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When You All Live With Grandma, Who’s In Charge?

Jul 19, 2017

My mom and I are the best of friends. We used to shop together, have lunch every Saturday and talk on the phone daily. When my dad was ill, I was there for her. When my relationships fell apart, she was there for me.

And so, when my husband and my daughter's father walked out on us a few years ago, mom invited us to come and live with her. We were both alone and I needed some support to get back on my feet; it just made sense. In fact, I looked forward to the prospect: “we’ll be co-parents!” I squealed. Mom looked dubious. “what’s a co-parent?” she asked.

When you live with someone who is not the parent of your child, the rules aren’t quite the same.

That should have been my first clue that the coexistence of three stubborn women living in one tiny house wasn’t going to be all roses and icing sugar. Don’t get me wrong; it hasn’t been a bad experience. Positives include my daughter going to a well-rated public school because we now live in a neighbourhood I would otherwise never have afforded, and a built-in babysitter.

But sometimes you want to know who is in charge. I hadn’t anticipated exactly how this would play out. When you have a child with someone, you may not always agree, but you do have to agree that you are both equally the child's parents. When you live with someone who is not the parent of your child, the rules aren’t quite the same.

Exhibit A: When my four-year-old daughter mouthed off to my mother. We had only just moved in, and were still in the "adjusting to a new life" stage. I can’t remember what set off this episode, but my daughter's behaviour was certainly unacceptable. To my mother, it was so far beyond unacceptable that it was entering the territory of treason: “she can’t speak to me like that. I won’t have it in my house.” I agreed, and took my daughter to her room for a time out and a talk. My mother? She wasn’t having any of that.


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“What do you mean you’re going to ‘talk to her’ about it?” (My mom actually used air quotes, which would have been funny except it wasn’t.) “That’s not dealing with it.”

I wanted to explain to her that yelling at my daughter was not going to solve the problem. If anything, it had a good chance of making things worse. “That’s NOT how this is going to go down!” I retorted, dismissively instead.

Ultimately, raising my daughter was my responsibility, but mom could still put her two cents in (just not in front of the kiddo).

Mom disagreed, loudly. I disagreed with her, equally loudly. So much for not yelling. We were at an impasse and it was giving us both a headache. Yes, it was her house, and technically, we needed to be mindful of her rules, but this was my daughter. Very quickly, I realized that my original rosy vision of co-parenting with my mom wasn’t going to happen. The question was: what was going to happen?

Over time, and over red wine and sinful cheeses, we agreed to disagree about the measure and strength of discipline. We did agree on some new ground rules, however. Ultimately, raising my daughter was my responsibility, but mom could still put her two cents in (just not in front of the kiddo). In return, I would not dismiss her opinions in front of my daughter, which undermined my mom's credibility and reduced her to a spectator, rather than participant, in the day-to-day.

It took us a long time to get to this point — two and a half years to be exact — and we still have the odd disagreement. But for the most part, it works. As do the glasses of wine, shared between best friends.

Article Author Chantal Saville
Chantal Saville

Read more from Chantal here.

Chantal Saville is, among other things, the chief wordsmith at Content Ghost. When not writing in her phantasmagorical voice, she is also a mother and a daughter. Usually in that order. Sometimes not.

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