To begin with, consider replacing your mischievous bond with uncomplicated attention. Choose an activity to share with your grandchild that strengthens your relationship. One of the many projects listed on this site could be the beginning of a new, exciting relationship that has your grandchild looking forward to spending time with you, free of conflict. For example, one grandmother schedules time every Sunday afternoon for a "project" with her four-year-old grandson. One day they put together a paper airplane and painted it, then a helicopter, a car, and even a sewing project in which the grandson helped to sew curtains for his bedroom. He keeps a collection of "grandma projects" proudly in view on his bookshelf and looks forward to his special time with her.

Indeed you may disagree with your daughter's decisions about parenting. At times, with respect (and your daughter's willingness!), you may express your concerns and views for her consideration. But DO stop there! Do not take it upon yourself to undermine her authority. Simply make yourself available for consultation, or a different view, should she desire it. Remember that your daughter bears the weight of responsibility of parenthood, which you do not. It is only fair that she should make the decisions.

Steer clear of activities that create conflict. Instead, forge your relationship with your grandchild on neutral ground. Keeping your grandchild out of the middle of conflict will allow her to have a safe space to retreat to for the special positive attention and uncomplicated love that only a grandparent can give. After all, isn't that what grandparenting is really about?

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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