Who cares if grandparents have an old-school approach? At least you've got support.

CC BY 2.0 Mark Doliner

The suggestion that grandparents could be endangering their grandchildren with outdated techniques is nitpicking at its worst.

Grandparents are a wonderful source of childcare for many families, but a new study suggests their parenting techniques may be outdated and even dangerous for young children. Research presented at last week’s 2017 Pediatric Academics Societies meeting indicates that many grandparents do things that most parents never would, such as putting infants to sleep on their tummies, placing babies in an ice bath to bring down a fever, and leaving wounds uncovered.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, lead author of the study, points out that parenting guidelines have evolved greatly over the past 30 years, and that most grandparents haven’t kept up with the latest research:

“We shouldn't assume that just because they've raised a child before, they're experts.”

With all due respect to Adesman’s research and the important precautions that every adult should take to ensure a child’s safety, I can’t help but raise a skeptical eyebrow at this statement. I’d argue that raising a child successfully to adulthood, regardless of which decades it spanned, does make one an expert. There is nothing like hands-on child-raising and its relentless demands to prove one’s ability and resilience as a parent. Besides, children have not changed so much in three or four decades to the point where grandparents’ knowledge is utterly obsolete.

Reading is not a replacement for real-life experience. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children website, which Adesman suggests using as a resource, may provide some guidance, but to place greater value on a document than the collective advice of a living, breathing community seems silly. The Internet, in general, is a dangerous place to go for parenting advice. It’s possible to lose oneself in a rabbit hole of information overload, worst-case scenarios, and bizarre hypotheses, and it is far too easy to develop a distorted paranoia about doing things perfectly.

Sarah Smith, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two, told me, “Reading leads to helicopter parenting because you think everything is wrong with your child all the time.” And we all know about the dangers of helicopter parenting – not a road you want to take.

Parenting is one of those things where talking to other people who have done it already is the best advice you could ever give a new parent.

Sadly, this isn’t happening, nor does the situation improve when doctors like Adesman make fear-mongering suggestions about grandparents’ incompetency. A article in Maclean’s magazine last year described the depressing evolution of grandparents' roles in Canada, and it's likely similar in the United States:

“The fact is, parents no longer see grandparents as oracles of knowledge; the Internet provides ready advice for every bum rash, tantrum and night terror. Grandparents are encouraged to catch up with the research, which explains the burgeoning industry of grandparenting classes at hospitals and child-learning centres—but at the same time, in an era characterized by angst-ridden child-rearing and a surplus of parenting literature, parents often want to make every call themselves.”

This makes me sad for two reasons: first, as a parent with minimal support from extended family. My husband and I have no grandparents or siblings to call for emergency babysitting, so when I hear parents complaining about their own parents' outdated methods, I feel a bit disgusted, with a twinge of envy: "Do you know how lucky you are to have anyone to help? Why would you look a gift-horse in the mouth?" I want to shout at them.

But it saddens me, too, that young parents are told, “Your parents don’t know what they’re talking about." Instead, they should be reminded that everyone makes mistakes; kids are amazingly resilient; and – my favorite piece of advice from my own mother who raised four kids – “the only constant in parenting is change.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that nugget of wisdom and allowed a stressful situation to wash over me.

Let’s give grandparents some credit for what they do know, instead of scorning them for what they don’t. Clear communication across generations is what matters most. Wise grandparents should be open-minded and ask parents what matters to them, while smart parents must acknowledge that there are different ways to do things, trusting that grandparents always have a child’s best interests at heart.

Who cares if grandparents have an old-school approach? At least you've got support.
The suggestion that grandparents could be endangering their grandchildren with outdated techniques is nitpicking at its worst.

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