Fostering Healthy Grandparent Relationships

Even the best relationships between adult children and their parents can get complicated once grandkids come along. On one hand, you may feel like you can relate to your parents like never before. But you may also find yourself fielding unsolicited advice or disagreeing on things like sleep training tactics or feeding methods. What does it look like to set boundaries with your parents when it comes to your baby? And how can we foster a great relationship between our parents and our kids?

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Episode Transcript

Natalie Gross 0:10
Whether you have a great relationship with your parents or a bad one things are bound to feel different after you become a parent. On one hand, you may feel like you can relate to your mom like never before. But you might also find yourself fielding unsolicited advice or disagreeing on things like sleep training or feeding methods. What does it look like to set boundaries with your parents when it comes to your baby? And how can we foster a great relationship between our parents and our kids? Today I'm talking with mamas who have been there before you and an expert in child development or her take. This is Newbies.

Natalie Gross 0:45
Welcome to Newbies, everyone. Newbies is your online on the go support group guiding new moms through their baby's first year. I'm Natalie Gross. I have a four year old boy and a baby girl. And we have got a great show today talking about relationships with your parents after you become a parent. Now if you haven't already, please be sure to visit our website at and subscribe to our weekly newsletter that keeps you updated on all of the episodes we release each week. And another great way to stay updated is to hit that subscribe button, and whatever podcast app you're listening on right now. And if you're looking for a way to get even more involved with our show, maybe you want to come on as a guest, then you can check out our membership club called Mighty moms. That's where we chat more about the topics discussed here on our show. And it's also an easy way to learn about our recordings in advance so that maybe you can join us live. I have a great panel of moms here to kick off this conversation by sharing their experiences with this topic. So mamas please introduce yourselves. Tell us a little bit about you and your families to start with.

Amber Gonzalez 2:15
Hi, I am Amber and I am an author, a stay at home mom of four with another on the way. I got ages 16, seven, five and three under my belt right now.

Anika McIntyre 2:26
Hi, my name is Anika, I am the mom of two little boys ages two and five. And I am currently a stay at home mom as well and plan on doing that for at least the next few years, hopefully until we figure out what we're going to do and maybe get back to being a paramedic again.

Natalie Gross 2:44
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here. Well, let's get into today's topic of discussion. So how would each of you describe your relationship with your parents before and after you became a parent yourself? Has it been smooth a little bit rocky? Describe that for us.

Amber Gonzalez 3:00
For me, it was rocky with the transition on my first kid. And then after the first kid there was just kind of a pattern that we had kind of laid out in place. So it wasn't rocky anymore. But that first one was a challenge because our relationship wasn't close. And then I found myself needing someone to rely on quite heavily.

Natalie Gross 3:22
Yeah, that makes sense. How has it kind of gotten you said it's kind of gotten better with the other kids. So like, the boundaries, you said have just kind of stayed in place or what?

Amber Gonzalez 3:32
Yeah, the boundaries kind of got put in place. And I think I was also dealing with a little bit of postpartum depression with my first kid. So the first time my daughter said Mama while my mom was holding her I had a meltdown. I was like, Oh, my God, like new mom. No sleep. And my daughter's calling my mom Mom. And I was like not okay. It was a mess.

Natalie Gross 3:59
Yeah, I bet. Annika What about you?

Anika McIntyre 4:02
I would tend to agree. I mean, so my mom and I have a pretty good relationship. My dad and I have a different relationship. It's probably a little more rocky. And with my mom, my son is her first grandson, her first grandkid at all. And so there's definitely a lot of involvement and of course, wanting to be in part of everything we live, you know, really far away. So that probably helped honestly, in the beginning a little bit, but at the same time. Now, it's unfortunate because my kids know what they're missing out on. But it's been great. I have gotten to know more about where she's coming from and it made my childhood make a lot more sense and how she, you know, parented growing up and my dad, we've gotten closer over the last five years as well because he's an amazing grandpa. So everything is all about them. And that's been great to see. So for us there was definitely a a change for the better.

