The car was packed, the kids strapped in their car seats, and I called my parents to let them know we were on our way.
“Do you need us to pick up anything?” my father asked.
I did need something. I dreaded asking, but there was one crucial thing I couldn’t pack in our suitcases.
“Do you have milk?” I asked.
“Yup, got milk,” he said. I paused, knowing all too well where this was going.
“Is it organic?” I couldn’t see his eye-roll over the phone, but the way he sighed revealed it.
“It’s milk. The milk we drink every day. Why go pay $20 for a gallon of designer milk?”
Now it was my turn to sigh. Did I have to—again—explain myself to my parents? Just as I was about to open my mouth in rebuttal, I heard a voice in the background.
“Oh, Warren, just get her the milk she wants.”
Mom came in for the save. But wasn’t there a better way to end this rivalry? To help mediate this scuffle, and those of two other families, we asked for expert help from Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)Learning to Live Together Happily, and Amy Goyer, AARP’s family expert and columnist. Here’s what to say when you hear…
“It was good enough for you when you were a kid.”
What to do
Agree—then explain why things are different now.
My argument was not actually about the milk, Newman says. Rather, it was about what my father perceived as a critique of the way I was raised. Flattery will get you everywhere here, she says. “Say, ‘You did a fantastic job with me—no question there! But my husband and I feel strongly that now this is a better option,’ ” Newman says. Then explain the research you’ve done on why organic is better: Just approach it in a helpful—not exasperated—way. Say, “I thought you might be interested in some of the things I’ve learned about organic farming.” Need backup? Check out the Organic Trade Association’s education site, organicitsworthit.org.
If that’s not enough to settle matters, Goyer suggests avoiding the argument altogether by stopping to pick up the milk—or apples, or whatever—yourself. “But don’t do this unless the other approach doesn’t work, as your dad might see it as an insult,” she says.
“That green stuff doesn’t work.”
Even before baby Kaia was born, Gina Norman decided that only organic fabrics would touch her daughter’s skin, and any plastic toy that might contain bisphenol-A (BPA) or wooden one that wasn’t labeled “treated with nontoxic paint” would be returned to the store.
So Norman’s mother knew that to get her daughter’s house as clean as she believed it should be for a newborn, she’d have to sneak in her bottles of bleach and other conventional cleaning products.
“I said, ‘No, mom, please go put those back in the car. We really don’t want them,’ ” says Norman, of Greenwich, Connecticut. “And then she tried to take the bucket, cover the products with towels, and sneak them by us. We caught her halfway up the stairs.”
Norman’s mother was incredulous—how could green products work when they don’t have any real cleaners in them?
Norman’s holistic lifestyle was nothing new. In Norman’s kitchen, there’s no microwave, and her mother is so befuddled by the ingredients in the fridge that she brings her own food. But on cleaning, Grandma was relentless. The fights on the issue continued until Norman laid down the law. She explained why she preferred green cleaners, and told her mother that if she wasn’t going to use them, then she shouldn’t clean.
“Now she tiptoes around the house,” Norman says. “She’ll ask ‘Is this OK? Is that OK?’ Because still, she doesn’t really understand.”
What to do
Find other ways Grandma can help.
Goyer applauds Norman’s attempts to explain exactly why she believes her products are safer and just as effective. But now that Grandma seems afraid to help, Norman might be losing out on some much-needed assistance—and who wants Grandma to be uncomfortable? There’s plenty to do when there are kids around, so Norman just needs to point out the things she wants her mother to do, instead of the ones she doesn’t want her to touch. “Perhaps asking her to hold her grandchild while you clean is a better option,” Goyer says. “That’s hard for a grandparent to resist.” Or, ask her to do another chore that doesn’t require cleaners, like folding the laundry, vacuuming the carpets, or changing every last diaper while she’s around.
“Oh, stop worrying: A little _____ won’t hurt!”
Inga Halverson-Johnson is happy that her three children have a close relationship with their grandparents. But she does wish that she didn’t have to worry about the rashes they frequently come home with after a weekend at Grandma’s.
“I’d ask my in-laws, ‘Could you use my homemade shampoo bar on them?’ ” says Halverson-Johnson, who lives outside Minneapolis. “But no. They think I just don’t know what I’m talking about and that I’m overreacting about the kids’ skin sensitivity.” The dry skin, bumps, and eczema-looking patches often don’t appear immediately, so the grandparents don’t see them at their worst.
Despite numerous attempts to get her in-laws to understand why she insists on all-natural skin products, Halverson-Johnson has yet to break through. “I think that I’ve pretty much given in,” Halverson-Johnson says regretfully. “The visits there are once a month. It’s not going to kill them if they get a rash. We’ll get rid of it. I guess their relationship is more important.”
What to do
Trust yourself. You’re a parent too now.
In the short run, for a situation like the Halverson-Johnsons’, be firm: Try saying, “I’m not willing to compromise on a health issue,” says Newman. Do what you can to explain why it’s really a health issue—show them a picture of the rash, or print out some info about it. It’ll only add drama to the situation if you threaten to stop visiting, but you can say that you’d rather the kids not stay overnight without you. (And when you’re dealing with in-laws, be sure you and your partner present a united front!)
Being a parent is now your top responsibility, says Newman. That may help you shrug off some of the criticism you think you hear when your parents pooh-pooh your concerns. And, when you talk to them about any issue you disagree on, Goyer says to remember: “It can be hard when you’re feeling dismissed, but be sure to treat your parents or in-laws as you would want to be treated—with respect. Someday you may be in their position, too.”