Kids love consistency; they rely on it and thrive with it.
So what happens when parents and grandparents have different rules? How do kids move between alternating expectations when they visit different relatives’ homes, or when parents and grandparents are spending lots of time together during a vacation?
Things get even more complicated when kids celebrate different holidays at home than at Grandma’s house, or follow certain dietary restrictions with a grandparent that don’t exist at home. To them, it may start to feel like rules are meant to be broken.
And while it’s tricky for kids, it’s also tough for adults to have these conversations with their own parents. Most parenting advice focuses on how to communicate with kids when they’re young. There’s a lot less guidance on talking to your parents when you’re also a parent, or about talking to your adult children about their children. Hopefully this guide can help.
Of course, every family needs to figure out how to approach these issues in ways that work for them. Here are just a few guiding questions to consider before that next sleepover, holiday meal or beach vacation.
For adult children who are also parents:
What are the core values that I want my kids to live by? How are they expressed in my home—and are these hard and fast rules? How might they be expressed differently in a grandparent’s home?
In an interfaith family, this may relate specifically to religious differences, such as beliefs about Santa or the Easter Bunny, or language that mentions or omits God, food rules that focus more on kosher restrictions than personal preference, whether or not visiting a religious institution is permitted, etc.
Have I communicated these beliefs to my parents or in-laws?
Where might I find room for flexibility within my rules to honor my parents or in-laws’ unique relationship with my children/their grandchildren?
Which rules are different in my home from those in my grandchildren’s home?
How will I communicate with my grandchildren about my expectations?
How will I handle it if my grandchildren challenge or break one of my or my children’s rules?
Questions to spark conversation between adult children and their parents:
How does it feel to know there are different rules in our homes?
How can we come together as a united front, despite our differences, in explaining things to our young children/grandchildren?
How can we work together to prepare grandchildren for how things might work a little differently with grandparents? For example, when going to a grandparent’s kosher home, why can’t they have milk with dinner?
Set the stage for open communication if tensions arise, things get complicated or you simply have exciting news to share. Say something along the lines of: “If I ever do something you don’t like, please tell me and if you do something I don’t like, I want to be able to tell you.”
Have a plan for how to work together when things fall apart or don’t go according to plan. Despite best efforts, we’re human, and when kids are involved, there are always surprises!
Do you have any stories related to this topic as either a grandparent or parent? We’d love to hear from you! Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miriam Steinberg-Egeth is passionate about bringing people together, fostering a cohesive Jewish community and helping individuals find their Jewish paths. She serves in multiple professional roles in the Philadelphia Jewish community, including as the creator and writer of Miriam’s Advice Well for the Jewish Exponent. Miriam lives in Center City Philadelphia with her husband and two children.