Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Easing Conflict Between
Grandmother and Daughter-in-Law

QUESTION: My son and daughter-in-law have stopped asking me over to their house, and they decline my offers to have them and the grandchildren over for a visit. I think it is because I disagree with my daughter-in-law's parenting style. She is overly permissive. I have not seen my grandchildren in six months, and I only live 12 miles away! What can I do to improve my situation? I miss my grandkids desperately!

ANSWER: It is likely that you have pushed your daughter-in-law away by challenging her authority as a parent. While you are no doubt well-meaning in your actions, you will need to accept the limitations of your role as a grandparent. And in order to heal the rift between the two of you, it is likely that an apology for stepping over these bounds is in order.

It is easy to forget how vulnerable a new mother can be in her role as a parent. We have all made mistakes, but the key is to respect the younger generation in making their decisions, even if you disagree! Keep in mind, however, that not only have times changed, but information and research on what contributes to a child's emotional health and growth has also developed since we had our kids.

It is sometimes the case that grandparents (especially grandmothers!) can feel highly criticized when our own adult children take a different approach to child-rearing. Ask yourself if this is your situation. If so, it will help to acknowledge that the parental decisions you made were right for you, but may not be right for your son and his wife. And keep in mind that the job of each generation is to improve over the last. This means that it is the job of the next generation to criticize how we raised them! After all, how else might they improve upon a good thing?

Try not to take this personally. Allow your ego to step aside and make room for their turn at decision-making. Do not give advice unless you are asked specifically to do so. And even then, preface your feedback with an acknowledgment such as, "Parenting can be very difficult, and sometimes there are no absolutely right answers, but this is what worked for me." Offer your compassion, rather than judgment. And express your differences in a spirit of sharing rather than competition for the "right" way to do something.

Here are a few suggestions to help you approach this impasse. First, write a letter or arrange to speak with your son about the fact that you believe you have stepped over your bounds in criticizing their parenting style and want first to apologize. Ask that they give you a second chance to adapt to your role as grandparent. Acknowledge that they have not allowed contact, and that you do not wish this to continue. Be clear that you are open to feedback and to respecting their parental choices.

Meanwhile, continue to send birthday gifts and cards to grandchildren and parents through this hiatus of contact. Doing so clarifies that you are not the one taking distance, and that you remain available for contact. But do be prepared to change your approach!

Sometimes we try to love our children by telling them what to do, thinking we are helping them avoid difficulties. It is understandable that you have strong feelings about how your grandchildren are being raised. But instead of giving advice, try to embrace the role of a midwife, someone who assists a woman in labor. Consider that your role is to support them on their journey through parenthood, rather intervening or second-guessing their decisions. After all, it is their turn to be the parents!

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.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com