It’s a serious conundrum: grandparents love to spoil their grandkids, and parents loathe having their children delivered back to them as crabbier, more entitled versions of themselves. How could we not? We parents work hard day in and out to maintain healthy routines for our kids by serving them (mostly) healthy food, ensuring they get enough sleep, and not indulging their never-ending desire for crappy plastic impulse buys. We want to raise thoughtful, patient kids who understand they aren’t the center of the universe. But then the grandparents crash onto the scene like the Kool-Aid man and bust up all our hard work.
When Grandma ignores our pleas to take it easy on the sugar and please not take the six-year-old to the American Girl store again, it can be crazy-making. The child returns home clutching an expensive new toy (or several), hair all askew, tiny body jittering gleefully. A tantrum is inevitable, we can tell from the I-just-ate-an-entire-bag-of-jelly-beans gleam in her eyes. The grandparents leave and we’re the ones who have to pick up the pieces (there are always pieces) and re-tame this beast before school on Monday so they can function. Ugh. Of course we’re annoyed. Who wouldn’t be?
Well… me. I wouldn’t be. I know from talking to my friends that I’m probably in the minority here, but personally, I don’t mind when my mom and stepdad spoil my kids. In fact, I kind of like it.
Here’s the thing, my mom and stepdad live a few hours away. We don’t see them regularly, but when we do get together, yep, the grandparents want to make it a money-spending, sugar-exploding-from-canons free-for-all. And I’m OK with that because my kids get to have unforgettable, joyful experiences that I can’t (or won’t) provide. My son and daughter will never stop telling the story about the time Grandpa took them to the army surplus store to stock up on camo gear so they could have the most epic outdoor nighttime Nerf battle ever. They’ll also never forget the time Grandma and Grandpa took them to see Guardians of the Galaxy and let them order popcorn and candy to snack on during and then still took them out for ice cream after. My kids came home with rumbling tummies but overflowing hearts.
I get how this drives some parents over the edge, but this arrangement works in our family for two key reasons:
1) I always have the final word.
Much of the tension with grandparents arises when the parents don’t feel respected as the heads of household because their rules and wishes are disregarded. And it makes total sense; if your wishes aren’t being respected, sure, you’re probably going to feel resentment over Grandma’s antics.
A key ingredient in our situation is that my parents respect my parenting. When I’m present, they defer to me. If I was to ask them not to do something or not to give something to my kids, they would accept that. To be clear, I haven’t ever had to explicitly lay out any boundaries with them (yet!), but if I had to, I would, and I’d be confident that my wishes would be respected. This makes all the difference in how I feel about their extravagant relationship with my kids.
2) We teach different rules for different settings.
What do I mean by this? Well, basically, we underscore for the kids that Grandma and Grandpa’s rules are not Mom and Dad’s rules. Different house, totally different rules — in fact it might as well be a different planet. We really name this out loud and joke about how Grandma and Grandpa let them get away with things that absolutely would not fly with Mom and Dad. This helps me feel like the grandparents aren’t undoing my work.
Moreover, I’m happy for my kids to learn this lesson. Adjusting expectations and behavior based on context is something all people have to learn anyway. Every place we go in life has a different set of rules. We can’t behave the same way in a professional setting as we would at a party, or at a fancy restaurant the same way we would at our favorite dive. We all need to learn to shift gears based on environment, and I’m comfortable with my kids absorbing this lesson between the grandparents’ house and ours.
I admit, it’s sometimes been tricky to get the kids back in their stable routines after an exciting weekend with Grandma and Grandpa, but it’s no trickier than coming back from a vacation where everyone is overtired and thrown off their routines. Reentry is a b*tch no matter what. So I figure if I can help my kids practice that life skill while at the same time allowing them to make unforgettable memories with their grandparents, I’m more than willing to be the party pooper who helps them navigate back to baseline.
Especially if it means I never have to be the one to take them to Chuck E Cheese.