Natalie Gross 4:53
Well, that's awesome. It does help you see your parents in a different light right and kind of knowing that like oh, they may made mistakes with me and I'm probably going to make mistakes with my kids. And that's just how we learn and grow as parents. Well, thanks so much for sharing mamas, we are going to take a quick break and then bring on our expert for today, Rebecca Parlakian. She is the Senior Director of Programs at Zero to Three, which is an organization with a mission to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. So stay tuned.

Natalie Gross 5:30
Today on Newbies, we're continuing our discussion on grandparent relationships with Rebecca Parlakian. She's the senior director of programs for Zero to Three, like I mentioned. So Rebecca, what can you tell us about the value of babies and kids relationship with our grandparents?

Rebecca Parlakian 5:45
So, you know, that's such a good question. And I think intuitively, if we ourselves had a close relationship with grandparents, we sort of know through our own memories and experiences, how important those connections are, and have been to us. So it's no surprise that the research actually bears this out, you know, University of Oxford study from a few years ago, found that, you know, grandparents play a really important shaping role in the development of grandchildren, when they're, you know, involved and close by when grandparents are present and involved in grandchildren's lives, those grandchildren had fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and even more successful relationships with peers. And later on another study found that children who grew up feeling close to grandparents, were less likely to be depressed as adults, maybe because they had sort of a wider emotional network or foundation to build on. And you know, this closeness, it's sustained over time, there was a study that looked at adult grandchildren, grandparent relationships. And both parties reported feeling that that relationship was deeply meaningful. And they described their relationship with their grandparents, using words like unconditional love, mutual support, and respect. And so you know, what starts strong can really be sustained over time for both grandparent and grandchild.

Natalie Gross 7:18
That's so great to hear. And I know like I lived far away from both sets of grandparents, but I had really close relationships with at least two of them. And so that was really special to me, and fond fond memories that I look back on as an adult. We've already heard from our moms about the ways the relationship with their parents has changed since becoming parents, I'm curious if you want to share your own personal experience here or anything else you want to note along these lines, any common struggles you have felt personally or seen in your work?

Rebecca Parlakian 7:47
Yeah, so you know, I think one of the things that really struck me and listening to the moms was something that, you know, I've experienced as well, which is that there's this generational piece, right, that once we become parents, we start to know our parents in a different way. And, you know, we really can reflect on our own experience of being parented and decide what we want to keep, and what we want to let go. And I think that that's such an important part of our own growth as parents. And you know, I think in my own family, I was like you, you know, my kids, their grandparents, my parents lived about eight hours away, we probably saw them two or three times a year, my husband's parents were close by, and we saw them regularly. But by far, you know, my kids were closer to my own parents, and have such warm memories of them. And so I think there's a lot of relational pieces that go into that, and we can talk more about so I think the relationships we have with our parents, after our kids are born, often has a lot to do with the relationships we have with our parents, you know, before they were born, right. So if we enjoyed positive, warm, loving relationships with our parents, you know, we often get so much pleasure out of seeing our own parents connect and bond with our kids. I had that experience myself, you know, when my parents, they would come visit maybe two or three times a year because they lived far away. And when they came, my husband and I like would sneak away for you know, a one night getaway. And I remember once when my daughter was three, she turned to me and was like, Mommy, I just want you to know that when you and daddy leave and Grammy's here, we don't miss you. But, you know, it is also really normal for us to want to establish our authority and our role as parents. And you know this to NAD of becoming a parent, we have to renegotiate boundaries with our own parents. That's a normal part of taking on a new role. And, you know, that's sort of a process of what is important to us and what's non negotiable, and what we're willing to let go. And that's kind of an ongoing discovery and discussion with our parents.

