When it comes to the dynamics of extended family, I liken grandparents to blue-collar, union supervisors sitting atop the seniority ladder. They’ve been around forever, can do as they please, and are virtually untouchable. Don’t get me wrong. I mean this with the utmost respect. Grandparents have earned their position, what with all the diapers, Band-Aids, laundry, throw up, homework, teenage rebellion, etc. that we junior workers at Adult World Inc. are still fumbling around with on the conveyor belt of child-rearing.
I have to mention that there’s a distinction in referring to grandparents as supervisors as opposed to managers who in this case would actually be … well, this isn’t a perfect analogy. Still, my point here is that grandparents, like supervisors, stand nearby sipping their coffee while watching us work as parents. Sometimes they will give us a pat on the back. Other times they might offer some piece of unsolicited advice when the situations warrants.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking here: “My supervisors’ are always giving me their two cents, even when I don’t want it.” That’s going to happen, especially if it means the grandparents will come off like the proverbial good guys. This is a regular occurrence in our home too. When my stepdaughter’s Ga Ga comes over for a visit, it’s a sure bet some variation of the following exchange will take place:
Stepdaughters: Mom, can we do such and such?
Their Mother: No, you may not do such and such.
Ga Ga: I think you should let them do such and such.
Their Mother: But you never let me do such and such at their age.
Ga Ga: What? Yes I did.
Their Mother: No you didn’t!
Ga Ga: You’re making that up.
Stepdaughters: Isn’t that lying, Mommy?
Typically this is the moment when Ga Ga, sporting a sly grin, volunteers to take the girls for the afternoon — a proposition no sane parent could refuse — only to return several hours later after buying more toys than the girls can carry in a single trip. This also serves as a prime example of my thoughts in saying that grandparents do as they please.
I’m guessing that grandparents do this for a couple reasons, payback being one of them. Remember all those times when you were acting like a pill, and your parents said that they hoped you would have ten kids just like you? Spoiling the kids, ignoring you, grandparenting with impunity — it’s all intended to see those earlier hopes become a reality. In fact, I think that grandparents actually believe they are making us better parents by employing the what-can’t-kill-you-only-makes-you-stronger paradigm, which demands they instigate civil unrest via the grandkids and then leave it for us to quell.
When I was five, my grandparents took me along to the grocery store where they bought me one of those cheap, plastic, toy horns — you know, the kind that plays three solitary, atonal notes at decibel levels only Louis Armstrong could blow in announcing the second coming. After my grandparents handed me that horn, they dropped me off at home and hightailed it out of there as if they had just ignited a short fuse on a large bomb. I had no sooner signaled the beginning of the apocalypse with an explosive rendition of “Muskrat Ramble” when I felt a hand rip that horn from my lips, never to be heard from again. Looking back now, I can see my grandma and grandpa giggling as they pulled out of the driveway that night knowing full well what they had done.
But really, what can any of us do to stop a grandparent? It’s not like you can notify your union rep. Even non-family members are reticent to take them on as was the case with my other grandma. She loved watching me play basketball in high school, and of course, was a fervent fan — a little too fervent. As I fought against a defender for a spot under the basket during one game, Grandma stood up in the bleachers and shouted that I should — and I quote — “Knock that dumb kid on his…” well, you get the idea. No one dared to confront dear, sweet Grandma. My mother, on the other hand, received quite a few dirty looks, and I recall bearing the brunt of more than my usual share of cheap shots on the court. Grandma, meanwhile, enjoyed the evening unscathed.
Admittedly, I’m jealous of grandparents and all their perks. If I armed my kids with an obnoxious toy and then left them at their grandparents for a sleepover, it’s likely the children would be returned to me before evening’s end like a bad Redbox movie rental. What’s more, I would still probably end up being the bad guy. But in another sense I’m okay with that.
Grandparents have already done more than enough laps around the track of raising children. It’s time for them to simply enjoy what’s, in effect, a byproduct of how they raised us. I’m thankful my children have grandparents like this. They are just what my kids need.
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Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons (Aiacon)