Barbara Graham, a Grandparents.com columnist, is the editor of the anthology Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother (Harper), which tells "the whole crazy, complicated truth about being a grandmother in today's world."
Not long ago when I was visiting, my son offered my 3-year-old granddaughter chicken tenders for dinner. The cherub took one look at the crusty yellow chunks, frowned, then shoved the plate as far away as her arm could reach. Next, she glared at the glossy orange buttered carrots set before her as if they were rat poison. Applesauce — golden, not her preferred red — was similarly rejected. But instead of informing his daughter that these were her dinner options, take them or leave them, my son proceeded to offer up just about every item in the larder. Cheerios? Pasta? Blueberry yogurt? After much ado, she finally settled on the yogurt with a side of toast.
Gentle reader, you may wonder: Did I insert myself into the conversation? Did I say one word to my son about the many wonderful benefits (to all involved) of limiting choices? I did not. Did I want to? Well, what do you think?
Soon — minutes, actually — after becoming a grandparent, I realized that my advice, opinions, wisdom, and hard-earned lessons as a mother were of no interest to my son and daughter-in-law. This was their baby and times had changed. I shouldn't have been surprised, considering how I'd stonewalled my own mother whenever she dared to advance her antiquated views on child-rearing to me after the birth of my son.
For the most part, I think my son and daughter-in-law have it right: their kids, their rules, their lives. In other words, none of my business. Still, there are times when something must be said — even at the risk of offending and, possibly, infuriating your adult children.
If parenthood offers basic training in the art of picking your battles, then grandparenthood is the ultimate graduate program. Here are five areas of potential conflict and some guidelines to help you decide which battles to pick — and which to leave to the parents, the kids, the gods, and the universe at large:
Behavior and Discipline. Whether you like your discipline strict or lax, chances are you don't always see eye to eye with your adult children on the topic. The complaint I hear most from grandparents is that not only are their grandkids allowed to run wild, but their parents are so afraid of upsetting them that they let them run the whole show. We can only hope that over time our adult children will see the wisdom of setting — and respectfully enforcing — age-appropriate rules and limits. Not much else we can do here. However, even if parents let their children treat them with disrespect, grandparents can let it be known to all concerned that we won't tolerate rude behavior.
On the other hand, if you witness your grandchildren being disciplined to excess, including the slightest hint of verbal or physical abuse, then it is your absolute responsibility to voice your concerns to their parents — and the authorities, if necessary.
[poll]Culture. Every family has its own microculture. TV or no TV? Which shows or video games? Kids dressed at all times or, like at a nudist colony, clothing optional? Mealtime, bedtime, choice of school, chores, allowance, curfew, homework, Facebook, texting at the dinner table — these are all aspects of family culture regulated (or not) by the parents. I don't envy them. With the onslaught of technology, parenting is more challenging than ever. But, alas, if grandparents aren't raising their grandkids, they simply don't have a voice in these matters — unless asked. (Which is not to say we don't have opinions. Personally, I think parents should play with their children without one hand constantly working their BlackBerries.)
Diet and Health. I've heard some grandparents complain that their grandkids are permitted to have any amount of any food (cookies, soda, pizza, fries, you name it) at any time. I've heard other grandparents kvetch because they're under strict orders never to let any sugary substance pass between their grandchildren's pure, organic, locavore lips. In either case, mom and dad rule. The caveat is that if you believe your grandchildren's health is at risk due to encroaching obesity, anorexia, or malnutrition — or any other physical or mental health issue unrelated to diet — and the parents are either in denial or aren't addressing the problem, you owe it to the kids to speak up.
Rules. For the sake of consistency, grandparents should stick to parental rules when taking care of the kids, to whatever degree possible — if not to the exact letter of the law, then at least to the spirit. However, this does not mean that if the parents actually let children jump on the sofa, have food fights at the dinner table, or color with crayons all over the living room walls, you must follow suit when watching the kids in your own home. Your house, your rules about how you want your property treated.
Visits. This one's sticky — and the thing most grandparents care most about. How much time do you get to spend with the kids? At their house or yours? Alone or with a gaggle of grandparents, aunts, and uncles on holidays only? The answers vary so widely and are affected by so many factors — distance, your availability, the involvement of other grandparents or caretakers, your relationship to the children's parents, divorce — that it's hard to generalize. That said, whether you feel deprived of time with the kids or imposed upon by too many babysitting requests (I hear it both ways), you have every right to speak truth to power — the parents. The goal is to work out an arrangement that meets your needs as well as everyone else's.
When do you decide you just can't hold your tongue? Continue the discussion in Barbara Graham's group, Grandparents Unplugged.
Yes, you can all get along:
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.