Dear Stuck in the Middle,
You are indeed in the middle, but perhaps not as stuck as you think. What you see as the needs of your kids and the needs of your mother are, in the moment, at odds — and you’re the one who has to make tough decisions or negotiate a middle ground. Things change from generation to generation, and sometimes grandparents have a hard time accepting that. Even beyond generational differences, each parent makes decisions for his or her own kids based on the family’s resources, kids’ individual temperaments and varied goals. It’s a lot to navigate.
Apart from simply doing nothing and letting tension build, one option is to tell your mom that you don’t agree with her assessment of the situation and don’t appreciate her criticism — then you deal with the consequences. She may choose to stop helping you with childcare during holidays, and that means, of course, that you will need to find alternatives.
But in the interest of strengthening relationships, you may want to approach the problem more collaboratively. In this scenario, you talk it out with each of the parties separately and together, then you come up with a workable solution. Perhaps everyone could benefit from a bit more structure to the day, but in a way that preserves your kids’ needs for downtime, too. May we suggest a schedule?
8-9:00 — Kids and Grandma make and eat breakfast together.
9-9:30 — Kids help clean up breakfast, make their beds, brush their teeth and get dressed.
9:30-10:30 — Free time. Everyone gets to choose how he or she spends this time as long as it conforms to your family’s rules.
10:30-2:00 — Planned outing. Help your kids and mom develop a list of places they’d like to go together. Each day of the week could be something different: a new park, the library, the pool, any museums or other experiences that are affordable or free (or that you already have a pass for).
2:00-3:00 — Free time. Kids can play with friends in the neighborhood, read, draw, build or otherwise spend their time as they wish.
3:00-3:30 — Clean up and help-out time. Assign age-appropriate tasks that each child can do to contribute.
3:30-4:30 — Screen time. Let them watch two episodes of their favorite show. Saving screen time for the later part of the day means that it becomes a reward they can earn by listening to Grandma and contributing when needed.
When you or your partner get home from work, be sure to relieve Grandma of her duties, give her ample thanks and make dinner for everyone. As you know, it’s hard work caring for little ones.
You got this!