Zip your lip. Bite your tongue. Keep a closed mouth and an open mind. Most advice for new grandparents begins with one of these bits, and veteran grandparents tend to agree. Still, surely there are times when we should give our children the benefit of our parenting experience, right?
Yes. There are a few occasions when grandparents can share some parenting advice, although it should be done in the right way. Here are three occasions when you can speak your piece and still keep the peace.
1. When You Notice Something That Could Be Important
Occasionally grandparents will notice something about a child's health or development that parents have missed. There are a couple of reasons why this could happen. First, most of the time grandparents have had more experience observing children than parents, especially new parents. Second, grandparents may notice gradual changes that parents don't see because they are with their children every day.
Of course, a grandparent should use diplomacy when bringing up what they've noticed, and they should defer to the parents about the proper course of action. Your grandchild's pediatrician or other professional can contribute expert advice. Some conditions need early intervention, but it's fine to take a wait-and-see approach in other cases.
2. When You Have Special Expertise
Another time you're justified in butting in is when you have qualifications other than being a grandparent. If you're an educator or a health professional or you have special training in some other child-related field, you may be itching to give a grandchild the benefit of your knowledge. Occasionally, parents will resist your offers of help. But most of the time, parents are happy to get advice and help from a qualified person who won't send them a bill.
3. When They Ask for Your Input
It's most gratifying for grandparents when their children ask them for parenting advice. If you have a solid relationship with your child, this could happen fairly often. It's fine to give your two cents, but you should still be diplomatic. If you're asked what you think of home schooling, and you deliver an hour-long diatribe against it, you'll be in a ticklish position if the parents decide to go for it anyway.
Try instead to offer an opinion that is well thought-out and couched in reasonable terms. If you're asked to chime in on a topic you're not knowledgeable about, you could ask for some time to look into it. Of course, you could also plead ignorance and let the parents make the call. That's one of the advantages of being the grandparent!
How to Give Advice So Your Kids Will Listen
How suggestions are offered is at least as important as the content of the advice. If you want to maximize your chances of being heard, follow these guidelines:
- Keep it low key. You might think that you will get your point across by being persuasive, but too often people who think they are being persuasive are just being pushy.
- Support your points. If you have examples, facts or statistics, you can draw upon them to support your ideas. This isn't a debate, though. Too much data can be overwhelming.
- Know when to drop it. You're not trying to make a sale. You don't need to close the deal. Often parents just need time to get used to a new idea.
- Express your confidence in the parents. This is a good time to say that you believe in the parents and in their ability to make a good decision.
- Be prepared to support the parents' decision. Whether they accept your advice or not, be prepared to accept the parents' choice and don't throw it in their face if something goes awry. (And it should go without saying that you never, ever say, “I told you so.")
When You Should Not Give Advice
So, yes, there are a few times when you can offer parenting advice to your children, and there is a right way to do it. There are other times, however, when grandparents should hold their tongues.
You may be tempted to speak up when your grandchildren behave in a way that is contrary to your standards. All of us have a pretty closely held set of beliefs, from our views on religion to our opinion about gluten. Your children are adults with their own beliefs that may differ from yours. These will inform their parenting decisions, a fact which grandparents have to accept.
One thing I've learned from being a grandparent is that I can be mistaken, too. Sometimes when I have disagreed with a parent's decision, it has turned out to be clearly the best path for everyone. Try to have faith in the wisdom of the parents; they know their children better than anyone.
Don't Look Back
Another good rule for grandparents is not to offer advice based on how we brought up our own kids. In our day, babies slept on their tummies surrounded by blankets and stuffed animals. Today we know more about safe sleeping. We put syrup in our babies' milk bottles to help them poop and painted nasty-tasting stuff on their thumbs to prevent thumb-sucking. Sure, we followed the best child-rearing advice of the time, but times have changed!
Another pitfall to avoid is describing our own child-rearing days in overly rosy terms. It's possible that our children never had tantrums, always slept through the night and potty-trained themselves. It's more likely, however, that we are exhibiting selective memory. Recounting these parenting success stories, whether they are true or slightly enhanced, will only make our children feel like parenting failures, and that's the last thing we should want.
In fact, grandparents probably over-praise their grandchildren and under-praise their parents. When's the last time you told the parents of your grandchildren that they are doing an amazing job? Feel free to speak up on this topic as often as you like. Remember: When it comes to heartfelt praise, the zipped lip rule does not apply.
Susan Adcox is a writer specializing in grandparenting topics. She has seven grandchildren whose parents often ignore her advice.