We're all familiar with the scene, especially after the Passover and Easter holidays. The extended family sits down to dinner and a grandchild starts whining that he's not hungry or eats the mashed potatoes with her hands or takes a dive under the table. As grandparents, we're tempted to take charge and correct the behavior, but the wisest among us won't say a word.
Still, we don't have to feel relegated to watching the gathering descend into chaos, says Melinda Blau, author of Family Whispering, a new book that offers "commonsense strategies for communicating with the people you love and making your whole family stronger."
Keeping the peace during family gatherings begins by recognizing the three generations interacting on three levels: grandparents with their adult children, the parents with the younger children, and the grandkids with grandparents. The potentially combustible combinations can be controlled, Blau tells me, if we realize that adult children who come home often feel like children again themselves. "They know how their mother thinks, know what they got yelled at for as a kid, and they don't want their own children yelled at for the same things," says Blau. "They take our criticism of the grandkids as criticism of their own parenting skills."
So what can we do other than zip our lips? Blau offers a few pointers:
- Ask the grandchildren to help you. "Kids are bad when they have nothing to do," Blau says. They can help set or clear the table. And ask them to work with you in the kitchen. This is a great opportunity to share family recipes and stories, and have some one-on-one time while parents relax in another room.
- Don't monitor what the kids eat. Let them make their own plates. Don't make this a time to insist they try new foods. "Many little kids are picky eaters, and it's bad enough that parents nag them in their own homes," Blau says. "No one likes to be told to eat their peas in front of an audience!"
- If it's a religious holiday, incorporate the grandchildren whether it's making decorations or reading a blessing or singing a song. "When kids feel they have purpose other than being just the kids, they are better behaved."
With a little luck, there will also be less food under the table to clean up after they leave!
Mary W. Quigley's blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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