I have a lot of trouble getting my parents to enforce my rules about bedtime, appropriate snack foods, etc. when my children spend the night at their house. I have repeatedly told my mom and dad not to let the kids stay up late or eat lots of sugar -- but they let them do it anyway. I'm about to drop my kids off with their grandparents for a weeklong visit. What can I do to make it work for everyone?
Stuck in the Middle
Dear Stuck in the Middle,
My first response may not be to your liking, but I'm going to say it anyway: You can't force your parents to abide by your rules when they're watching your children. That said, you can ask them to talk with you in the hopes that you might come up with compromises they can live with. Here are some ideas:
1. Start by thanking your parents for their offer to watch your kids. After all, it is generous of them to take care of your children for a week. Do they know how much you appreciate them? If most of your communications are about what they do wrong, they're not likely to feel receptive to your requests about things you'd like them to do differently.
It means so much to me that you've invested time in creating a close relationship with the kids. You mean the world to them, and I'm grateful that you've offered to watch them next month.
2. Acknowledge your parents' point of view, which is as valid to them as yours is to you. By letting them know that you understand how tempting it is for them to give their grandsons and -daughters whatever they want, you'll reduce their defensiveness when you ask them to consider your preferences.
I know it's fun to spoil the kids, and I'm sure they push hard to get things I don't let them have when they're at home. It's hard to say no when they turn on those puppy-dog eyes...
3. Broach the topic of a "rules" discussion in a friendly way. Ask if your parents would be willing to talk with you about your children's upcoming visit so you can let them know about a couple of concerns you have. Narrow your requests to the one or two things that matter most to you, rather than delivering a long list of demands.
We've noticed that when the kids eat a lot of sugar, it really affects their moods -- especially Thomas, who ends up having trouble sleeping. It may seem like no big deal, but he gets crabby and easily upset when he hasn't had enough sleep. Would you be willing to limit the kids to one or two treats a day?
4. Listen to your parents' responses without telling them they're wrong. If you let your parents know that you respect their perspective, they'll be more open to yours.
5. Be patient. Give them time to think over your requests, rather than rushing them into promises they can't keep. The less they feel forced to do what you ask, the more they'll feel open to making concessions.
Please think about what you are and aren't willing to do. I don't want you to agree to anything you're not going to be able to stick to.
6. Be flexible. One of the things children love most about grandparents is that they let them get away with things their parents won't allow. And one of the best things about being a grandparent is having the chance to spoil those adorable grandkids. It's hard to relinquish control to others, but unless your parents are mistreating or neglecting your children, it may be best to accept that for a few days your kids will be off-kilter. Most kids recover fairly quickly from changes in routines, and the memories they'll have of their special time at Grandma and Grandpa's house will be priceless.
The bottom line: Approach your parents in a friendly way with requests for one or two changes that will help you feel more at ease. Avoid threatening to deprive them of their grandkids in an attempt to force them to do things your way, and don't damage the relationship with angry words because you disagree with their child-rearing philosophy. Most children love the special treatment they get at their grandparents' home, so if you can accept that the rules might be fudged a little bit, I'd suggest that you enjoy your break. Your kids may need a day or two to adjust -- and catch up on sleep! -- afterward, but they'll probably be just fine.
Yours in parenting support,
Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.