Butting heads with your child's grandparents? Here's how to make peace

Parents often butt heads with their children's grandparents over their parenting decisions, but a few communication strategies could help to resolve the conflict.

(CNN)Raising children can feel like a game of whack-a-mole, dashing catastrophes left and right while trying to figure out if Bach or memory games would be better for their intellectual development.

A sage grandparent can be just the emergency rescue you need in your back pocket.
Or grandparents can serially throw a wrench in your parenting style. If that just described your predicament, know the problem doesn't only exist within your family:
Of more than 2,000 parents polled in a recent survey, nearly 45% reported butting heads with grandparents about their parenting choices, according to a report published Monday by The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health by Michigan Medicine.
    "It's kind of a universal experience," said poll co-director Sarah Clark, a research scientist in the department of pediatrics at the University of Michigan.
    The disagreements were classic: 40% of parents thought the grandparents were too lenient on their grandchildren while 14% said grandparents were too tough. The most common areas of conflict were discipline (57%), food (44%) and television and screen time (36%).
    A close grandparent-child relationship is good for both parties, said Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in private practice in Oakland, California and author of the forthcoming book "Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict."
    "A loving and involved grandparent" can be good for the children's social and cognitive skills, identity, self-esteem and knowledge of family history, said Coleman, who also a senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families. He wasn't involved in the study.
    Grandparents could also bring to a child's life attributes that their parents might not be able to, intervene in unhealthy dynamics and suggest an "attitude toward the grandchild that might be more loving, compassionate and forgiving," he added.
    "For the grandparent, it's a deeply powerful source of meaning and pleasure," he said. "The relationship between a grandparent and grandchild is one of a shared vulnerability and a kind of innocence."
    Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has complicated matters when it comes to the ties that bind grandparents and your children.
    "Grandparents can be incredibly influential in kids' lives," said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in an episode of CNN's "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction with Dr. Sanjay Gupta" podcast. "That's why it's so painful that those over 65 are especially vulnerable to Covid-19. Many grandparents have not been able to see their families for months, and they're desperate to know when and how they can safely change that."
    Nonetheless, conflict can arise when a grandparent has different ideas than you about the best way to raise children. During the pandemic, conflicts might have worsened due to stress — especially if you live in a multigenerational household. If tension festers, a few strategies could help to restore the peace.

    Empathize

    Parents and grandparents should assume good intentions of the other's behavior and try to understand their motivations, Coleman recommended.
    Grandparents may try to compensate for their perceived or actual shortcomings as parents. They might correct you if they're frustrated by you unknowingly repeating their mistakes.
    The older generation also may have lived in a different time when booster seats weren't required by law, when there were no organic baby food labels and when smart devices didn't exist.
    Parents are anxious and feeling guilty because they're raising children in a world uncertain in terms of economics, climate change and politics, Coleman said. And parenting advice is ever changing, "with no shortage of articles on any given day or newscasts that tell you all the things that you could do wrong as a parent."
    Higher standards can make parents appear more controlling, and the generational tension can create a breeding ground for conflict.

    Focus on the important things

    Figure out which issues are deal breakers that require cohesiveness, Clark said.