Friday, January 28, 2011

Intergenerational Conflicts: Five Tips for Gentle Disagreement

No one is sure how it happened, but last month, my mom was surprised with a subscription to a popular "mainstream" parenting magazine. My dad suggested that my husband and I had sent her the subscription as a subtle way to challenge their views on parenting, with which we disagree. This is the last magazine I would send if I wanted to assault my parents with my parenting views. However, it did bring up an interesting point: how can we reconcile the differences when our parenting philosophy differs from that of our own parents? The following suggestions have worked for me in dealings with my parents--perhaps they can help you.

  1. Don't judge. Even if you disagree with your parents about absolutely everything, it's pointless now to criticize the way they parented you. They may not have had access to the same information or support system that you have. Emphasize that your methods do not reflect a judgment upon them. Rather, you are doing what is right for you and your family in your particular situation.
  2. Draw clear expectations. Sometimes parents cross boundaries with our child because they are unsure where the boundaries lie. Communicate with your parents and let them know exactly where you stand. Establish clear roles, both for yourself and for them. Don't be afraid to stand your ground to defend the best interests of your child.
  3. Stay well-informed. Read all that you can about your parenting choices: books, magazines, scholarly articles, etc. Ultimately, you must only answer to yourself and your child for your decisions. Still, when your parents challenge you, you may wish to defend your position. Every bit of information you can bring helps your case. Ideally, your parents might be convinced to re-evaluate their beliefs. If not, at least they will have a better understanding of your perspective.
  4. Be understanding. Even if they understand your expectations, your parents may not apply them perfectly. If you do not believe in praising your child and they occasionally utter a "good job," cut them some slack. As a parent yourself, you no doubt understand that transitions are difficult. Imagine how difficult it must be to adapt to the changing needs of an adult child who is a parent herself!
  5. Know when to walk away. This doesn't necessarily mean you should stop visiting your parents. It may suffice to avoid certain topics of conversation (e.g. discipline) that cause strife. There is no harm in disagreeing. However, if your parents insist upon treating you or your child with disrespect, you may want to re-evaluate the amount of time you spend with them. As important as it is for children to have a relationship with their grandparents, it is even more important to surround them with positive, uplifting people.

Many of us place the parent-child relationship at the center of our philosophy. Everything we do revolves around building a strong bond with our children. Sometimes we forget that we are involved in another very important relationship with our own parents. It can be complicated, but when properly nurtured, this relationship benefits our parents, ourselves, our children and generations to come.

-Connected Mom, Mandi


Sheila said... [Reply to comment]

In areas where I disagree with my mom (which luckily isn't many), I always make sure to say something like, "I think you did a fine job on me, but I've been watching Marko and I think he needs ..." In other words, this has nothing to do with how you parented me; I am just trying to be responsive to the child I have. Now, sometimes I think my mom should have done different things with me, but I don't tell her that ... no need to make her feel bad when, as I say, I think I turned out fine!

And then there's always the "pass the bean dip" response, i.e. change the subject. My grandma said, shortly before I was married, "I hope you're not just going to push out baby after baby like your mom did." I was shocked, but just said, "That's just what I plan to do; I think my mom did a great job. Is that gravy boiling yet?" There wasn't any need to get into it. Sure, she'd been really rude, but I don't need her approval for what I do (and I'm not going to get it anyway). So I always change the subject when she brings up stuff like that.

Laura said... [Reply to comment]

My mother is dead and my MIL doesn't often say too much about my parenting... it's my mother's sister who is 16 years older than my mother that causes me all the grief. She never had children and knows absolutely nothing about kids: health, behavior, expectations. It's so frustrating for me because she's the only family I have left and I don't want to start a fight, but I get so frustrated when everything I do is "wrong". Wrong based on old wives tales. Thanks for this article... it's a good reminder for any relational difference!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

@Sheila: I love the response you give your mom! Genius!

@Mandi: Thanks so much for addressing this . . .I think we all know this happens and don't always know what to do about it. Your ideas are very helpful!

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