Grandparenting 101 – Observations From The Other Side

DISCLAIMER:  This is not entirely based on my own experience but on many poolside & patio conversations with friends and fellow parents. Some of it is, however, personal.  

I’ll probably pay for this one.  I’ll be written out of wills.  And I hate that because I was so looking forward to being able to slather on the leftover cold cream that is probably bequeathed to me by my in-laws.  But Grandparent’s Day……can we just cut to the heart of what this is all about, o ye school districts, both public and private?  Grandparent’s Day is a day set aside to honor the grandparents of children in said school districts by sucking up to them with such sweetness and adoration that they will feel the urge to get out their checkbooks and donate thousands of dollars or buy a stack of books at the “not-coincidentally-simultaneously-held” book fair that is so heavy they have to make two trips to their Cadillac sedan just to get them home with the child.  This is just a sneaky way of getting grandparents to spend thousands, with the annoying added benefit of cluttering up the kid’s home & pissing off his parents.

My child?  My sweet little boy who DOES love his grandparents very, very much & even enjoys a good stack of books?  BOYCOTTED GRANDPARENT’S DAY. And I let him.  He’s no dummy.  When teachers tell the children, “After your performance & lunch with Granny, your grandparents have the option of taking you home”, my kid hears, “There is absolutely no point in going to school today.”  He’s probably right & so he is home.  My mom took it quite well, I’ll give her that. I’m sure she was disappointed because she loves my kids and loves being there for them.  Lately though, I’ve been wanting to bitch about grandparenting and the image versus the reality, so today Grandparent’s Day is providing me with that jumping off point.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my kids and I complain to Chuck, “This shit would have never happened on the Brady Bunch.  Those Brady kids would never pull a stunt like this.”  Or, “Carol & Mike would sooo know how to handle this situation.  What are we doing wrong???”  Chuck then pulls out the “You do know the Brady Bunch wasn’t realistic, right?”  I come back with “Of course it was realistic.  The Brady grandparents made ONE appearance on the wedding episode & after that did you EVER see them come get those kids so Mike & Carol could have a weekend of hot, uninterrupted sex?  No. Never. They got dressed up, were there for the big event & then they were gone.  THAT shit is real.”  (It’s also quite possible they knew Mike Brady was gay.)

Perhaps I’m jaded, because as a child I lived in the same house with my grandma and great-grandma.  I lived behind my best friend who had older siblings with children and those kids were over at grandma’s constantly.  The grandparents embraced it and wanted it that way.  I see a HUGE difference in what grandparenting used to be and what it is now.  The problem is that many (& I repeat MANY, not all) of the grandparents still want to do what I call “walk the grandparenting runway” —- grandkids in tow, dressed to the nines, waving the wave to their fellow lunch lady grandmas so they can then gloat that  “these are our grandkids…..aren’t they beautiful…….they make such high grades…….they are so good at sports…….”  YET, when it’s time to do the dirty work and take over for a weekend so the parents can escape, they suddenly have work to do, parties to attend, etc.

My dad gets a pass on this one because he is generously keeping the children Labor Day weekend so we can escape for our 20th anniversary.  He didn’t even have to be coaxed!  BUT, herein lies the difference in my dad keeping the kids and many of today’s grandparents:  While we are gone, unless it’s a serious emergency, we will not hear from him.  He will handle what comes his way and should he have a legitimate question like, “Where in the hell do y’all hide the extra toilet paper?”, he will send us a text.  Unless he’s already sitting on the toilet and then we may get a call.  If the kids fight, he doesn’t call us. He handles it.  Every little thing is not an emergency.  Never during the trip or after we return does he feel the need to tell us every little transgression that transpired in our absence.  He doesn’t greet us with 100 concerns over how the kids dress, talk, text, play video games, treat one another, treat him, treat the dog, bathe improperly, eat too little, eat too much, are rude, are lazy, etc.  We get NONE of that, because he understands his role is to be their grandparent and friend, not their parent and prison warden.  And most importantly, he does NOT shower them with gifts to win their love and approval.  He just treats them like kids he could not be prouder of and they can tell he just loves being part of their lives. He will reprimand them if necessary, like a good grandparent should, but he is not constantly preaching to them & criticizing all that they do.  So…….that said, I feel the urge to come to the aid of other grandparents or grandparents-to-be & list some advice for you.  Trust me when I say this will not only help your relationship with the grandkids, but your kids too!  And trust me when I say that I’m glad I won’t need to depend on an inheritance in my elder years, because I’m screwed.  But seriously, some tips:

1) If you have grandkids, I can logically assume you had children.  You got to choose their names.  Your kids get to choose their kid’s names.  Do not offer suggestions or assistance. Do not take it personally if your kid doesn’t name one of his after you.  It doesn’t mean they hate you.  They just hate your name, Gertrude.  And for God’s sake, do not tell your kids how much you dislike their choice of names.  Even if they picked something like Nakkole, Zephyr, or Stump.  As PAINFUL as it will be to watch them write a ridiculous spelling such as Gynniphyr on that birth certificate, it’s really none of your business.  (I fully realize I will have trouble with this one day should it happen to me. Yes,  I realize that. I’m saving these to refer to in my own grandparenting years.)

