Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It takes a village to screw up a child...

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 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.


  1. I hear you and I understand.

    My favorite comeback line used to be (operative words: used to): "Won't that acceptance and encouragement be better served for acceptable behavior. I mean, really, do you want to be associated with the savages they will become? Will you want to keep them for a weekend when they act like this?"

    I would get strange looks, and then, when the inappropriate behavior started to sprout consistently at their house, and they reprimanded, I supported them. I demanded apologies for their grandparents. When said grandparents saw that respect is a necessary part required of all members of society, and saw that they were being supported, they were a little more on-board.

    And you know what, this fall under "child is testing limits.: I know, I know, not what you want to hear, but truly, that is what it is. He is NORMAL...this is what they do and they need to. Acting out is the equivalent to an adult jumping out of a plane; risk taking. Stupid, sure. Necessary, absolutely.

    As for feeling as though you betrayed them, not so much. You are venting, and venting is good.

  2. I am SOOOOOOO nodding my head at this post. My "outlaws" allow my kids to be complete, unmannered, soul-sucking brats when under their watch.

    It drives me nuts. I mean, yes, I appreciate their participation in my kids' lives, but really? Must you allow them to behave like marrow-eating savages? ARGH!

    And, like you, I wonder why I care so much, but dang! Bratty kids suck! I don't want mine to join the ranks.

  3. My mom is really bad for this. Case in point: a few years ago, my son PEED in the HALLWAY because he didn't want to walk all the way to the bathroom. He was dealing with his punishment and my mother said to him, "Don't worry, baby, sometimes Grandma pees in the wrong place, too." Like a) it was an accident and not sheer laziness and b) like it's okay to baby a kid who PEED IN THE HALLWAY.

    Ehem. I deal with this from my mother every single day. My dad and inlaws defer to us and respect our decisions, but my mother thinks expecting children to behave appropriately and respectfully is akin to training them to be soldiers. And she says that, loudly, whenever she gets the chance.

    So, yeah. You are not alone.

  4. No doubt, it's tough being a disciplinarian...perhaps more so when you're a grandparent. (stopping from SITS)

  5. I'm glad you've had a chance to vent here. It is tough finding the balance and redrawing those boundaries, especially when you feel so grateful for the help.

    What's amazing is how much changes over a decade. Right from when my niece was born I remember watching my mum transform from the Momzilla she was with me and my sister, to the Big Ol Granny Pussycat she became with her grandkids.

    I do think it's worth letting go of the small stuff (as you already do) but having a serious but non-accusatory chat about the major no-nos - for everybody's peace of mind!

  6. Yes! I agree! Isn't it madness! The crazy thing is...they weren't like this with us! When did they abandon all reason? Great post!

  7. Vent away! I was caught, though, by these sentences: "I don't want the grandparents to be parents. I know that's our job. I want them to enjoy being grandparents."

    When grandparents let the kids do whatever, they are being grandparents. While I do not want to be in this category any time soon (my oldest is 25 and his friends are getting married left and right), not being the disciplinarian is something I do look forward to.

  8. I feel your pain.
    My boys are 6 and 5, and like you I feel like I'm being ungrateful speaking out loud about this problem, but sometimes it just needs to be said.
    I've been told: "We're grandparents,it's our job to spoil your children."
    While the spoiling is a little to be desired as well, there are no excuses for tantrums, talking back, or rudeness.
    And yet we are incredibly blessed. Where would we be without these crazy people to help us with our lives?
    If you figure out an answer, I could use an email. Take Care.

  9. I don't have this issue because the only grandmother my son has is just a big of a hardass as me ; ) but every single one of my friends tells me almost verbatim what's in your post. I have no advice to offer, just feelings of sorriness....I'm so sorry that you have to "undo" what the grandparents "did" each time they see them. That must suck it hard.

  10. It's hard when grandparents have them all day M-F. They want to be the fun ones who love on them, give them all the cool stuff, and just plain have fun.

    I think they complain when they are tired or it's been a particularly bad day. They don't want to have to discipline and they don't like having to be in the situation.

    I live it every day too - and it's hard. I've learned to keep my mouth shut unless I witness his outbursts and then I make him apologize for his actions - and he does. I explain that it is not acceptable to be mean to G&G because they love him and if he likes all the fun stuff they do, he'd better treat them nicely.
    It works, for a while.

    I try to make sure I'm prompt in fetching him every day and space out the overnights and extended stays as long as possible. It really helps.

    Sometimes you have to vent - it will all come together - I promise.

  11. My mom always tells me that it is her job to spoil my kids. But, sometimes, it's actually a safety issue, too. If she doesn't make them listen to her, I have no desire to let her take them out somewhere by herself b/c they could run away from her, thinking that they don't have to listen.

    And when they get back from being with her, they are brats that I have to remind that we DO have rules.

  12. stopping by from SITS - my question for the complaining grandparent would be "is it like vegas, where what happens at Grandma's stays at Grandma's ... or do you want to change this behavior?" If they say the first - then they lose the privilege to complain if it's the second, you help them to gain a backbone by clearly stating the rules for both parties upfront and sticking up for gran when she deals with it...

  13. We have this with my mil - she cannot or will not respect the boundaries and choices we have made for raising our girls, and sometimes I resent the need to have to reprogramme my child after she has undermined ours rules and mores. And yet she believes her actions are founded in love....

  14. I'm so with you on this.

    Most of the time I appreciate when family comes over and relieves me of my children, really I do. Because a lot of our time together is spent teaching good manners and appropriate behavior and it wears me down to a nub. So, like you, I "get" that it's much more fun to just come in my house and play and let the kids do their thing. However, when I get "the eye" for the girls' "wild" behavior or back-talk that only appears when said visitors enter the house and abandon all of my rules and structure, it kind of negates any kind of relief felt at the start of the visit.

    The only thing worse than re-teaching the kids, is when you wind up re-teaching the adults. And the ones I know are terrible students...

  15. I think that spoiling the grandchildren is perfectly alright. I could say that it is needed, actually. But there are lines to be drawn. Children should not be allowed to be disrespectful - to adults, other kids or themselves. Children need limits, no matter whose care they are under.

    So Yeah, I think it's okay for you to be frustrated here. And maybe, just maybe, your frustration will lead to changes, in the end.

  16. Liz, you always manage to strike a chord with me in your posts.
    I have given you a Kreative Blogger Award.
    Thank you so much for keeping me entertained and also for letting me know that as a parent, I am not alone!!
    Enjoy, Dana

  17. Are you sure you are not talking about our Nana & Poppa? I am so with you on this. Man O Mine often says "Who are these people and what did they do with our parents?" Nana had a hard lesson last summer...she was going out on an errand, and then would return to pick up kids and take them out to a movie. One kid cried to go with her, so she gave in. Funny thing, after the movie, same kid cried because she refused to buy him an expensive toy. She had to "talk with me about an issue we had" when she returned. I pointed out the earlier incident only reinforced such behavior.
    They are a blessing though...I could not ask for better grandparents for my children. I just wish they would hold my children accountable for their behavior!


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