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Parents Are From Mars, Grandparents Are From Venus

It came as a shock to me. As soon as I had my first child, my mother and I suddenly shared expansive common ground: parenting. Practically overnight, I gained newfound respect and understanding for her. Nonetheless, whenever she trod on my territory — how I was raising my daughter — I'd bristle. I resented her observations ("Pacifiers are addictive"; "It's all right if the baby cries for a few minutes"). Even now, nearly five years since Maggie's birth, her random remarks sometimes still annoy me.

Although parents and grandparents want the same thing — safety and happiness for their brood — they may have contradictory operating procedures. "Parents today are more permissive, indulgent, and considerate of their child's feelings," says Lillian Carson, author of The Essential Grandparent and a grandma of ten. "As a family therapist, I think the new thoughtfulness is great. But many grandparents don't like it when a child interrupts them or acts up. They can't help themselves from talking about the way things used to be."

"It can be frustrating for a grandparent when her authority is superseded by an expert, a book, or a video because she has a powerful spiritual and emotional attachment to her grandchild," says Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., author of Grandparent Power. "She's not trying to criticize or meddle. She's trying to help."

Try as she may to be diplomatic, Grandma's good intentions can be taken badly. "One of the hardest things about being a grandparent is relinquishing control. We understand that we're not in charge anymore, but it's quite a transition to go from speaking our minds to biting our tongues," says Carson. "When we do let a comment slip out, it's especially hard on our adult children — they may still be seeking our approval." Leslie Linsley, author of Totally Cool Grandparenting, puts it this way: "We installed our kids' buttons, so we know how to push them."

Of course, not every parent-grandparent combination is bound to end up clashing strongly, but inevitably there will be some friction at certain times. "But conflicts don't have to turn into family feuds," says Dr. Kornhaber. Here, how to handle some common glitches.