Parenting styles are always growing and changing, reflecting the culture, technology, and society of the parents du jour. “My children are parenting their kids exactly as I did: They are doing a perfect job,” said no grandparent ever.
But jokes aside, generational differences in parenting style can sometimes feel tricky. And what’s trickier is that the moments where these differences feel most pronounced is often at family gatherings during the holiday season. Holidays are so often rooted in tradition and tradition doesn’t like parenting differences.
What are parents to do when they feel judged or criticized by the very people that raised them, by the people who they love? Is there a way to effectively prepare for and respond to these moments so the holiday festivities can be spared of arguments and flow smoothly?
Here are some tips for parents to prepare for family gatherings if they know there is an aunt, grandparent, mother-in-law, or other relative who has a difference of opinion on their parenting style:
How to prepare for potential generational parenting differences at gatherings:
- Talk openly with your immediate family well before the larger family gathering. If you have a partner, discuss with them how you are feeling, what the sticky moments were in the past, how you’d like to respond this time, and how they can support you (assuming they agree). Talk to your children about your expectations in advance and have a plan for how to respond to things that you imagine may come up.
This might sound like: “This past summer Grandma insisted that you give her a hug when we first arrived at her house and then we encouraged you to as well. We want you to know that we won’t do that again. It is your body and you can decide if you want to hug her or not. We will support whatever you want to do so long as it's polite and kind to Grandma.”
- Review basic social behaviors with your children. Take some time before the gatherings to go over table manners, polite greetings, the house rules of the relative you are visiting, etc with your child. Getting these under their belt can help reduce the chances for a relative to make a comment.
This might sound like: “At home we let you guys grab snacks and eat them in the playroom or wherever. At Aunt Amanda’s house they don’t love that, they like to take care with their rugs and their things, and since it is her home, we have to eat in the kitchen or at the table when we are there. If you forget, I will remind you.”
- Steer clear of controversy or at least agree to disagree if and when things come up. Be prepared to neutrally move the dialogue along to something else so you can avoid a difficult conversation.
This might sound like: “Uncle Vern, I hear you, I know when you were a kid it was unacceptable to “talk back.” And I get that. But we are doing something different. We are focusing on connection and building trust. It’s kind of a bumpier (and louder) road, but we believe in what we are doing. We don’t have to agree on this. We are OK with having a different viewpoint from you. And we still understand you, we hear you, and love you. Anyway, let's move on, what movies are we considering for tonight? Have you seen anything lately? What’s good?”
When thinking about and preparing for an intergenerational holiday gathering, it’s important to know that the best outcome will emerge if you show up calm and peaceful. What’s more, arrive ready to try to understand, ready to be gentle, and ready to be supportive: All of this as opposed to showing up defensive. You choose how you show up. You can only control what you bring to the table. Breathe and find your calm.
If you know that the parenting that you are doing is what is absolutely right for your child, and that you don’t need anyone’s blessing, you are now free! Free from seeking approval, free from feeling that you need to convince someone of your parenting choices. But, the understanding piece comes back as relevant when you want to grow your relationship with your parent or relative and you want your child to be seen and understood by that relative. So, DO listen to them, don’t just pretend to listen, and then move things on from there as best you can. Take the gloves off, have some pie, and enjoy your holiday!