A Lesson in Dealing with In-Laws

I was talking to a grandfather recently…not my grandfather, someone else’s…he said something to me that made me cringe with a combination of disbelief and horror.  He was speaking about his grand-kids with love and affection and then he said this one thing. This one sentence was so beyond my realm of comprehension because I know him.  I know his wife.  I know how incredible they are and that their whole world revolves around their children and grandchildren.  

So what did he say??  He said that if he wants to see one set of grand-kids then he and his wife have to abide by specific rules or they aren’t allowed to be around them.


Shoot! Pretty hard core.


I know this is gonna be a controversial post.  Presently and possibly historically, parents are under pressure from many angles. Education, health, red dye #40, introducing reading early, implementing bedtimes, potty training by a specific age, having kids meet certain benchmarks…there is sooo much pressure on parents.  I completely understand the overwhelming feeling of “am I doing anything right?” But to be so confined to our own set of rules that we negatively affect the relationships of caring family members seems counter-intuitive.

I live a few hours away from all of my family.  There isn’t a single grandparent closer than a two hour drive.  I would love to be able to drop off my kids at any one of their houses with convenience.  I would appreciate being able to utilize my parents and in-laws for babysitting. Even having my parents be close enough to come to all the school performances, take part in the award ceremonies or seeing the always popular flute-o-phone concerts for my children would be amazing. (My daughter just had a flute-o-phone performance last week, and I feel like I am NOW a real parent…25+ years since I played mine and they sound exactly the same.)


A few years ago I heard a woman speak about the differences between her mom and her mother-in-law.  It was one of those raise-your-hand-if-your-mother-in-law-is-a-handful kind of scenarios.  (To my mother-in-law: you can breathe easy…my hand was not raised!!)  Anyways, the lady was saying that after she birthed her first baby her mother showed up with her work-gloves on, so to speak.  She, the newly dubbed grandmother, washed laundry, put away dishes, cooked a meal, dusted the living room, fed the pets and brought in the mail.  The new momma appreciated this act of love so much.  Well was she in for a disappointing visit when her mother-in-law showed up for her baby visit.  This mother-in-law did nothing! Well, untrue…she plopped down on the couch and only wanted to hold the baby.

I hoped, like this new mom that visitors would seek ways to be helpful when they showed up after a new baby was born.


Then the lady telling the story said something profound.  


She said, “learn to appreciate the different ways that your parents and in-laws show their love.”


Hmm.  Ok so to break it down…one of the grandmothers showed her love through service.  She cooked and cleaned and did many tasks that the new mom was unable to complete while learning to deal with her newborn.  The other grandmother showed her love by spending quality time caring for the baby directly.  She held that baby like there was no tomorrow, which freed up the mother to clean the house, prepare dinner and throw a load of laundry in the washing machine.


The lesson was to learn not to compare parents and in-laws, but to treasure their differences.  


I understand having expectations.  I expect my kids to be watched like hawks (the smaller two, especially) anytime they are visiting family.  I am a “bigger picture” kind of person.  I am not concerned with little upsets that happened while away (scratches, stubbed toes, sugar consumption) because I am grateful for the experience of letting my kids be in the loving care of their family members while I get a break. I do require that they come back in one piece while breathing on their own accord.  


As parents we have the rights to the way we raise our children.  Totally agree 100%! In my house we eat cauliflower “mashed potatoes,” squash in substitution for pasta, and rarely give our kids soda.  But we are totally ok with them having the “real world” versions of those foods in moderation.  If our parents take the kids to ice cream after a home cooked meal I’m all for it.  If they get to have a soda after they eat BBQ’d hamburgers or sit around a summer campfire after their normal bedtime hour eating s’mores, then that is perfect.  Grandparents want to make their memories with their grandchildren.  I guess what I’m thinking it boils down to is that parents know their children the best and most completely.  We make the bulk of the decisions for our kids.  But if you trust the discretion of your parents and in-laws…then let them make a few of the temporary rules.  

 Your children could benefit greatly from the differences that each set of grandparents have to share. They could learn about swimming, safety, saving money, model airplanes, transmissions, animal care, baking, gardening…so many talents between the grandparents in my life. Let the differences make your child more well-rounded. Enjoy what each individual grandparent brings to the table, set some parameters, speak with your older kids about the rules before you transfer care, send a prayer up and “peace-out” and let them enjoy their time together.

What do you think?  Is this a control issue for parents or a lack of trust in grandparents? I know this is a real issue and I’d love to get various opinions on the subject, so go ahead and submit your comments.