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Children and Families

Religions Of The World SignAccording to a recent study for the Council on Contemporary families by David McClendon of the University of Texas at Austin, “there has been an especially dramatic increase in the proportion of couples where both partners maintain their own separate religious beliefs and practices. The proportion of marriages that remain interfaith has almost doubled, from a little more than 20 percent in the 1960s to around 40 percent by the first decade of this century.”

With the upcoming holidays of Easter for the Christians and Passover for the Jews, many grandchildren will be celebrating both holidays. More interfaith families with separate religions mean that more in-laws will find that their grandchildren are being raised differently from the way they anticipated. Grandparents can hold a grudge against their children for marrying outside of the religion, but that does little to educate their grandchildren about the beauty and worth of their own traditions. While this is painful for parents, if they want their grandchildren to respect their own beliefs, they must show respect for the other religion.

Already, many churches celebrate Passover, because its message of deliverance from slavery is universal. The Black-Jewish seder, the Irish-Jewish seder, are staples of the season. For many Jews and some Christians, however, the theme of literal resurrection is antithetical to their theology. That being said, many Jews are not religious; they identify as cultural Jews. And many Christians celebrate Easter even though they don’t believe in Christian theology.

Grandparents are wise to focus on sharing the joys they find in their own traditions rather than criticizing their children’s choices. Recognizing their children’s efforts to honor both sets of parents and both religions helps facilitate understanding.

All of us are learning to cope with a religious landscape that is changing. Change is hard to accept and to manage. Therefore, we need to be forgiving of each other. When family members appreciate each other’s efforts to please and accommodate, holidays go more smoothly.

WhoDecides1Parents and grandparents are often confused about their roles. The conventional wisdom for grandparents is “Do not give unsolicited advice. Do not interfere.”

 When grandparents babysit, the parents expect them to follow the parents’ rules. However, as any good boss knows, when delegating a task you get the best results when you also delegate responsibility. Interacting with babies and children does not always follow a script. Events happen; moods change. The variables are not constant. If a babysitter, whether they are a grandparent or a hired person, is to do a good job, they have to have leeway to use their judgment. Too often, parents rage at the grandparents if they do not follow their directions to the letter, when in fact what parents should want is their parents to follow the spirit of their advice. Thus, if a parent says “no TV,” for example, the grandparents should honor that. However, should the grandparent become hurt physically or perhaps if the child is hurt, it might be necessary to assure the child’s safety by allowing some carefully-chosen TV for a short while.

 When I was rearing children, the conventional wisdom was that playpens were bad. However, when one of my toddlers hurt themselves, I would plunk the baby in the playpen to assure his or her safety. Asking grandparents to leave their judgment at the door when they babysit is a waste of resources.

 On the other hand, sometimes studies bring new knowledge that grandparents do need to follow religiously. It is not enough for grandparents to say “In my day . . .” Not everything from their days as parents still applies.

 For example, in the past, parents were told to put babies to sleep on their stomachs. Studies seem to show now that putting babies to bed on their backs reduces the incidents of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Clearly, anything anyone can do to reduce the incidents of SIDS should be done, whether by grandparents or parents.

 Often, however, the studies about childrearing enter the public arena in a very condensed form. For example, we hear that screen time is terrible for children and will fry their brains. But when you read the studies, they are actually more nuanced. Long stretches of screen time may result in problems, but a minute here or there to calm a child has not been proven to be damaging. Also, television as an interactive activity that leads to learning and discussion can actually be beneficial to small children.

 While parents need to respect grandparents’ judgment, grandparents must also recognize that their children have 24/7 responsibility for the grandchildren. Therefore, the parents are the “deciders.” It seems simple, but all human relationships are complex. They need understanding, discussion and guidelines, not rigid rules. Besides, parents and grandparents model good communication skills for the grandchildren when they respect each other enough to try to understand each other’s behaviors.