Natalie Gross 10:21
Absolutely. Because even when a relationship is good, there's still often a need to create boundaries with grandparents, you know, whether it's your parents or in laws. And like you said, kind of asserting that authority is you are the parents, they are your parents. They had their chance now, it's your chance, right? So any tips for creating boundaries when it comes to your kids, and not only creating them, but sticking to them? Because I know that is hard?

Rebecca Parlakian 10:44
Yeah, you know, I think first I just important for all of us to kind of step into this idea of, you know, one of the best things of being an adult is we don't need to make everybody happy. So you know, I always try to center myself that, you know, my job as a parent is to keep my kids safe, secure and loved in the best ways that I know how, and there are lots of ways to be a good parent, and only you get to decide what works for your child and your family. And we don't have to debate, justify or explain those choices. Right? So that's first. But you know, we also can kind of have those all purpose responses, like, you know, a parent makes this suggestion. And we can say, you know, that's a really interesting idea. And I'll think about it, but right now we're going to do X. And I hope we can count on your support. And just to kind of come up with those catchphrases. It's really helpful in the moment. And, you know, next I think, like I mentioned before, to really tap into what our non negotiables are, at this particular point in our child's life, grandparents, sometimes are very connected to the child rearing approaches they used with us, because like, We're amazing.But, you know, sometimes these ideas, like an extreme idea would be like using spanking as discipline, right? They, it was a common approach that was used 20 years ago. But we now know, through research that it can be harmful to children. So if, you know, we don't want our children to be spanked, and that's a concern, we can really learn to be really comfortable about being very clear about that non negotiable. So, you know, we can say something like, You and dad gave us a great childhood, but we need to find our own way as parents. And sometimes that means we might make different choices. So for example, we are never going to spank Rebecca. And we expect that all the people who care for her are going to respect that approach, and not use spanking for discipline. Can I trust you on that? So again, stepping into that authority. And then, you know, last, I'm always about like offering grace, because I think sometimes what feels like pushback on our parenting can sometimes come from a place of caring. So like, if I've just said to my mom, like, I'm freaking out because Ella is not napping right now. And she jumps right into well, with you and your brother I bla bla bla, we can learn to say something like, you know, Mom, thank you so much for that. And I'm sure it's helpful. But right now, I just need someone to listen and tell me I'm gonna get through this. So, you know, those are just some thoughts about approaching these sometimes really emotionally intense, or emotionally laden interactions.

Natalie Gross 13:54
And as you were talking, you know, I was kind of thinking through when you said non negotiables, there's definitely non negotiables, you know, whatever those are for you and, and your kids and your family. But then there's also some things that, like, maybe you can let slide when you're at the exact house, you know, and so sort of trying to navigate that might be tricky, but maybe there's a little bit of give and take there.

Rebecca Parlakian 14:14
Exactly, yeah. Like when my kids were at my parents house, or even when my parents were visiting, it was like, I did not care that nutrition that was just like, I put it off the table. Because we only saw them two or three times a year. If my parents were, you know, taking care of my kids three days a week, I probably would have different boundaries. Yeah.

Natalie Gross 14:36
Well, you know, we've kind of already started talking about this and in all of our conversations so far, but what can we as parents do to help foster those relationships in a healthy way that the relationship with our kids and our parents and our in laws to you know, the grandparents?

Rebecca Parlakian 14:52
Yeah, you know, I think it's really tapping into the ways that grandparents, you know, prefer and enjoy connecting and being with our kids because, you know, little kids build relationships just like we do through shared, you know, pleasurable memories and moments. And so, you know, for distinct grandparents, there's been great research on the use of video chat to start building those connections, even with babies. But you know, really like when my, when my parents were visiting, my mom was like the full time caregiver play time diaper changes, my kids even wanted to sleep with her. So they would do what we called campouts, where, you know, they would sleep on mattresses surrounding the guest bed, so they could just be near her. And they still remember camp outs, and my kids are, you know, 21 and 18. My mother in law was local, and she preferred much more structured experiences. So she enrolled both kids in a toddler music class, and that was her special time with them. She also was the go to for taking them to any new animated movie. So you know, really looking for those experiences to share. And then also remembering that a lot of what our kids remember, are things that are don't seem like, particularly earth shattering to us, you know, like letting kids be with their grandparents just in daily routines. Like my kids. Remember helping their grandmother with gardening, and they have great memories of, you know, helping my dad stack wood for the woodstove. So really letting our parents share their lives with the grandchildren in ways that are meaningful for both of them.

