U-M Poll: Half of Parents Butt Heads With Grandparents, 1 In 7 Limit Exposure

Cookies for breakfast? Not so fast.

WWJ News
August 17, 2020 - 9:12 am
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(WWJ) Are your family events stressful? A new national poll from the University of Michigan's Mott Children's Hospital shows you're not alone.

Nearly half of parents and grandparents disagree on parenting rules. 

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The survey of more than 2,000 parents with kids 18 and under shows some disputes lead to parents limiting the amount of time their kids see with certain grandparents. 

The most common disputes between involve discipline, meals and TV or screen time.  Manners, safety -- yes, car seats are necessary -- and bedtimes are also issues between parents and grandparents.  The polls co-director, Sarah Clark, grandparents play a special role in children's lives and can be an important resource for parents through support, advice and babysitting, so if grandparents contradict or interfere with parenting choices, it can have a serious strain on the relationship. 

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Clark says the research shows some disagreements stem from intergenerational differences and the bigger the conflict, the less likely grandparents were to budge.

One in seven parents go so far as to limit the amount of time their child sees certain grandparents, finds the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine.

“If grandparents contradict or interfere with parenting choices, it can have a serious strain on the relationship," Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark says.

Disputes most commonly involve discipline (57 %), meals (44 %), and TV/screen time (36 %.) Other thorny subjects: manners, safety and health, bedtime, treating some grandchildren differently than others and sharing photos or information on social media.

“Grandparents play a special role in children’s lives and can be an important resource for parents through support, advice and babysitting. But they may have different ideas about the best way to raise the child and that can cause tension,” says Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark.

“If grandparents contradict or interfere with parenting choices, it can have a serious strain on the relationship.”

Discipline was the biggest source of contention. Among parents who report major or minor disagreements, 40% say grandparents are too soft on the child, and 14% say grandparents are too tough.

Nearly half of parents say disagreements arise from grandparents being both too lenient and overly harsh.

“Parents may feel that their parental authority is undermined when grandparents are too lenient in allowing children to do things that are against family rules, or when grandparents are too strict in forbidding children to do things that parents have okayed,” Clark says.

In many cases, parents have tried to get grandparents to be more respectful of their parenting choices and household rules. These requests have mixed results: while about half of grandparents made a noticeable change in their behavior to be more consistent with how parents do things, 17% outright objected.

 â€œWhether grandparents cooperated with a request or not was strongly linked to parents’ description of disagreements as major or minor,” Clark says. “The bigger the conflict, the less likely grandparents were to budge.”

Parents who said that grandparents refused such a request were also more likely to put limits on the amount of time their child spent with them.

 â€œParents who reported major disagreements with grandparents were also likely to feel that the conflicts had a negative impact on the relationship between the child and the grandparent,” Clark says.

There are lessons to be learned here, and it's not just about banning cookies for breakfast or staying up until midnight at grandma's house.

“These findings indicate that grandparents should strive to understand and comply with parent requests to be more consistent with parenting choices - not only to support parents in the difficult job of raising children, but to avoid escalating the conflict to the point that they risk losing special time with grandchildren.”