What to do when gogo tries to dictate how your children should be raised

(PHOTO: Gallo/Getty)
(PHOTO: Gallo/Getty)

In an ideal world, the new mom will more fully appreciate what her own mother went through as a parent, and the new granny will take pride in seeing her daughter handle those challenges for herself. But this is often not the case.

The shared excitement of a newborn can quickly dwindle as mom makes decisions about what she wants her baby to eat, wear and learn, and her mother has her own – very different – ideas of how her grandchild should be raised.

Bongi Ngobese (33), a mother to a five-month-old daughter, tells DRUM arguments with her mother regarding her daughter’s upbringing have become the norm.

Often, it’s Gogo complaining about the baby’s feeding schedules – she doesn’t believe in them, contrary to Bongi’s doctor’s recommendation. “She has a problem that I feed the baby every two to three hours,” Bongi says. “She also complains I change the baby’s nappy every time it’s dirty – that I don’t wait for it to be full. When I put my baby to sleep on her side, she moves her to sleep on her tummy. We don’t seem to agree on anything.”

Bongi’s mother feels she knows best because she’s done it before, and Bongi is left fuming and frustrated.

The mom-daughter relationship is special

The mom-daughter relationship is crucial when there’s a new baby, says Thembi Hama, a life coach who focuses on relationships, family and parenting.

“The support we get from our parents is vital in raising well-rounded children,” she says. To make it work, both generations need to compromise for the sake of the child. Mutual communication and respect are key.

“Approach the care of your child with complementary teamwork,” Hama suggests. “The sense of safety and stability when a grandparent takes on the childcare role – as opposed to hiring complete strangers – is invaluable.”

How to handle conflict with grandma

But Hama admits this isn’t easy and often leads to conflict as both parties engage in a power struggle. “Relinquish some control,” she advises. “Give your parents leeway to plan the day and make decisions. For example, Granny can take the baby to the park without running this by you each time.”

Avoid minute-by-minute schedules but have “meetings” to discuss how the baby is doing and what your plans are for the week. “This is a perfect way to evaluate what’s working and what can be improved, as well as resolve issues as they crop up.”

It’s also the time to lay down some ground rules. “Set clear expectations about the baby’s care,” Hama says. “Cover specific aspects such as feeding, sleep routines, safety and discipline, as well as play activities.” This way, she says, the household responsibilities will follow a set pattern and there won’t be any nasty surprises.

It’s also important to not take disagreements too seriously – even when your mom is insisting on giving unsolicited advice or is seemingly in complete control of your home.

“It helps to tell her you appreciate her wisdom and parenting skills but you’d also like to learn your way of doing things, much like she did,” Hama says. Mom needs to be tolerant and respectful of Gogo’s beliefs and values as she forges her path.

“Taking advice or following the elders’ culture and traditions doesn’t have to mean abandoning modern beliefs and values,” Hama notes. “A good quality of life can only be achieved through an exchange of ideas from both old and new ways.”

That said, there will also be times when you just have to nod in recognition of her advice to maintain the peace. “Then go on and do what you want to do anyway.”

Mom should find ways to make Gogo feel important and valued, Hama says. “If monetary remuneration will help then you may want to consider giving them an allowance.

“Some parents will reject payment, so consider other ways to compensate them for their efforts, such as sending them on a trip or hiring someone to clean their house.”

Clinical psychologist and family mediator Wendela Leisewitz echoes Hama’s sentiments. She argues that although the new mom must be upfront about the details, she shouldn’t treat her mother like an employee.

“It’s very important to emphasise whether you want her to help out in emergencies or you want her to commit as a full-time nanny,” she says.

And it’s important to deal with issues when they arise. “Strike while the iron is hot to avoid resentment, anger and misunderstandings,” Leisewitz says. “It’s always a good idea to have regular, casual chats about how things are going. Also, give Granny a chance to voice her concerns regarding any arrangements. As much as you want her to listen to you, you should also listen to her.”

Gogo may find it hard to accept the way her daughter does things, but she must be flexible too. “The rules and curfews have stopped, and conversations have taken an interactive form where both participants contribute and hear each other out and consider each other’s views,” Hama notes. Neither should diminish each other’s new role. “Gogos must not view this as the end of the relationship but rather a beginning, as they manoeuvre the many exciting milestones.” 

A grandmother also needs to understand that although her advice is welcome and valued, it doesn’t have to be taken as law all the time. “Her daughter is free to make decisions with the information available,” Hama explains. “This may be difficult, especially when it looks like her daughter is making a mistake.” But she needs to bite her lip, Hama says. “Any interference or control from her side won’t necessarily be seen as a sign of love.”

When Gogo disapproves of the way her daughter is doing things, she needs to gently offer advice and then let it go. “It’s important for Gogo to always be there and offer support – whatever the outcome – and not allow differences to tear them apart.” And when things go wrong, as they will, Gogo must resist saying, “I told you so.”

“At the end of the day it’s not a competition of who is wiser but a concerted effort to keep the family together.”