Friday, July 13, 2012

Avoiding the Grandparent Trap

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You guys ever had this happen to you?

You're having a great morning with your kids: cartoons are on, everyone got fed without incident, your oldest child is running around in a diaper with rubber boots on the wrong feet waving a magic wand (What? That only happens to me?). Everything is going swimmingly and then...BAM. The doorbell rings. Nana pops in for a visit on her way to work. You love her but you can't help but wince internally. There goes your peace and quiet for the rest of the day. She means well but she manages to wind your kids up like clockwork mice every time she see's them. Your children adore her because with her every day is a holiday, drum sets are perfectly reasonable gifts for toddlers and lollipops are one of the four major food groups.

It's not her fault. Her grandmother did it to her, her mother did it to you and one day you will get to do it to your grand kids. It's the circle of life. It is a grandparents is their responsibility to spoil the crap out of your kids. She is under obligation to every generation of grandmothers before her to continue this time honored tradition, effing up your routines and systems. You see, when she was raising you, her mother made a half joking prediction. She said that one day you were going to grow up to be a handful, and that you were going to give your mother all the grey hairs that your mother gave her. Sound familiar? She probably said the same thing to you when your child was born.

Then she set out to make it a reality.

"I'm not spoiling them dear, I'm just being a good Grandma."

Being a grandmother means never having to say no. It doesn't make sense. She had no problem telling you no when you were growing up. It's as though she was given a finite number of no's and then wasted them all on you. Now everything is yes. Staying up past bedtime? Yes. Candy for breakfast? Yes. Dirt bikes for their birthday. Hell to the yes!!! Grandma is the toddler equivalent of a rock star. She gets to do all the things with them that she wished she could have done with you. The problem was she was too busy raising you and trying to keep you from drawing on the car with a rock and/or licking an electrical outlet. Now she is making up for lost time.

She doesn't have to do the whole disciplinarian thing. That's YOUR job. She gets to play now. They didn't have any of these cool toys when she had you. When you were a baby you had a rattle, a teddy bear and a favorite blankie. If you were really lucky you got a walker with wheels, guaranteed to send you headfirst down whatever set of stairs was closest. Thanks to the combined efforts of both sets of grandparents your kids have toys worth the GDP of a small country. Why the bounty now? Easy. She doesn't have to buy diapers anymore. She can afford the fun stuff. I suspect she might have stock in Toys "R" Us.

"An Xbox is a great present...Yes, I know she's only three, whats that got to do with anything?"

So, how do you avoid a rift in your relationship with your mother while ensuring she respects YOUR rights as a mother? The same way you eat an elephant. One bite at a time. You can't change her and you shouldn't want to. She might drive you batshit crazy but her heart is in the right place. Really, can you ever hold a grudge against someone who loves your kids so much that she is willing to let them use her as a jungle gym for hours on end? Not to mention enduring endless hours of "Ring Around The Rosie" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider". You can't change her but you can change the way you look at her. Here are a few useful suggestions to get the most out of her visits and get some precious alone time while you are at it.

Draw your line in the sand.

Let her know what's negotiable and what's not. She gave your kid a second helping of cake for dessert without asking you first? Meh...not the end of the world. She gave your child a big ice cream cone and a milkshake because she doesn't believe he's actually lactose intolerant, you are just overreacting? Ok, that's crossing a line. Remember that this is YOUR house and as long as she is under your roof she needs to abide by your rules. Just pick your battles wisely. Keeping them up past their bedtime probably isn't worth starting a family feud over. Causing them physical pain or discomfort, albeit unintentionally, is grounds for a showdown. In my house I can shrug pretty much anything off with an eyeroll and a glass of wine BUT when it comes to the safety and health of my children I will pitch a fit (out of sight of the kids of course, they don't need to see friction between the authority figures in their lives).

Make her bring food.

This is especially important if you have new babies in the house. This technique was perfected by my own mother, who realized early on that even the most unwelcome visitor will be graciously received...provided she has Indian takeaway and ice cream. Nothing says "Sorry for dropping by unannounced at the worst possible time." better than a big plate of Butter Chicken and a double scoop of Pralines and Cream.

Get her to babysit.

So, she want's to come for a visit, eh? That is a fantastic opportunity to go get your hair did, do some errands or even just take a shower for twenty minutes, uninterrupted. Shave something, for Pete's sake. After all, she knows how to take care of kids. She raised you didn't she? Granted it wasn't as stressful back then, before the internet made us all paranoid about our parenting skills. Just make sure she knows how to open the childproof locks on the fridge and garbage cans before you leave (trust me on this one)

Let her clean.

Are you like me? Do you shoo people away when they try to help? STOP THAT. Ok, so it is a little annoying when you open your dishwasher and the plates aren't how you like them and the dryer is stacked with a pile of towels folded the wrong way. Suck it up, put it all away and be grateful you didn't have to do it yourself. It's not as easy to bitch about how much extra work grandma visits are if you actually let her pitch in and help. Just because she wants to tell you the "right" way to sort cutlery doesn't mean you have to listen. Just smile and nod and take the help.

Stash the Toys.

She showed up at your house with yet another pile of toys for the kids, despite the fact that you have asked her repeatedly not to spoil them. Who says you have to give them all to the kids at once? Put your foot down. You might not be able to stop her from shopping but you can control how you dole out the gifts. Give the kids a couple and put the rest away in a closet. Wrap them up for Christmas, Birthdays, Groundhog Day. Whatever holiday you want. Did she bring a ridiculously age inappropriate toy? Tell her you will gladly hang on to that electric guitar until your infant is old enough to appreciate it. Make sure it's her name on the tag so the kids know who to thank and make sure there are no live animals involved. Decomposing hamsters make lousy presents.

"They're going to love her...Do you think we should have asked first? Nah, didn't think so"


Respect Her Wisdom

All jokes aside, as irritating as her behavior can be remember this; Whatever you are going through with your kids, chances are she went through it too. She might piss you off from time to time but she is a sympathetic ear. She understands why you have bald spots, she tore out a few clumps of her own hair when you were a kid too. She knows a home remedy for every complaint and, at the very least, will make you a nice hot cup of tea and listen to you vent. She knows how to get rid of colic, earaches and can diagnose chicken pox and slather your kid in Calamine lotion faster than you can Google the symptoms. She will never judge you, even if she doesn't understand you. She might be their grandma but she will always be your mom.

"You actually WANT my opinion? Really? Are you feeling OK?"

And she did a pretty damn good job with you!

All Images: Ambro at
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1 comment:

Enyo@MotherhoodLooms said...

Nope, you're not the only one with toddlers and rubber boots. :-P

Grandparents are awesome as long as everyone comes to an understanding. :)