How to Set Proper Grandparent Boundaries, Keep the Peace
Soon after my first grandchild was born, I couldn’t help but gloat, “How cool is this? A brand-new baby who comes with two awesome baby-sitters!”
It wasn’t long before I realized the ball (the baby?) was not really in my court. Those baby-sitters — most people call them “parents” — had every intention of calling the child-rearing shots, even though a perfectly capable set of grandparents (us!) live close by and another excellent grandmother is just a plane flight away.
Turns out there’s a grandparent learning curve — a steep one. In the beginning, you can’t wait to impart info gleaned from years spent learning, mastering and implementing every major fact, theory and trend that parenting experts have to offer.
Then you discover that a newfangled collection of experts has turned all the theories upside down and all the babies on their backs; ruled all screens verboten; and recalled every piece of baby equipment you ever used.
You also learn that parenting styles like my own — take charge, opinion heavy, and hypervigilant (OK, just plain “hyper”) — are not grandparent-worthy. That it’s better to offer parenting advice only when and if your kids ask for it, and that even though your own children didn’t grow up texting, speaking Mandarin or reading e-books and they “turned out just fine,” your kids do not (Do. Not.) want to hear about it.
Learning the rules
With grandchild version 4.0 about to arrive, I’ve moved from amateur status to Grandma Gravitas. That means that at least some of the time, I look like I know what I’m doing. After those wobbly first days as newly minted grandparents (“Are we really leaving her with them?” my husband asked as we drove away from our kids’ house), we learned the ancient art of silence, better known today as “shutting up.”
It hasn’t always been easy, but at some point we had to accept the fact that some basic baby rules had changed: no apple juice in baby bottles. No television, anything made with BPA or kids in front seats. We frankly wondered how we made it through the old regime. It didn’t escape us that these rules — at least some of them — make sense. Anchoring bookshelves to walls? Fabulous! Baby slings for dads? Love it! Glass baby bottles? How retro!
So grandparents, give your kids some credit. Chances are, like most well-meaning postmillennial parents, they’ve picked up — or downloaded — a parenting book or two. They’ve visited chatty, info-loaded websites, perused endless mom blogs, and tweeted, texted and maybe even talked with other moms and dads about what it takes to be a parent. Never has so much information been so available for so many.
And parents: Give the grandparents some credit. They raised you, and look how well you turned out! Most important, they also endured advice, directives, criticism and more from their own parents and in-laws. Somehow they found ways to deflect it. So can you.
1. Stay cool. Let’s say Nana Sue whips your baby’s pacifier out of his mouth or feeds him non-organic strained peas. That’s when it might be a good time for you (after you’ve calmly replaced the pacifier) to invite Nana Sue to help chop the salad, catch up on “Mad Men” or help your 2-year-old with a puzzle. As for the peas, really, could a few spoonfuls hurt?
2. Meet conflicts head-on. This is especially important when dealing with uber-aggressive, in-your-face grandparents. Your inner voice shouts, “Butt out!” but it’s your outer voice that counts, and diplomacy wins, hands down. Be polite but direct: “Thanks, but this is the way we’ve decided to handle tantrums,” or potty training or breast-feeding or preschool or bedtime or . . . you get the idea.
3. Ask for help. Be proactive! Solicit advice before Grandma or Grandpa offers it. It makes you look gracious and inclusive, and makes the grandparents feel needed and happy. Bypass the major matters (“When should we have our next child?”) and head right for the small stuff (“What should we do when he teethes?”).
4. Keep an open mind. Sure, things have changed. But let’s get real: That bewildering bringing-up-baby worldhas been around a long time, and the grandfolks were living in it way before you were. There’s the crazy chance they may actually know something you don’t. You might even pick up that odd tip or ritual that you’ve come to covet. But first, you must be willing to hear it.
5. Establish boundaries. Does your mother or father jet in on a moment’s notice to attend a dance recital or baby-sit while you hop off to someplace exotic? Consider yourself lucky. On the other hand, that same parent might be popping in more often than you’d like. If that’s happening, insist on a previsit heads-up (this also goes for hometown relatives) and take charge of the frequent house calls. Practice this: “This weekend won’t work, but how about sometime next month?” Then say it.
6. Just chill. Last week I took my two granddaughters out to lunch. Then I took them out to a second lunch. Why? Because they asked … and because I can. I call it the Grandparenting Advantage. Conferred upon parents when their children have children, the Grandparenting Advantage means we’re entitled to bend the rules just a bit. That’s bend, not break.
7. Keep the big picture in mind. The grandparent-grandchild relationship can be magical. You need to nurture, protect and savor it, even if that means (occasionally) staying quiet when it practically kills you, or (occasionally) smiling serenely when you just know they are wrong and you are right. So forgive us for offering the extra hugs, cookies, phone calls or lunches. And remember what it is we’re really offering: sweet, unconditional love.
Linda Morgan is the author of “Beyond Smart.” She never breaks the rules or overindulges her grandchildren. Well, hardly ever. Learn more about her at Linda-Morgan.com.