Family Matters: Respecting your elders

Expert Shimrit Nothman gives her unique advice on how to resolve family conflicts: How much influence should grandparents have?

Grandmother (photo credit: Thinkstock)
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
Rachel asks about a topic that has become more relevant in recent years: “My son Dan would likely tell you that he has one dad and two moms. Unlike his mom and dad, his second mom is almost always around; bringing him back from school, preparing meals and playing with him. I’m talking about my mom, who is such a great grandma. Last year she retired and offered to help take care of Dan after school, since both my husband and I work very long hours. At the beginning it all went very well, but lately I’ve been getting letters from Dan’s teacher that he’s not completing his homework. I’ve asked my mother about that, but it seems she doesn’t take homework very seriously. This escalated into a bigger conflict, when she accused me of not appreciating all she does for Dan and for us. I want to make her understand how important her assistance is, but that so is Dan’s homework.”
She asks: “What can I do to get my point across and get things back to the way they were?”
What Rachel is describing is an arrangement that is part of the lives of many families today; Grandparents who are heavily involved in the upbringing of their grandchildren and parents who rely on such arrangements.
Although both sides may seem generally happy with this, it might not all go so smoothly.
Let’s examine the roots to Rachel’s conflict with her mom:

‘We don’t need no education’
Many of us remember our grandparents’ home as the place to receive unconditional love and sweets. These grandparents aren’t dealing with disciplining their grandchildren as they feel that they have done that job already with their own children and now they just want to enjoy their time with their grandchildren.
In our case, where the grandmother is much more involved in the upbringing of her grandchild, she might be expected to take on the role of an educator as well. There might be a general understanding between both sides that the grandparent should be involved in matters of discipline, but there is a lack of understanding of what disciplining means; the parent might assert that homework comes before any enjoyable activity but the grandparent, on the other hand, may think that homework isn’t such a big deal.
There is no right or wrong answer in this case, because this is a unique situation in which neither of the parties can really enforce their opinion on the other. Rachel might want to be the one determining the rules but in essence it’s the grandparent who is physically there and has to deal with the child’s routine. Rachel’s mom  on the other hand, may believe that she knows best, but does she have the right to ignore Rachel’s wishes?
On top of all that, could this argument simply be a trigger for a more substantial underlying conflict?

Rachel’s mom has expressed her desire for more recognition or gratitude for her daily effort in bringing-up Dan. It may be that with time, this arrangement has started to be taken for granted. As much as Rachel may value the help she’s getting, her mom apparently doesn’t feel appreciated. On the flipside, Rachel might feel that her mother doesn’t respect her sovereignty as a parent and regards her decisions as a recommendation only.
When dealing with such a conflict, there are a few things we can do:
1. Address our expectations regarding core issues such as: discipline, schedules, diet and expenses. At the end of the day, if this arrangement is to work, there must be a general plan in place of how thing are to happen, otherwise we may face endless arguments and an end to the agreement. In Rachel’s case, this could be a golden opportunity to sit with her mother, bring up these core issues and try to develop an agreed plan that respects both Rachel’s mom’s efforts in raising Dan and Rachel’s right as a parent to decide about her son’s education.
2. It may not be easy to discuss our deepest desires with those close to us but, at times, not discussing it may result in a greater discomfort.  The main thing to remember is to express our needs and wishes without blaming the other side for not fulfilling them. Both Rachel and her mom should try to explain what future steps could be taken to fulfill their wishes. Rachel might ask her mom to respect her wishes regarding Dan’s homework routine, but emphasize how much she appreciates the effort her mom is making in caring for Dan’s well being.
This is a great example for a conflict that if resolved well, may bring two close family members even closer together, allowing them to share some of their deepest desires and to try to help each other achieve them.
Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at

This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.