Natalie Gross 16:44
Yeah, that's such great advice. Well, we are going to take another quick break, and then bring back Amber and Annika into the conversation and just continue talking about this important topic. So stay tuned.

Natalie Gross 17:02
All right. Welcome back. Mama's. Is there anything Rebecca said that struck a chord with you as we were talking?

Amber Gonzalez 17:09
She talked a lot about basically communication, you know, talking about the non negotiables. And what I really appreciated that because I didn't know how to handle the non negotiables with my mom on my first kid, and I didn't know how to kind of step up and be like, hey, no, that's not how we're doing things. And even now, I find myself doing what I used to do, which is if I noticed, maybe my kids are starting to get a little unruly, which I got a lot of littles so they get unruly quickly. If I notice she's getting like out of, she's getting out of her comfort zone. And she's going to back to reverting to what I dealt with as a child, sometimes I just take over completely. And I'm like, Alright, boys, this is not how we're doing things in the grocery store, like you're going in the car, like she was about to speak in the grocery store, which I don't spank in the grocery store. So it's like, sometimes I just step in, instead of using my voice, it just being vigilant as a mom. But I also, what I like to do sometimes is if I know it's maybe a parenting style that she never would have tried. Sometimes I'll tell her about a story about how well that worked with my kids. Like, oh, my toddler was throwing a tantrum. And I just hugged him on the couch for a minute and he was fine. The tantrum over. Like, she never would have done that with me, she would have spanked me and told me to stop crying, which that was how it was done, then, you know, almost 30 years ago. So yeah, the communication sometimes relaying that kind of stuff in like storytelling, where she likes to hear about how her grandkids are doing kind of helps me, like, set my parenting boundary without being like, this is what I want you to do.

Natalie Gross 18:57
Uh huh. Yeah, that's great. Anika, any thoughts?

Anika McIntyre 19:01
Yeah, I mean, relationships in general, are all a matter of give and take. And in our case, it's a matter of trying to balance not wanting to offend anyone. And also knowing that you're in the end, you're the one who's responsible for your kids and their behavior and their actions and how you parent them. I think, and it's my relationship with each both my parents and my in laws are different across each and every one of them. For example, my father in law, like we have a deal now, you can't just sneak unlimited candy to the kids, like, pick your five things, you can sneak it to them throughout the day, not before naptime. You know, it's a very fine balance. And I think is like she said, you know, as long as everyone's communicating and open, then you're fine. And it's the same with you know, my mom, who I'd say we probably see more often than a lot of other than a lot of the other grandparents I should say. And it's like, hey, like, this is what we do, and she kind of has, it's clicked very well with her specifically. She's like, Oh, yeah, well, I saw mommy do this earlier. So we're gonna do it that way too. And it's been great, you know, but it's a learning curve. And every kid I feel gets a little bit easier. Yes, do you have you figured it out. But I am incredibly grateful for the fact that my kids have grandparents who truly do love them, and would do anything for them. And I think they know that too. And they would sit there and hang out with any one of their grandparents for as long as they'll be allowed to.

Natalie Gross 20:27
Yeah, same. Yeah. so blessed to especially when you hear stories where that's not the case. Right?

Anika McIntyre 20:33
Yeah. I know, my relationship with my grandparents is great. And I'm very close with them. So I would love for them to have that same relationship with theirs. If there's anything I can do to foster that, then I would absolutely go above and beyond for that.

Natalie Gross 20:47
Yeah. Does anyone have examples of navigating some of these tricky conversations we've talked about or setting boundaries, like maybe any tips for those conversations from you, Amber, Anika, that I talked about with Rebecca, with your parents or your in laws?

