What I Wish Every Grandparent Knew
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the memes on Facebook: “What happens at Grandma’s stays at Grandma’s,” or, “The kids are spoiled because no one will spank Grandma.” And I get the appeal of this line of thinking. As much as I disagree with it, I get it. Grandparents are done raising kids and now it’s time to quit worrying about discipline and finally have some no-holds-barred fun with the grandkids. I’m all for fun and I think it’s an important part of being a kid. However, I think Grandparents are selling themselves, their kids, and especially their grandkids short when they make themselves nothing more than the source of fun. Grandparents are WAY more important than that.
Why does it seem like, once their kids have children of their own, grandparents often completely abandon parenting their own children? Of course parenting adult children looks a lot different from parenting kids, but just because we grow up and start our own families does not mean we don’t need our parents anymore. In fact, we need the same things from our parents that we’ve needed from the start, it just looks a little different now.
Much more than mountains of Christmas presents for our kids, we need support. We need encouragement. We need to know you’re on our side and that you’ll be there when we need help. We need to know you didn’t stop being our parents the moment we started.
Every child, adult or not, wants to feel like they’re making Mom and Dad proud. We’re new to this parenting thing, and we’ll make mistakes, but we’re doing our best and it feels so good to have a pat on the back once in a while. Remember how lost you felt when you were a new parent, and give us the encouragement you wanted then.
While we may not ask for pointers on how to raise our children, we need other kinds of support. We need to know you’re ready to help when we need an afternoon off. We need to know you’ll offer advice without judgment if we come to you with a problem. We need to know you’ll enforce our rules as best you can so our children can experience consistency. This ensures the poor kid isn’t in trouble for days during “Grandma detox.” Your “gift” of fun without rules is likely more of a punishment.
As grandparents, you’re in a unique position to teach our children about authority, and how to respect it. If you break our rules when our kids are with you, you’re teaching them that Mom and Dad’s rules only apply when Mom and Dad are looking. Yikes. If you tell our children to keep secrets from us, you’ve given them their first lesson on lying. (Lying by omission is still deception.) Treat us how you wanted to be treated as a young parent.
And of course, you offer a unique brand of fun that no one else can provide. Grandma and Grandpa’s house should be a place of unparalleled fun, and that can be accomplished without boundary-stomping or disregarding the parents’ wishes. Here are some ways to cultivate that special grandparent-grandchild bond without disrupting the parent-adult child bond.
Fun with food
Do your adult children feel strongly about sugars, preservatives, etc.? You can still have a BLAST with food. If you like to cook, impress your grandchild with the art of cooking from scratch. Go to a local food market (or better yet, grow food in the garden), and enjoy the child’s wonder at the process from start to finish. Can’t give her ice cream? For years my son called yogurt ice cream, and it was his very favorite thing. Serve strawberries and other sweet fruits as dessert. Small children often haven’t been exposed to all the sugar we have, so it doesn’t have to be very sweet to taste awesome. And if your grandchild has allergies, NEVER serve something Mom and Dad don’t approve of.
Is screen time a no-no? Instead of going to the movies, find a local play, ballet, or orchestra. Draw together and create your own stories. Read a book! Screen time often overstimulates children, and too much of it will leave your beloved grandchildren cranky, hyper, and downright miserable. That’s not fun. Remember the things you loved to do as a child when TV wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. Relive those experiences.
Maybe your kids don’t want mountains of gifts for their children, or maybe they’re deflated when you spend too much. This little rhyme is my family’s mantra at Christmas: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” We give our children four gifts, that’s it. When there are loads of presents, little children especially can get overwhelmed, as they open one present and want to play with it, only to have adults forcing them to put the toy down to open the next. Kids do not need many presents before they reach maximum levels of glee. Keep it simple and thoughtful and your toys won’t be regifted or stuffed away in a closet.
Grandparents are so special and important in children’s lives, but don’t forget the generation in the middle! We are just as important, and if we can work together, we can raise happy, well balanced adults.