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Some days, it feels like they are angels sent from heaven. At other times, we feel like they have been put on this planet just to annoy us. But there is no doubt about it: grandparents are a major part of 21st-century family life.

Grandparents have always played a crucial role in bringing up children, but these days, more of us rely on our parents to help with our kids. In fact, a recent survey showed that 45% of grandparents look after their grandchildren at least once a week. But the truth also is that the more involved your parents are in your family life, the bigger the potential for complications.

So whats the secret of involving the grandparents and keeping your sanity intact?

From parent to grandparent

Being a parent can put stress on your relationship with your partner. Moreover, youve probably spent the majority of your adult life proving to your parents that you can manage without their money/time/wisdom/support. So it can be a shock – to you and to them – to find that you suddenly need them again. After all, their nappy changing skills may be rusty, but theyve had a whole lot more practice than you.

When your baby is born, your relationship with your parents is likely to change, and getting used to the new dynamics at home can take time.

You may be craving your mums help, while she wants to encourage you to stand on your own feet. Or she might be desperate to lend a hand, but youd rather do things your own way.

Communication goes a long way to keeping the path smooth and preventing bust-ups. Most families who have negotiated this new terrain successfully say its worth the effort, even if its tough at times.

Just pick your moments for those back off a bit or we need more help conversations. Trying to have a calm discussion when youve had three hours sleep in the last three days is never going to work out.

Unspoken agreements

Grandparents can be lifesavers when it comes to childcare. And they give up their time unpaid. But it can be dangerous to make assumptions about your parents willingness to help out. Can you safely assume that theyll want to look after your kids when you go back to work? Is it OK to expect them to be your first-line babysitters, or to help you out when the daycare is closed and its still a week until payday?

And what about when there are two sets of parents to juggle: yours and his? Do you need to make sure your children spend equal amounts of time with each so no one feels left out or overstretched?

Theres no one-size-fits-all answer. But what matters is that you have an open discussion about what youre expecting from your parents and what they feel able to provide.

Things to talk about include:

  • How often will they look after your child?
  • Will they look after him at your house or theirs?
  • Will you expect them to follow your rules and discipline or set their own standards?
  • What will you do if they want to go on holiday or are unwell?
  • If theyre helping financially, can you use that money for general living expenses or do they want you to put it in a savings account or use it for a particular purpose, like school fees?
  • Setting good examples, providing support

    According to a 2013 study, 98% of kids learn social skills from their grandparents, including respect, manners and the difference between right and wrong. So if youre trying and failing to get through those magic words into your child, Grandma might have the magic touch.

    Theyre also a great source of support when times are tough. No matter how hard we try to protect our kids from situations such as relationship or money worries, theyre often well aware when were going through a difficult period. Having back-up from your parents or in-laws isnt just reassuring for you, but for your child, too, giving them a safety net that makes the world seem less scary.

    The generation gap

    Yes, grandparents can be fabulous, but theres no denying that it can be a complicated relationship. They may seem modern and enlightened, but when theyre looking after your kids, differences in attitudes can become all too obvious.

    One survey found that 35% of parents relying on their own parents for childcare struggled with the fact that they had different rules and standards for their kids. One in five thought their parents disapproved of the way they were bringing up their children.

    So does that mean that using your parents as childminders is doomed to failure?Well, not necessarily.

  • Its important for everyone to acknowledge that your parents or in-laws new role can bring with it difficulties as well as delights, and be prepared to tackle problems as they crop up.
  • Calling a family meeting can be a great way to get issues out in the open and look at solutions together, even if its not your usual style.
  • Accept that you and the grandparents need the right to rethink if the arrangement isnt working, and that compromise is almost certain to be needed on both sides.
  • Ultimately, though, remember that these are your children, not your parents or in-laws, and you have the final say over everything that involves them.
  • That doesnt mean losing your sanity, but listening to opinions and advice and being willing to compromise, while also standing firm on what really matters.
  • And you never know: sometimes you might find that Granny really DOES know best.

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