Growing up as Parents

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

MAY 07, 2018

baby with parent

It’s an interesting dynamic that often occurs when we become parents … a shifting in our relationships/in the way we interact with our own parents. We are no longer solely sons or daughters, but now parents in our own right, the parents of their grandchild. We may have new ideas or ways of doing things that are very different from the way they raised you. Often grandparents have the best of intentions when giving advice about a new baby, but it often comes up as a source of strain when new parents don’t necessarily want to follow that advice.

I’ve been leading new moms group for about 15 years now, and every so often, some brave mom will state that she’s struggling with how to manage an upcoming family event, wondering how to deal with not wanting to pass the baby around, asking people to wash their hands before holding baby, managing unsolicited advice or any number of variations that all come down to the same theme ... asserting yourself as parent.

If you enjoy relationships where differences are respected and heard, consider yourself lucky, and you can stop reading now. If, however, you have struggled with asserting yourself or communicating with your parents, (or your in-laws) it’s about to get a lot harder. We may have established ways, such as moving to a different state (creating distance) “Yessing,” and then doing what we want, or any number of variations that avoid a direct confrontation or discussion, that may have worked well, up until now, but I would suggest that a passive approach may not be the best way to go moving forward.

If you are parenting with a partner (husband, wife, significant other), it’s really important that you and your co-parent are united. Even if you disagree, whatever the final decision, support each other. For example, even if you think your partner is overreacting by asking that people wash their hands before holding the baby, you support this decision, and you don’t make negative comments, joking or otherwise, roll your eyes or give any indication that you feel his/her request for hand washing is unreasonable. In most cases, it’s better if each person takes the lead in dealing with his/her parents.

Some have found it helpful phrase things in terms of, ”well, this is what our pediatrician has recommended, and we feel more comfortable with that.” Or another great phrase: “that’s really interesting, we’ll have to think about that …”

It can be helpful to keep in mind that hopefully the advice comes from a well-meaning/well-intentioned place, and that there can be some very useful ideas that come from wisdom and experience. Becoming parents can bring us to new respect, understanding, and forgiveness in our relationships with our own parents. It also provides an opportunity to relate to them as adults in ways that may be very different than before. It may not happen overnight, and in truth, it may not change how they behave, but standing up for your ideas on how you want to parent is worth it, for yourself, and most importantly for your relationship with your partner as you come to find your own ways in how you will parent together. 

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