We post every once in a while on how parents (that’s us) relate with our parents (our children’s grandparents). Sort of confusing who’s who when talking about grown-up parents, but bare with us as we attempt to talk through the conflicts in our relationships.
This conflict can be complicated. Here’s a letter we received from Shana with a really good question…
What would you suggest for a parent(grandparent) who usurps the authority of the parents? We have struggled with this for several years. We are not bitter about it, but it is frustrating and we have had to be very firm about our positions, even when she has overtaken our authority literally right out from under us (as in mid-disciplining our children she has cut in and told our children something far different than we would have said). We struggle with how to deal with this appropriately… honoring her while at the same time keeping our own authority intact.
My grandmother (my mom’s mom) moved in with us when I was in high school. I have fond memories of this. Though she was sometimes critical of my parents, my parents seldom returned the criticism. This would be the advice I’d give to Shana: Let it rest. You don’t need to correct your parents. You see, my parents’ reaction to my grandmother had a longer-lasting impression on me than anything my grandmother said or did.
The question speaks of “usurping authority.” The grandparent would tell the children “something far different” than what the parent would have told. Hmmm, I have to press on this a bit. Is the “something” illegal? Is it physically threatening or damaging?
I suppose there are evil grandparents out there sneaking drugs to their grandchildren, or violently abusive and what not. If this is the case, you’ve got a unique situation where boundaries need to be put up. What I suspect, though, is that many “authority” issues are petty. Yeah, we take offense at them, no doubt about that. But is this “usurping authority”? Probably not.
My other grandmother (my dad’s mom) was bombastic, speaking her mind and not caring what others thought. I recall her laying in on my mom for not teaching me the Hail Mary at a young age. I must have been perhaps 6 years old at my grandmother’s apartment. She was tucking me into bed and started to recite the prayer, and I didn’t know what in the world she was saying. The exchange between my mom and my grandmother lasted for an uncomfortable few minutes.
But you know what? I went home with relationship in tact. My mother didn’t feel the urge to teach me the Hail Mary as a 6-year-old should, and nothing more was said of the matter. My mother also didn’t feel urged to tell me what a bombastic grandmother I had, or keep me from visiting my grandmother, or any other nonsense. In the end, the grandparent may disagree with how we parent, but that is not the same as usurping authority.
Through your gracious response to your frustration, your children will remember your love more than your authority.