I have two children; a seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl. We are lucky enough to live close to three sets of their grandparents who all want to spend time with them. The problem is that the kids have picked favorites. They only want to spend time with the "fun" ones (the ones that let them eat whatever they want, watch whatever they want and go to bed whenever they want). This has resulted in tension with the grandparents who believe in rules and boundaries. The kids have also told my husband and me that they don't want to live with us anymore. I realize they're just being kids, but they're also hurting feelings. How do I speak to them about this in a way that they can grasp?
Thanks for the picture! Your kids are adorable, and you can't really blame them for responding like they do when they're showered with gifts and given no limits. At this age, they're just following the cookies and the Wii. Social skills are not really their strong suit, yet.
But it is important to set a standard for them in how they treat people, and family in particular. In every family, there are differences in the way one set of relatives relates to the kids, vs. the other set. Differing cultural traditions and values can play a role. Sometimes, one family has tons of grandkids (and therefore less time and money to spend) and the other side has few, so therefore more time and money. The general level of intensity of the relationships within the family often dictate things, too. For instance, my husband's family is more involved in general in the lives of their friends and family. My family, on the other hand, is more "live and let live". Neither is better, just different. Kids have to get used to the fact that everyone is different; and that's OK.
Grandparents have the inalienable right to spoil their grandkids; nothing I can say will change that.
But your children will learn over time, with your help, that you can't "judge the book by it's cover". Treats and presents are great, but they're not everything.
The kids do have to learn that some things in life cannot be controlled; Grandma X gives cookies and candy, Grandma Y gives fruit and crackers. All you can do is talk to the kids gently (but frequently) about manners, being polite with everyone, and the fact that everyone is different. Perhaps the less-lenient grandparents have other attributes: Maybe they can teach the kids to fish, or go camping, or how to sew. The grandparents also have to come to terms with the fact that they will each have different standards with the kids.
You can talk to all the grandparents (probably separately) about your dilemma. Try to generate some empathy for the kids, for the other set of grandparents, and for YOU in the situation. Talk to the lenient grandparents about the bind they put you in. "I don't want to deny you your right to spoil the grandkids. I don't want to control your time with them. But when they come back home to rules and to be with us, they're impossible, since they've had so many goodies. They even told us they don't want to live with us anymore, or visit with the other grandparents. Can we talk about toning it down just a little bit?"
Also, talk with the other grandparents about your plans to address it. Show them you mean business when you insist that the kids are nice and polite. Really play up the cool things that they CAN do with these grandparents. Show your kids that their tantrums aren't going to get them anywhere; they still need to have a cordial relationship with all family members.
Good luck and keep us posted!
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink