Grandparents can be a wealth of information when it comes to the care and feeding of kiddos, but they can also be a source of headache and frustration. Last year’s arrival of my newest little has definitely reminded me of the varied nuances and interactions between parenting and grandparenting. We’ve been revisiting old issues with grandparents and uncovering a few new ones… fun times.
Or not. In our case we have two very dissimilar grandparent modus operandi. I like to call them “The Visitors” and “Second-Mom.”
The Visitors love to bring gifts, which can be difficult since the toys are overflowing the kid spaces at current juncture and being a lover of bandwagons I’m Konmari-ing away… I know the stuff isn’t just my problem see this, this, this, and this. I have tried the tips, but it remains a source of disagreement… you see, in our case I found when you tell people you don’t want gifts or that you’d like a specific thing (like cash) it’s considered tacky, and you will be judged accordingly. Also, I have been told experience gifts “aren’t real gifts” and I’m no fun for never allowing anything fun. Right after #2, in the throes of mastitis and sleep deprivation I said, “take him out and buy whatever.” Which was immediately regretted due to a passive aggressive, “Ooo! Finally, we’re allowed to buy a real gift!” I was floored. Of course, there’s also this… Which leads to the tumultuous interplay of ideas and the accumulation of things that will be broken from their unceremonious treatment related to their overwhelming plentitude. There really isn’t a perfect solution.
I digress. The visitors are also in perfect position for hurt feelings when the baby doesn’t recognize them, instead giving them stink-eye when they ruffle his hair or kiss his head, or when the big one prefers not to give hugs and kisses. (I allow my boys to say ‘no’ to any unwanted touching, another contentious point.) The boys are at an age where they need to run and play, leaving the visitors watching on the sidelines… Not to mention the feeling as though activities and outings should be planned when they visit. Conversations with Grandmas are not always pleasant, but to avoid the constant stress of the above contention and stress they are essential. (Note: They are also extremely uncomfortable and difficult which is why this one hasn’t happened.) I might need a few more pep-talks…
On the other hand, we have “Second-mom”… She baby-sits, the big kid sleeps over at her house. Overall, huge help and I don’t know how I’d do without her, but still with the gifts (a little more on the sly and she sometimes buys without asking as things stay at her house, frustrating). I love having my Mom in her role as ‘second-mom’, but it takes a lot of work to co-parent with the person who parented you. To say, “I know that’s what you did with us, but no.”
I have had to have the gumption? amazing openness of communication in our relationship? to be able to say “seriously, mom?” or “We’re not doing it that way.” I have also had to be cognizant of safety issues that weren’t when I was a kid, like new car seat rules, and “back to sleep”. This in and of itself can be dizzying, so much has changed in terms of safety. I do my best to catch them all and cross my fingers I didn’t miss any. She has been pretty good about trying to make sure she’s aware too which helps. In some cases I have had to put away my magical parenting unicorn and acknowledge that Mom’s way worked better. It’s been quite the roller coaster ride, with some harrowing drops and a bit of out of control sugar intake, but we’re figuring it out.
I attribute this to the fact that my mom and I have really worked hard to keep communication open and productive. Yes, we’ve both been irritated with one another. We’ve had yelling arguments, we have talked about everything from discipline to SAFETY to treats (still working on it). She’s not afraid to tell me what she wants and when she’s noticing something good or bad. We’ve reassessed when things aren’t working. At this point the things that need to change are a product of all of us. My mom is flexible, she listens, and she completely respects that my husband and I are the parents. This is important, when I say NO I can trust she won’t do it anyway (except the toys, since they stay at her house there hasn’t been an outright ban).
Unfortunately, great communication isn’t always something that exists between us and our parents. Social expectations and fears about being impolite can cause extreme hesitation in speaking up, especially when the grandparents in question aren’t your parents… I think I’ll open with, “I really appreciate that you think of the boys so often and they love spending time playing with you…”
How do you have the difficult conversations with family?