As much as grandparents love their adult children, members of the two generations don't always get along. When grandchildren enter the picture, they simultaneously enrich the relationships and plant the seeds of possible discord. Grandparents who want warm, loving relationships with all of their family members should be aware of the major reasons for conflicts with adult children, as well as how to avoid or defuse those conflicts.
Marriage Means Changing Family Dynamics
In healthy families, when we marry and have children, our spouse and our children become the most important in our lives. They are in our "first circle," and will be there eternally. When children are young, their parents are in their first circle, but when the children grow and form their own families, the parents are usually relegated to second circle status. This shift in status can be hard for the older generation to process. Intellectually we may know that the shift in family dynamics is proper, but emotionally we may still feel abandoned.
What to Do: Don't complain about not seeing enough of your adult children and your grandchildren. To you, such complaints may feel like an expression of love, but adult children are likely to view them as attempts to make them feel guilty. Don't sit by the phone. Develop new interests that will make you more fun to be around.
Divorce Has Impact
Many problems with adult children can be traced to the marital difficulties of the parents. Children often feel compelled to take sides. When they become adults and in charge of their own lives, they may choose to cut or loosen ties with the party that they consider to be at fault.
When the divorced parents don't get along, the adult children are in a particular bind when it comes to family occasions. They can choose to include both parents and deal with any hostility or awkwardness that occurs. They may include only one parent or entertain the two parents in separate celebrations. Or they may leave out both parents. No matter which solution they choose, the adult children are likely to resent having been put in such a position.
Late-in-life divorces are seldom easier for adult children of the split, who are likely to believe that something they thought was real and lasting—their parents' marriage—has turned out to be a fraud.
What to Do: If you are divorced, do your best to make friends with your ex. Try to keep the past in the past. If your adult children have questions, try to answer them honestly and avoid assigning all blame to your ex.
Marriage Blends Two Cultures
Each family has its own culture. Even families that are ethnically similar can vary widely in their family cultures. Some families are quiet and polite; some are boisterous and rowdy. Some families adore sports or the outdoors; others prefer indoor pursuits. When adult children marry into families that are quite different from the ones they grew up in, they face challenges.
Do they blend the two cultures at family occasions, or entertain the two families separately? When the two families have political or religious differences, problems may multiply.
What to Do: Avoid criticizing the in-laws of your children. Don't even express criticism to your own children, because in so doing you force them to split loyalties. Avoid loaded topics such as politics and be respectful of the religious beliefs and practices of others.
In-Law Relationships Can Help or Hurt
One researcher has found that in-law relationships can affect marital success. After following hundreds of couples for 26 years, Dr. Terri Orbuch found that divorce is less likely for a man who has close relationships with his in-laws, but more likely for a woman who is close to her in-laws. Orbuch found that women felt validated when their husbands were accepting of their parents.
On the other hand, bonding with in-laws sometimes prevented women from forming strong bonds with their husbands. In addition, women who were close to their mothers-in-law sometimes allowed them to interfere in family matters such as child-rearing.
What to Do: Parents of adult children must allow them to put their marital partners first. Grandparents must respect the parenting decisions of their children and observe their boundaries.
Adult Children Need Love, Too
Grandparents who dote on their grandchildren sometimes make the parents feel overlooked and unloved. If this behavior resurrects an old family conflict, the results can be serious, even resulting in family disputes that lead to estrangement.
What to Do: Nurture your relationship with your grown children. Don't neglect to embrace your adult children and tell them that you love them. Show interest in their lives and their opinions. Practice good communication skills, and don't allow every conversation to center around the grandchildren. Plan adult-only occasions, such as a night out or even a weekend getaway. Let the other grandparents keep the grandchildren, and you'll have a win-win-win situation.