Amber Gonzalez 21:02
Wow. Like, for example, discipline in my household is very different from how it was growing up, you know, my mom is She is from the older generation, very much a boomer, and I was just a late bloomer, she had me when she was 42. So now that I'm parenting, my kids, things are much different. You know, there's more of a gentle parenting aspect, less spanking more explaining why not to do something. And yeah, kind of like Annika said, there's a lot of her seeing how I do things, and her kind of copying what I do with my kids. And but if you're I have had to set my mom down a few times to be like, Hey, that's not how we do things here. And the best way to go about that I found is combat calm. Because if you'd come at it as a hot mom and mama bear out, it's going to be chaotic and more of a fight than it is going to be constructive talk. Mm hmm. Yep. That's a good tip, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I've gotten a variety of unsolicited parenting advice, but I know it comes from a place of love. And I try to keep that in mind. Anytime someone makes a comment about what decision I've made, or something I've done or how I've disciplined or whatever the case might be. And like Rebecca mentioned, you know, you kind of say, thank you so much for, you know, making a recommendation, I'll take that under consideration. And then, kind of if you know, because sometimes your feelings can get hurt when you've been called out, or when you know, somebody points out something they feel you're doing wrong, regardless of whether it's wrong or not for you, taking that time just kind of step back, kind of think about what they've said, look back at this situation, and then re approach whenever you're ready and unable to talk about it. And figure out kind of what you want to say in response to that as well. Time is always your friend when it comes to situations like that, I think.

Natalie Gross 22:56
Well, Anika I know you said you live far from your kids' grandparents, any strategies that have worked for you in fostering those relationships from a distance?

Anika McIntyre 23:05
Yes, so we live in average, for the last five years, we've lived about 1617 hours away from my parents. And usually between four and 17 hours away from my in laws, we do calls all the time. Anytime we're in the car, we're usually on the phone with somebody talking to grandparents and catching up with something right now my kids have they call my mom up every day or so. And they tell her how many days it will be until they see her next and they love FaceTiming and Facebook now has all the cool filters and you can play games on there and they're old enough now to figure that out and sit there and want to play games all day. With my dad we do the same thing we try to you know FaceTime and video chat as often as possible. And with my in laws when we move next month we will be back in closer vicinity. And I'm sure that they will be coming down to visit more often. And we try to make sure that we see everybody on a semi regular basis. And they've been great about making sure to put in both time effort and money to make that trip to come and see us which I'm also incredibly grateful for because that's not always possible for us.

Natalie Gross 24:14
Yeah, Amber What about you do you live I forget if you mentioned already if you live close to your kids grandparents or not.

Amber Gonzalez 24:20
Yes, my in laws actually live in another country. So we are and we're internet works differently. So they don't have like, easy access to the Facebook and stuff like that. But we do do like the FaceTime type things and making sure that the kids are seeing on video by my in laws. The other thing is my mom lives relatively close. She lives 10 minutes away with traffic. So she actually spends quite a bit of time here. Now that's where I actually sometimes have to kind of put in a boundary of needing some extra space cuz sometimes she has no problem coming over every day of the week. And that can be a little bit overwhelming for me at times. And so I basically what I did was, I call her every day just because she's older, and I like to check on her, make sure she's doing good. But you know, if I'm feeling up for it, or for might need her help, I'll be like, Hey, you want to come over today? You know, what are you doing? And then there's other days where it's just like, we chat for a little bit, and I just don't, you know, don't ask if she wants to come over. If she asks about coming over, I'll be like, Well, I'm not really doing anything today, just cleaning house. So I mean, if you want to come you can, but I don't need help. But you can also say today's not a good day. That is an acceptable answer, if you're feeling overwhelmed as a mom and everything else.

