Family Matters: Sweets for my sweets

In honor of Family Day, conflict resolution expert Shimrit Nothman looks at the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

sweets at grocery checkout counter 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
sweets at grocery checkout counter 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Leah asks: "I have two amazing grandchildren. Whenever they arrive for a visit, which is not very often, I like to pamper them with sweets and chocolates. I offer them some "real food" for lunch and dinner of course, but I also want to spoil them a little bit. Their parents don't allow sweets at home and give educational conversation to the kids about why sweets are bad for them. When my son-in-law found out that I was giving them sweets he got very upset. He began an awful argument with me, telling me he doesn't allow me to give them any more sweets. How can I convince him that a little treat here and there never killed anybody?
Leah presents a very tricky question. On the one hand, the parent is the children's' primary educator and, as such, has the final say about the well-being of his children.
On the other hand, there is a grandmother, who wants her grandchildren to be happy and to enjoy visiting their grandma.
So can the parents and grandparents agree to disagree?
No: Each of us carries a set of beliefs. Some may appear unusual to others (a round pregnant belly indicates that the child is male) while others are more accepted (chicken soup as treatment for the common cold). These beliefs may go to the core of our being, making it very difficult for us to challenge them or accept that they may be flawed.
If Leah assesses that this issue is one of her son-in-law’s core beliefs, she’s probably best advised to stop right there and then. The chance of him changing his mind is quite small.Don't worry, she’ll encounter many other conflicts with him, and may get the chance to convince him the next time around. Or at least convince him to “agree to disagree” with her.
Yes: A very short conversation with her son-in-law can reveal his true concern. He might be concerned with his children’s health and thus doesn't want them to eat junk foods. Or perhaps he thinks his message about the importance of eating healthy will be weakened, when the kids see that mom and dad say one thing, but grandmother does a different thing all together.
If it is the first concern above, Leah may be able to come to an understanding about the quantities of sweets she can give the kids. Perhaps the parents won’t mind a small chocolate bar here and there or some healthier snacks perhaps.
If it is the second concern, Leah should consider having an open-hearted discussion with her son-in-law. She can frankly state that children are able to differentiate between what's the rule and what is the exception. Grandparents are often the exception, and as such can do things with the grandkids that may not be allowed at their homes, such as going to sleep late or receiving lots of presents.
Maybe: Leah can also consider joining a group that deals with grandparents' issues. This can be a place for her to share her stories and get some support, to hear what other people did in similar situations - and undoubtedly hear stories that will help her realize that her sweets-hating-son-in-law isn’t so bad after all.
Lastly, we can all try putting ourselves in our children's' shoes. Think how difficult it might be for them to juggle between work and raising a young family. How hard it must be for them to handle educating their children and enforcing boundaries. Think how you can help ease the pressure or help them.
Try new ways to get the grandchildren happy and excited to come visit you that don't involve sweets. You can play with them, teach them a new game or a new language, take them to visit places they've never been to before or that they enjoy going to, or even tell them some funny family stories. You might not be offering them a bowl of ice cream, but I can almost guarantee they'll come asking for more.
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 [email protected].
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.