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.

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Oh sure, there are the obvious reasons to look forward to March. That’s when most of us start having thoughts of spring (here in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and if we live in frozen climates we may begin to cherish hopes of an imminent thaw. But there are five new reasons to look forward to March here on Mom Psych and it all begins with the fact that Dr. Ruth Nemzoff will be hosting our new blog, Grandma Psych. Why are we so excited about welcoming her to the Mom Psych family?

1.  Her research focus: A resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis and former adjunct assistant professor at Bentley College, Dr. Nemzoff is the author of two books focusing on communication and family dynamics.

2. Her education focus: After earning a degree in American studies from Barnard College, Dr. Nemzoff went on to pursue a masters degree in counseling from Columbia University and another in Social Policy from Harvard University, where she also earned her Ed.D.

3. Her public, professional, and service experience: Dr. Nemzoff has served as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a grass roots organizer, a counselor, and as a professor. She has served on multiple boards, including that of NH United Way, NH Business Development Corporation, Boston’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services and of Newbury College. She worked with the NH Governor’s Commission on the status of Women, and Commission for the Handicapped. She founded a nursery school, a counseling service, and the National Women’s Legislative Lobby.

4. Her communication experience: A seasoned writer and public speaker, Dr. Nemzoff’s latest lecture circuit takes her to Asia. In addition to her two books, (Don’t Bite Your Tongue and Don’t Roll Your Eyes) she has published multiple journal articles about environmental advertising and women in business and politics. Her papers are archived at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University. She is also a seasoned blogger.

5. Her personal experience: Dr. Nemzoff is rich in intergenerational relationships, with many in-laws thrown in for good measure.  Her life experience and natural personal warmth combine with an innate ability to translate the academic to the practical in an easygoing style. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for that: you can see for yourself as you enjoy the following interview with Dr. Nemzoff on Mom Psych’s Red Couch Sessions: