I grew up with proud Christian parents who raised me with traditional values. To their eternal confusion, I turned out to be a liberal bisexual with a penchant for swearing. But I’m not totally unlike them. I love Jesus just like they do. And, just like them, I want my children to have a close relationship with their grandparents.
My parents are very involved in the kids’ lives. Because of our differences of opinion about how children should be raised, I was prepared for that journey to be a difficult one. But to my enormous relief, it hasn’t gone that way at all. My parents made it clear from the beginning that they would respect my wishes for my kids’ upbringing, and they have honored that since day one. In return, I have made efforts to honor their wishes, too. They deserve that. They’ve earned it. Bridging the gap between traditional and progressive values when it comes to raising kids hasn’t been without challenges, but we are figuring it out together. Here’s how my parents and I have navigated intergenerational parenting with harmony.
#1. We practice home-bound rules.
My kids are 7 and 5. They are old enough now to understand that rules can be context-dependent. Meaning, some rules may apply in one place but not another. We have taught our children that there are different rules in our house and in their grandparents’ house. For example, my kids are allowed to say words like fart and crap at my house, but those words are considered illicit in my parents’ house. We’ve taught my kids that, although they can say those words at home, they cannot say them at MiMi and PopPop’s house. In fact, my kids have learned that there are many things they are allowed to do at home that they can’t do at their grandparents’ house. Managing these home-bound rules has been no problem at all for my kids, and it has kept my parents and me from arguing over silly things like words.
#2. We’ve taken time to educate my parents about our decisions.
There is a toxic side of boundary culture that says we should just state our boundaries and expect people to understand and respect them. The truth is, sometimes getting people to respect your boundaries requires taking time to explain why those boundaries exist. One example of our boundaries is that we don’t force our kids to give hugs or kisses if they don’t want to. We could have insisted on this boundary without any explanation. But it’s hard for parents, who don’t see the harm in insisting on hugs, to honor that boundary. Taking time to explain to my parents why we feel it’s harmful — talking to them about the importance of consent and personal agency over their bodies — has helped my parents honor that boundary with ease. In fact, once we explained it to them, they embraced the idea, too! It’s always easier to do something when you understand it, and setting boundaries is no different.
#3. We let my parents have a say.
Listen, my parents are the best grandparents I could ask for. They love my kids. They are deeply invested in their lives. Hell, they have a dedicated bedroom for my kids in their home because they want them to always feel welcome there. Through their love and devotion to my children, my parents have earned the right to have a say in their lives. And, it’s important I make that point clear because I do not believe having a blood relation makes a person immediately entitled to having a say. I don’t think a parent is obligated to welcome feedback and input from family members who are aloof, distant, and uninvolved. But my parents are deeply, profoundly invested in my kids’ lives. Because they are so involved in the parenting of my kids (and because their involvement is healthy and safe), they deserve to have input.
#4. My parents approach issues with deference.
Last night, while my parents were over for dinner, they mentioned that they would like to see us find a church home. This is a delicate issue for our family because my husband and I have a lot of church trauma. After spending over a year trying to find a church home, and being disappointed over and over, we decided to step away from the church for a while. This is hard on my parents, who are in church every Wednesday and Sunday without fail. This topic, and others, could be a contentious issue for our family if my parents decided to be intrusive and demanding. But, instead, my parents always make sure to broach these subjects with respect for us. My parents know that they have a say with my kids, so they are unafraid to make their wishes known. But they also know that we have the final say, so they approach these conversations with the understanding that they cannot force their wishes upon us. And because they approach us with this respect and deference, we can listen to them without getting defensive.
#5. We don’t stress over non-essential issues.
There’s just no reason for loving families to be divided over small issues. My parents and I have embraced an attitude that it’s not worth sweating the small stuff. As an example, my parents like honorifics like yes ma’am and no sir. They would much prefer that my kids spoke that way, too, but this is not something I enforce with my kids. I am working on teaching my kids that even if you’re not obligated to do something, you can choose to do something out of consideration and respect for the other person. And this is a key difference, at least in my opinion. For my parents, using honorifics should be a standard rule — something you do because it is polite and socially expected. And that’s a mindset that should be imparted to my children. My mindset is different. I believe that using honorifics is outdated and unnecessary, but that if someone prefers to be addressed by them, it is kind to do so. But it is still your choice. This difference, though small, can feel big between two generations who see the issue very differently. As a family, we have learned that things like this are non-essential issues, things that are not worth getting worked up about. We’ve learned to take stuff like this in stride, trying our best to respect each other but also choosing not to make it a bigger issue than it needs to be.
#6. Everything is rooted in love.
Lastly, and most importantly, we can do all of these things because there is trust, safety, and love. When you know in the deepest reaches of your soul that everyone has the kids’ best interest at heart, you can handle disagreements a lot easier. When we disagree, we can all at least be 100% confident that everyone is operating from a sincere wish for the best for our kids. This makes the uncomfortable conversations easier to navigate, and allows us to operate from a place of togetherness instead of strife.
In navigating the differences between the way I’m raising my children and how my parents raised me, I have come to cherish the profound respect and understanding that underpins our intergenerational parenting journey. Despite our divergent values and approaches, we have found harmony by implementing essential strategies. Our journey may present challenges, but knowing we all have the children’s best interests at heart has made this adventure an enriching experience of growth, togetherness, and understanding.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.