We all come to grandparenting with different expectations. Some grandparents want to be involved in every aspect of their grandchildren’s lives. They post the ultrasounds. They beg to be in the birthing room. They want a front row seat for everything. And some sons and daughters and in-laws are fine with this.
Other grandparents are more hands-off. They don’t want day-to-day reports about sleeping and pooping and teething and rolling over. They don’t want to Skype every night. And they don’t want to babysit. And some sons and daughters and in-laws are fine with this, too.
It’s when the grandparents want one thing and the parents want another — “I can’t believe your mother likes our kids so little that she refuses to watch them!” — that there’s trouble in paradise.
But here’s the thing about grandparenting: It is not a one-size-fits all role for anyone. Not for the new grandparents or for the new parents or even for the grandchildren. These relationships, though universal, are custom made every time. What works for one family may not work for another. The one thing that all grandparents need to remember, whether they are intimately involved in their grandchildren’s lives or only occasionally involved, is that our grandchildren are not ours. Much as we love them, they do not belong to us.
They are our children’s kids.
Which means we do not get to make the rules. We do not get to get to decide what time they go to bed. What they eat. How they behave at the table. How they address adults. What they wear. The length of their hair. Or whether or not they should get their ears pierced.
Their parents do. Unless we are raising our grandchildren, unless we are their official caretakers, we are not in charge.
We ruled the roost with our own children. Now our children get to rule the roost with theirs. It’s that simple. Except, of course, it isn’t, right? Because we know things. Because we’ve been down this road and we have insights and experiences we want to share with our children to make things easier for them.
It’s easier if the kids go to bed early, if their clothes are chosen for them, if they sit and eat breakfast and not run around instead.
For so many years, my tongue was nearly bloody from biting it so much, from saying nothing to my grown-up, full-fledged adult children who clearly were not raising their children the way I would raise them. Why are you giving him candy when you told him 10 times that he couldn’t have any? What do you mean, she gets to dress herself? She can’t go out looking like that! He’s articulate enough to tell you exactly how you should wipe his bum. Don’t you think he’s ready to be toilet-trained? I said none of these things. But I wanted to.
Now, after 12 years of grandparenting, (12 years of education earns you a high school diploma, right?) my tongue is never sore. Why? Because I don’t bite it anymore. Because I finally understand what my role is. It’s not to correct and say, “Do it my way. My way is the right way.” It’s not to offer advice, unless directly asked, as in, “Mom, tell me the truth.” Or “What would you do?” And it’s certainly not to walk around with disapproval on my face. It’s to let my kids raise their kids the way they choose.
My Aunt Lorraine used to say, “Look around at all the adults in the world. You never see any of them sucking on a pacifier.” It was her way of saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Children eventually give up their pacifiers. They stop jumping on furniture. They learn how to chew with their mouths closed and say please and thank you without being reminded.
Back when we had six grandchildren and not the current eight, we all went on a family vacation. Four families. Four different ways of doing things.
We had only one rule. There was to be no disciplining other people’s children. “Please sit down.” “Stop running.” “No, you may not have an ice cream. You’ve had too many sweets today.” All these decisions and reprimands were to be issued by a child’s parents only.
We had a fantastic week because we let the parents do their jobs. The kids had a great time, too, because they weren’t always being told by some well meaning someone to sit up straight and don’t do that.
Is it bad to have expectations for family relationships? It is if you expect to be in charge. And if it bothers you when you’re not.
But if you can go with the flow, if you can trust that your kids are doing the best they can, if your expectations are simply to be part of your children’s and grandchildren’s lives, you will find joy even in chaos.