- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

You have watched your children grow up into responsible adults who have children of their own. But the thin line between parenting and grandparenting sometimes can become a little blurry especially when you're not in full agreement with your child's parenting tactics.
"There are times when I am in total opposition with what my daughter is doing with her 10-year-old son," says Patricia Lambson, 56, of Burke. "I find myself choking back my opinion. But sometimes, it gets the best of me."
Mrs. Lambson, who is the mother of three and the grandmother of two, says she and her daughter Catherine Smithson, 35, also of Burke, disagree when it comes to punishment.
"I prefer to ground Willie," Mrs. Smithson says. "Mom thinks I am letting him get away with murder, but I find this is the best method of punishment for him."
Mrs. Lambson laughs as she uses a phrase that seems to be a catchall for grandparents: "In my day, we would just take out the paddle… . We hadn't heard of timeout or grounding… . We thought, 'Spare the rod, spoil the child.' "
Most of today's grandparents will agree that the world in which they raised their children is different from the world of today, says Dr. Geoffrey Michaelson, a psychologist who specializes in family issues.
"Today's grandparents must confront their children's parenting styles with open-mindedness," he says from his office in McLean. "This means not to criticize until you, as the grandparent, have all the information. We face different challenges, difficulties and dangers today. Realizing this is one of the keys to successful relationship-building between grandparents, parents and children."
Dr. Michaelson says grandparents can fall easily into the customary role of parenting rather than the "hands-off" mode of grandparenting.
"We easily fall into customary roles," he says. "These grandparents were parents first it's hard to relinquish that role when their babies are having babies."
Helen Lipton, 64, of Alexandria, says she had to be "told off" by her son before she learned to keep her opinions to herself.
"I knew Brad was fuming when he confronted me about reprimanding him on his parenting techniques," she says, smiling. "But he tried so hard to be diplomatic and respectful when he explained he and his wife would raise their daughter as they saw fit not as I did.
"It was quite a breakthrough for all of us, really."
Mrs. Lipton says she viewed her role as grandparent as less stressful once she put the relationship with her granddaughter and her son into perspective.
"I finally had to realize I had already raised my children and had to have confidence in Brad's ability to do the right thing where Candice was concerned… . I no longer was a surrogate parent; I became a fun-loving grandparent instead of a parenting figure who was constantly trying to correct and discipline."
Mrs. Lipton's breakthrough isn't common. Dr. Michaelson says many grandparents have a somewhat confused role in their children's households especially because they sometimes are asked to baby-sit and take on parental responsibilities.
"We ask our parents to watch the kids for a long weekend or while we go out on the town," he says, "but we don't expect them to have a say in how our children are raised."
It's important to understand and respect how grandparents feel when being put into the parenting role, Dr. Michaelson says.
"Discuss with your grown children the parenting boundaries … are there certain rules [or] disciplines grandparents need to impose on the grandchildren when parents are away? Communication is the key to a successful family relationship."
He suggests discussing what it was like for the grandparents to be parents "in their day."
"It is a wonderful history lesson," he says. "One that will be appreciated later on in more ways than one. Grandparents can begin to understand their children, and children can finally understand where their parents were and are coming from."
"I always thought my parents were so strict and conservative with me," says Judith Martin, 65, of Arlington. "I always said I wouldn't be like that with my kids… . I can remember my mother questioning me time and time again on my parenting. I also said I wouldn't do that … but … ."
Janet Kilborne, 35, Mrs. Martin's middle daughter, says Mrs. Martin constantly questioned her about the care and discipline of her daughter, Christine.
"She would come over for a visit and watch me like a hawk," she says. "She'd make sure I put powder on the baby after I changed the diaper, she'd make sure I tested the bottle on my arm before giving it to the baby. It got to be too much."
One day, after bringing her daughter to tears with her criticism, she finally realized she was doing exactly what her mother had done to her.
"I had done what I said I wouldn't do. It was a terrible feeling. I tried, from that time on, to control my opinions where my grandchildren were concerned.
"But don't get me wrong … there are times when I feel it's still important to express my opinion."
That's natural, Dr. Michaelson says.
"There are going to be times when a differing opinion is needed, and the grandparent is going to be the one to offer it. But there is a time and a place for it. It's not a nagging, stinging opinion. It should be given with love and tact."
For most, Dr. Michaelson says, it's easier to say what's on their mind than to hold it in and decide whether or not it's the best thing to say.
"But grandparents have to relinquish the parenting role and fall into the role of grandparenting. It's a wonderful, natural transition that will hold many cherished memories," he says.

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