2) Do not attempt to influence how your children dress their kids.  I was never a frills and bows sort of girl and I didn’t really want my kids to be that way. Yes, even my daughter. As a child, it was, at times, forced upon me and I hated it with a passion.  I also never wanted a bow on my daughter’s head that would be visible on Google Street View.  Easter bonnets were terribly humiliating to me and I did not want one on my own child unless she wanted one.  Do not try to buy your grandkids clothing that reflects YOUR taste and then get mad when the parent doesn’t make the kid wear it.  As a side note, on one side of our family there seems to be a notion that if your children are given something to wear and you don’t put them in it and line them up for a portrait, you are being disrespectful.  This is not true.  Disrespect is doing something you know your child or “child-in-law” doesn’t like and then pouting because you didn’t get your way.

3) Honor the wishes of your children in how they raise your grandkids unless they go totally freaking bonkers with Scientology or become Wiccan.  What I’m referring to here is simple stuff.  If they don’t want their kids to have sugar, respect that.  If they insist in making their kids sit in car seats and wear seat belts, respect that even if your own children “BY GOD,  SURVIVED STANDING IN THE FRONT SEAT & TAKING NAPS IN THE BACK OF THE STATION WAGON!”  Also, I might point out, it’s the law.

4) This may be the most important one yet.  Respect who your grandchildren are.  Do not try to make them what you want them to be.  My daughter is one of the most independent, spirited kids I know.  She was never a girly-girl, never wanted to learn traditional girl things like sewing and cooking, enjoyed being alone & had her own tastes.  Respect and in fact, EMBRACE THAT, even if it’s not what you envisioned your grandchild being.  Can I shout this one from the rooftops?

5) Do not say things about your grandkids based on speculation, not fact.  This has been a huge issue in our marriage/parenting.  I could write a whole book on how the townspeople where I grew up thought I was spoiled.  As a result, we have relatives who immediately thought that my child would be overly indulged and turn out to be a spoiled brat.  It has been assumed that because my daughter gets to go to Italy on a senior trip that she is spoiled.  No one seems to take into account that she works her little butt off babysitting during the school year, works at the pool in the summer and has earned it by being a wonderful kid who made us proud all 18 years of her life.  We have never once told her she has to work; she just chooses to. It bothers me that she doesn’t get respected for that.  Those same relatives assume that my kids are crazy about my dad because he “buys them stuff”.  This has never been further from the truth.  I can’t remember the last thing my dad bought my kids that wasn’t for a birthday or Christmas. He does slip them a $5 or $10 bill now and then because, “A feller oughta have a little money in his pocket.”  So the gist of this one is really, “Mind your own business, don’t make assumptions and keep your mouth shut.”

6)  Realize that times have changed and circumstances are different than when you raised your kids. ( i.e. This ain’t the 70′s!) We get constantly criticized because we do not force all the kids to attend family gatherings.  Hell, we get criticized if WE don’t attend all the family gatherings.  Things have changed, people.  Schools are not as lax about kids being absent. OR, we may choose to put baseball first that weekend because our child made an obligation to his team and coach when he agreed to be part of that team & it’s not fair for him to not be there for them.  Our kids grew up in the city with friends all around and things to do & they may not want to go spend 4 days in a town of 1,800 that, and I quote, “DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A McDONALD’S!”  There is no need to take it personally, but if you constantly criticize a child, chances of them wanting to spend time with you decrease greatly.

7) Understand that once your children are married that they have AT LEAST two families to consider now & sometimes with re-marriage, 3 or 4.  Sometimes you are the one that there isn’t time for on a holiday and PLEASE consider the stress it puts on your kids when you make them feel guilty about choosing.  This one is basically a “Put your big girl – or boy – panties on & realize you don’t always get your way.”

8) If you take your grandkid to the movie, buy him popcorn.  If you take him to the County Fair, let him play games.  If you take him to the town festival, buy him a snowcone.  It’s the little things.  Chances are, if you could afford admission, you can get him a treat.  This is not spoiling your grandchild.  This is avoiding looking like an asshat in his eyes.  Otherwise, just don’t go.  Would you rather them remember that you bought them a grape snowcone or would you rather them remember that you were to cheap to buy one?

9) Don’t go the guilt trip route, ever.  With kids or grandkids.

10)  FINALLY, just enjoy them.  Stop worrying about perfecting them and just enjoy them.

You’re welcome.  Or not.  Your choice :-)

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One thought on “Grandparenting 101 – Observations From The Other Side

  1. Jackie says:

    Really enjoyed your list of tips! While my daughter and her husband were attending birthing classes, they found out the hospital offered “Grandparenting Classes” and of course, signed us up! You are right in # 6, how much things have changed since our children were born in the 80s. If you would like to take a look at that and many other things that I’ve realized, feared, enjoyed, loved and appreciated about grandparenting, please check out my website at http://www.grandparenting-essentials.com! Check out “How things have changed” page. Happy Grandparenting!

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