Natalie Gross 25:57
Yeah, Rebecca, any tips for like people who aren't really close with their parents or their in laws, or the kids grandparents for really trying to put aside their differences with their parents, for example, and still make sure that their kids have a relationship with their grandparents?

Rebecca Parlakian 26:15
Yeah, you know, I think a lot of that depends on why there's no relationship there. So you know, because we do want our grandchildren to be safe and secure. So that's a decision that every parent needs to make. But, you know, I think that if we decide, yes, we want our kids to have an opportunity to build a relationship with this grandparent, I often find that, you know, an activity where there, you know, there are roles that each person can fulfill can be really useful. So doing something like you know, going to a playground, where, you know, we can, you know, grandpa or grandma can push the baby in the bucket swing, where there's kind of these roles that are expectable. And then once we build up some trust between both the grandchild and the grandparent, but also us in the grandparent, we can, you know, begin to explore, you know, sort of less structured settings. That's one way to think about it. Yeah, that's great. And then, you know, especially if you're hanging out with the kids there, there's always kind of something to talk about. You can keep it just to the kids, and you don't have to really, yeah, exactly. Yeah. And also, you know, I've found things like sharing stories. So having the grandparents shared the grand child's favorite story. And we can even take a video of that and share it with the grandchild, you know, when the grandparent isn't there. So that's something to look at the strategy to use regardless, but especially if this is a grandparent that we may not expect to see all that often.

Natalie Gross 27:56
Yeah. Okay. Well, are there any last thoughts that any of you wants to leave with our listeners, before we wrap up?

Anika McIntyre 28:03
I'll give my piece like my last piece of information. First, I guess my number one takeaway, when I talk to people that are asking for advice as new parents is, just remember, it's your kid. It's no one else's kid. So your rules that you have set with you and your partner, or if you're a single parent, then the rules you set for yourself and your kids live by those and you know, take the advice and put it in your back pocket because I get solicited advice from people in grocery stores that don't even know. Much less, you know, my mom sometimes so just I always remember no matter what anybody says, it's your kid. Nobody else's.

Amber Gonzalez 28:45
Yeah, like Anika said, You're the ultimately the one responsible. Yeah. And I'll kind of piggyback off of what she said to my mom will give me advice on what to do with or what to try with my voice. And she after, like, the first year or two, finally came to me and said, You know, I've given you a lot of advice, and I've decided your kids are very different than you guys were for me. And so what works for you guys is clearly not what's what worked for me in the past. And I've kind of just had a laugh and say, Yeah, I I've noticed that too. But you know, you know your kids better than anybody else. And even when you get parents saying, Well, you know, I raised you guys, and yes, but I am not my kids either. And so nobody knows your kid better than you do. And trust your gut. And if it doesn't work, try something else. That's all you can do. And as long as you're trying something, then that's all that matters.

Rebecca Parlakian 29:39
And I think I would just, you know, add that, you know, becoming a parent and becoming a grandparent. It's these are profound new roles in the family. And it's going to take time, and it's going to happen over a lot of years. But this could be such an opportunity for us both individual growth, but also some really beautiful growth between us and our parents and coming to a new place as two adults. And so I hope that that has an opportunity to happen in every family.

Natalie Gross 30:14
Yeah, I love that acknowledging that it's not only a profound transition for you, but for your parents as well, especially with the first grandchild. That is such a great perspective. Well, thank you so much Rebecca, Amber and Anika for joining me today. Listeners, you can find out more about Rebecca's organization at Also check out where we have all of our podcast episodes plus videos and more.

Natalie Gross 30:49
That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Newbies. Don't forget to check out our sister shows Preggie Pals for expecting parents, Parent Savers for moms and dads with toddlers, The Boob Group for moms who give breast milk to their babies, and Twin Talks for parents of multiples. Thanks for listening to Newbies, your go to source for new moms and new babies.

Disclaimer 31:14
This has been a New Mommy Media production. Information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. Will such information and materials are believed to be accurate. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating healthcare problem or disease or prescribing any medication. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health, or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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