Let me know if this sounds familiar. It is Saturday morning. You’ve been trying to inculcate some good habits in your toddler. He has just figured out how to eat with his own hands! He had his dinner without you feeding him even a single morsel on Friday. It might not sound much, but for parents going through that phase, it is an achievement!
In fact, the Saturday’s breakfast is ravished with a similar fervour! And just before the lunch time, your parents visit you. They love spending time with the kid. You have a strict “no chocolate” policy. But as soon as your back is turned, they hand him a small toffee.
When you sit down to have lunch, your mum takes the kid in her lap instead of letting him sit in his high chair. Her reason — you used to have lunch in a similar fashion — on your grandma’s lap. You protest, but it is lunch time, and your husband is watching. You let this one go as well.
Just after lunch, your dad hands the young one a “gift.” There is no occasion to celebrate. The gift is “just because they thought that their only grandson would like it.” Strike three.
You are getting impatient. You corner your mother just as she is helping you clear up the table. Then you remind her of your rules. No sweets, no unnecessary gifts, no breaking the schedule. She brushes you off as if you are still a child. You are already fuming as you enter the living room when you spot your dad showing his grandson Peppa Pig on YouTube on his phone. It is his nap time. You lose it and end up yelling at your dad.
Has this happened to you? If it has, your parents are spoiling your kid and you are silently watching it happen. What you need is a one-on-one with them, putting your proverbial foot down. But, it is always delicate with the parents. It is even tougher with the in-laws.
Why snubbing a grandparent is not an option
The urge to pull out the “it’s my child” card is strong when you see it happen- however, hold your horses. Grandparents bring an immense value to the parenting equation. Believe me when I say this, but they are on your team. As a captain of the team, though, you have to realise what they bring to the field, boost their strengths and work on the weaknesses.
A grandparent is the second most trusted entity in a child’s life after his parents. There is going to be a time when your child is going to question your judgement. Soon, he is going to ignore what you are saying and do the exact opposite. I would have done that growing up, had my granny not supported my mum in her decisions. As a teenager, one feels controlled by the parent, but if a grandparent ratifies what the parent says, it is easier for the child to accept it.
On similar lines, there are situations when you do need a “good cop-bad cop” strategy. However, if one parent becomes the good cop and the other, the bad one, there seems to be a divide among them and it is not healthy in the long term. The child might not take it seriously. Grandparents play the role of a good cop perfectly, being benignly old and wrinkly! The situation is then handled much more effectively.
And lastly, do you really want to break an old man’s heart over a toffee? He changed your diapers. Of course, he is not going to take you seriously till you show him that you need to be taken so! So, don’t snub your parents. It is not going to do any good. Your child is watching and learning from how you interact with his grandparents.
Here is what you do instead, to gently, sublimely, steer a grandparent away from the path of mollycoddling your child.
The action plan
To stop your parents and in-laws from spoiling your children without souring relationships, here is what you got to do:
1# Use the 80:20 rule
A rule most Management Gurus swear by is the 80:20 rule. In this context, of all the rules you want your child to follow, only 20% of the rules are 80% important. The remaining 80% of them are expendable.
So, if you have 10 rules, only two of them are really, really important. And these are the rules where you need to put your foot down if your a grandparent breaks them. For other rules, let them have their way. By doing this, they are happy as you are not saying ‘no’ to every’fun’ thing they want to do with their grandchildren and you are happy that the cardinal rules are followed in a sacrosanct manner.
2# Team up with your partner
The child gets his stubbornness from his grandparents (I cannot prove it, it is just an observation). So, you have to communicate with the grandparents like you communicate with your child — confidently. Otherwise, you may not be taken seriously. And, nothing casts a doubt on the confidence as a couple who does not agree on an issue.
So, have a chat with your partner. Draft a few rules based on the 80:20 principle. Also, think about the exceptions. For instance, your child may not have a chocolate, except once a fortnight. Write them down if you want, in case you want to visit them later. And then, ensure that your partner and you are on the same page. If your partner does not agree with one of your rules, don’t enforce it, unless it is good for the child.
3# Create a wish list
There are “needs” and there are “wants.” Today, most of the things people buy are to satisfy the wants instead of the needs. When your child gets too many gifts that he does not need, it adds to the sentiment of wanting to own things just for the sake of ownership. This is not healthy.
Children should feel a sense of kinship with their toys. But for that to happen, your child should have one doll, not seven! As a parent who understands this, create a wishlist for your child. That way, he has a balance of books, toys, clothes, and other things that he needs (and wants). Ask the grandparents to ask you and your partner before they buy anything. Put it nicely, they will understand.
4# Put the extra gifts to good use
Some grandparents do not take a hint. So, despite conveying your feelings about confectioneries and toys, if they still get some, thank them and let them know that you are donating it to someone less fortunate than your child. Do this as long as it takes. Alternately, you can ask them to put the money aside for your child’s college fund.
Never, ever, reject a book though! It is a cardinal sin.
Mums, it is not worth souring relationships. After all, were they not as overjoyed as you were when they saw the tiny baby open his eyes for the first time? Just stress on those 20% of the things and reduce your stress by 80%!
Also, read 7 Ways to teach your kids how to receive gifts with gratitude