‘Helpful’ Grandparenting

I overheard a conversation today at a toddler group at the library. Two grandmothers had brought their grandchildren along, and were clearly enjoying the bonding time together. These young grannies were possibly mid fifties, and both had grandchildren of about 18 months to 2 years, about the same age as my own son.

What caught my attention initially was their talk of nap times. “Oh it depends how long I have her for” one grandma said, “if she’s with me for the whole day, she’ll have two naps.” The other grandma expressed surprise that the child was not down to just one long sleep in the day, to which granny #1 answered, “Oh yes, my daughter tells me only to give her one, but how can I get anything done that way? I always give her two, it’s much easier for me, I dont mind that she’s sleeping more than usual”

I’m sure you don’t mind, [I wish I’d replied] because it isnt you having to settle her that evening, and having no idea why she isnt tired! I was really irritated by her attitude, but not overly surprised. I’ve often heard mums complaining that their own parents dont listen to the ‘rules’ they’ve put in place for their children.

The whole concept kind of confuses me. Our parents tell us they are so proud of the way we raise our own children, they praise us for being great mothers and fathers, and yet find it impossible to keep to our guidelines.

Do you not trust us? Is it hard to see us as grown up enough to make sensible and thought out choices about our own offspring?

I can imagine that after a lifetime of being able to make the rules, it must be hard to suddenly have to listen to your own child, and adhere to their way of thinking, especially where it differs from your own. I can see that when times change, and what you did as a young mum is no longer the norm, it can seem OTT or uneccesary to be strict about routines or some of the more modern parenting techniques which involve unwavering consistency.

This explains how parents might get in interesting and spirited debate with their kids about how rules and customs have changed over the years, and how child-rearing has evolved in the last generation. None of this explains to me how a grandparent can see no problem whatsoever with nodding in agreement when their daughter gives a direct request, “put him down at 1pm” “don’t give him anything sugary” “no TV please” and then go and do the exact opposite, and not even mention it. Especially when they probably went through the exact same thing with their own parents!

Maybe this is harsh, but having control over eating/sleeping/treats and the like, is simply not one of the perks of being a grandparent. There are so many, and I’ve heard many say that they actually prefer it to parenthood. But making those decisions is not your job. It’s the parents job. And it makes sense, because the parents are the ones who have to deal with the inevitable consequences of too much/not enough sleep, or the wrong kinds of foods, or a overstimulated toddler bouncing off the walls.

Dont get me wrong, ‘m sure I speak for all parents when I say that any help or babysitting from grandparents is incredibly kind and helpful. After all, you dont have to be offering at all! And maybe I’m the one being OTT now. But I speak only for ourselves when I say, that if our parents were secretly doing the opposite of what we were asking them to do, even with the best intentions in the world-that kind of help we can really do without.

Would Grandparenting make good Parenting?


Grandparents would make really cool parents. But my aim is not to be cool.

We all know the expression that most grandparents employ, that being a g’parent is great because you get all the fun and sharing, and then you get to give the kids back at the end of the day. Partly, the way they seem to act must be down to this sudden lack of real parental responsibility after all these years of having their own children. I’ve spoken before (Emerging Adulthood) about finally becoming a grown up, and one of the five stages of this being having your own children. Perhaps with this, we cross the line into not needing ‘looking after’ any more, and our parents are free to seize the silliness which theyve spent the last few decades quashing and enjoy not having to be the ‘grown ups’ for a while.

Does this explain why when I’m trying to get my 1yo down for an afternoon nap, gritting my teeth through the controlled crying and trying not to join him in his tears, I have a grandma at my shoulder voicing her opinion of “Well, if he doesnt want to go to sleep, why should he have to?” Er.. maybe because otherwise he’s going to be a huge grouch all afternoon and not eat properly or feel well? And when I’m feeding him, Oh you’re being so cruel, if he doesnt want that mashed potato, why should he have to have it? Because kids (especially babies) dont have any idea what they like yet and its up to us to introduce tastes and different foods? Apparently irrelevant.

It’s not as if I have some magical knowledge of babies that they don’t have. On the contrary, they brought us all up, and I would bet a substantial sum that all of us had plenty of afternoon naps and ate full and nourishing meals, against our heavy protestations. But somehow when the generation gap widens, all responsible parenting seems to fly out the window. I’m sure R would love a piece of chocolate cake.. just a small piece? … Oh let’s wake him up for a quick cuddle… I saw seventeen different toys he doesnt need this week, and just had to buy them all. Where was this when we were growing up? With our strict bed times and dietary mandates and forgotten birthday presents let alone ‘just because’ presents.. Is this just sudden freedom from parental responsibility? Or have they grown up and realised that life’s too short to be so strict?

If grandparents could have their time back with us parents as babies, I wonder if they would be so laissez faire with the rules. Or if it is just a way to build that special g’parent/g’child bond through cake and treats and bending those rules. Maybe I’m crazy to let it annoy me when I know that to some extent all g’parents do the same thing. And yet…