Disclaimer: I know I am incredibly lucky to have an entire network of people who help me raise my kids. I know that without these people, I would be lost...or at least, completely and utterly in despair. I know that it is because of these people that I am able to go to work and not worry about who is caring for my baby. I know that without these people, I would not have any of my Date Nights or Getaway Weekends. I know. I know, but...
Sometimes having family that involved can make things complicated.
What is it about grandparents that makes them absolutely and completely clueless about important things like discipline, follow-through, tantrums, and candy as a food group? I would not have an issue if they told me, straight out, that they are grandparents now and they do not need to worry about those things. I would not have an issue with them telling me that their job as grandparents is to spoil and love and provide M&Ms for dinner. I would embrace this. But this particular group of grandparents (on both sides, mind you) really, truly, absolutely believes that it is okay to have the child rule.
They seem to think there is absolutely nothing wrong with a four-year-old yelling "I was not talking to you!", complete with eyebrows furrowed for dramatic, angry emphasis.
They seem to think it is absolutely acceptable for the child to determine when it is time to leave the park/playground/any place of fun.
Me: "Hey Mom, how did it go today at Chuck E. Cheese with the boys?"
Grandparent: "Oh, it was great. They had a lot of fun. The only problem was that we had to keep getting more tokens because every time we ran out, Ben got upset and demanded more. And when it was time to leave, he refused, and kept saying 'No', so we had to stay an hour longer than we had planned."
Aforementioned boy does not pull any of these stunts with us, ever (at least not these, in particular). When he responds rudely, he goes to Time Out or loses a privilege or has to repeat the sentence in a "normal voice." When it's time to leave wherever we are, we tell him he has 5 minutes left, and at the end of those minutes, we go; no exceptions. He knows this. He knows what we expect. And it's not just that we demand this because it's the "right thing", but also because, quite honestly, it makes our lives easier. I would dread going anywhere fun if I knew the minute we had to leave, all hell was going to break loose.
I have tried to explain this to the grandparents, who spend a great deal of time with the kids. It would just be easier for everyone concerned if the kids learned to respond appropriately at least most of the time. But they don't seem to get it. It doesn't matter that they see it work when they're around us. It doesn't matter that we both have master's degrees in education and work with children all day long, 26 years of experience between the two of us. It doesn't matter. Their responses are always the same: "That's just how he is" or "That's how kids are" or "He's not controllable" or, the absolutely most frustrating of the responses, when they simply laugh it off, like it's a cute personality quirk.
I know what you're thinking: What do you care?
And you're partly right. If they don't care, why should I care that my kids run all over them?
But when the grandparents complain to me that one of the boys gave them a bad day because of this kind of lack of control, or when Hubby and I have to spend 2 days re-teaching our expectations because the kids spent a weekend being allowed to do and say whatever they want, we care. And how can we expect our kids to keep track of who allows what, all of the time? Sometimes, I can tell: he snaps or reacts inappropriately and then catches himself, realizing he's not with the grandparents.
And then there's the other aspect of all this: They seem to think it is perfectly all right for a child to, say, punch another kid on the playground, and that any consequence more severe than "Don't do that again, honey; now have another lollipop" is bordering on abusive. It just makes the hard parenting decisions all the more stressful when you know the rest of the family members who are involved day in and day out in the children's lives are not going to be supportive. Few things have frustrated me as much as the day my dad asked me if "maybe it was possible" that the teacher "just doesn't like Ben" and is "making up lies about his behavior."
Yes, Dad, that's it. The preschool teacher sits around all day, plotting how she will set up the 4-year-olds in her class who she doesn't like. That's why she got the low-paying job at the Christian preschool, after all: to mess with the kids.
I don't want the grandparents to be parents. I know that's our job. I want them to enjoy being grandparents.
But I can't help feeling that sometimes they make my job that much harder.
Even writing that, it's difficult. I feel like I'm betraying them, because they do so much. Their biggest crime is wanting the kids to be happy. But things can get volatile when you mix the inevitable dysfunctionalities of family with the complications of raising two small children.
I don't mind, really, that the kids eat Sour Patch Gummy Bears for lunch most days. I don't care that they are allowed to watch endless hours of TV. I don't care that they (literally) spoon-feed them although they are both able to feed themselves. I don't care that they wipe my 4-year-old's butt when he goes to the bathroom even though he's been wiping it himself quite successfully now for quite a while. It's all good: spoil away. But when it comes to the parenting stuff, the hard stuff, the actual shaping of human beings, I just wish it'd be a little easier to all get into it together...one big happy family.
Maybe I'm asking for too much. Maybe I should just shut up, drop the kids off for a night of babysitting, and go have a drink.