I love my parents and in-laws, but when they’re around, I revert back to my teenage self. I feel like they’re breathing down my neck and getting in my personal space. I get moody about stuff. I get touchy about things. I drink.
There are two ways to fix this: I could mature and accept them as the flawed people that we all are. Or they could act like normal human beings. I’m opting for the latter.
To help them, I’ve come up with a list of three very simple things to focus on. It should be blown up to 140-point type, printed out and snail mailed to every grandparent in America, since none of them seem to know what email is. (Another thing they’re doing wrong.)
1. MAKE YOURSELF USEFUL
You expected us to be useful around the house when we lived under your roof. Now it’s your turn. This means you shouldn’t move half your belongings into our guest closet and exclaim, “Oh, it’s so nice to be on vacation here!”
This is not a vacation. Besides, vacation from what? You’re retired, remember? We are still working. We are in the prime of our lives. We have stuff to do. You’re our free babysitter, our laundress, our housekeeper, our chef, our handyman. We’d get you to be our masseuses too, if that weren’t gross.
Worse than not helping, is when you need help. We get that you can’t be trapped in our house all day. But you’re grown-ups. Don’t ask us to drive you around town and play tour guide. You have a driver’s license. You can borrow our car. Really, we trust you with our cars. It’s got a GPS. Go do something fun for a few hours. Away from us.
Just be back at our house when the kids are home from school. Remember parenting? Wasn’t it fun? You’re always trying to tell us it was, anyway. So here’s your chance to prove it. We need a break. Babysit for us. And not just at night when the kids are sleeping.
And never, ever complain. Yes, we have weird, inefficient ways of doing things, largely based on life choices you disapprove of. Don’t express those thoughts. We don’t complain when we visit you. We don’t say that we don’t like your brand of coffee. We don’t say that there’s nothing to do in this town. We don’t tell you to buy a new DVD player because the one you have is too old. Because we’re not teenagers anymore. And neither are you. Now go make our beds.
2. BE GOOD WITH OUR KIDS (YOU KNOW, YOUR GRANDKIDS?)
This one is the most difficult. Being truly interested in grandchildren requires a lot of energy and patience. Most likely, you think you’re super interested in your grandchildren, but you get bored pretty quickly.
You’re warned that an afternoon at the playground can be painfully long. But you say, “I wish I had enjoyed those times more when you kids were little. It goes by so fast.” After 20 minutes at the playground, you’re bored. You call your best friend back home. Now I have to worry about keeping one more person entertained.
When we get back home, you’ll have gifts for your grandchildren and you’ll watch them play with the new toys for 15 minutes. After which you’ll walk away and call your best friend again to tell her how amazing your trip has been with your grandkids— Half of which you’ve spent on the phone with her.
And what’s with your newfound joy in buying your grandchildren so many pieces of plastic junk? When we were little, we got a couple of pieces of plastic junk per year. And that was when you were in your highest earning potential. Now that you’re retired and you should be saving your money, you’re blowing it on dozens of pieces of plastic junk per year for your grandkids. It’s just not fair, says the teenager inside me that I’ve reverted to since you got here.
But more than buying the plastic junk, we want you to play with the plastic junk. Make the cars or dolls talk and have tea parties and play Legos, until long after the point where you actually remember how tedious being a parent can be. But don’t just do it for us. It’s amazing how much kids care about cheap bits of plastic, but they like attention even more. It makes them feel loved or something.
And please do it in the safety of our home because we’re not sure we trust you driving the kids around town. We’ve seen you attempt to strap them into a car seat.
Also, there will be no martyrdom. Grandmothers will not pout and tell our kids that you are “crying because you won’t give me a kiss.” Ugh. Gross. Why are you doing this to a 3 year old? Maybe this works with Grandpa, but our kids are too young to be manipulated into feeling guilt.
3. RESPECT THE PARENTS AND THEIR RULES, EVEN IF THEY’RE STUPID
You need to be on the mother’s side. I don’t care if you’re the parent of the dad. The dad doesn’t give a crap about household rules and certain parenting choices. The mom is the gatekeeper. All permissions and activities must be approved by her, no matter what the father says. She is the final word. If you bypass her, it will come back to haunt you one way or another.
Grandparents, we get it that you think breast feeding is weird. You gave birth to your kids in the early 70’s, when there was that women’s lib thing about how formula was somehow “liberating.” And now you have guilt because on some level, you know that “breast is best.” But don’t take it out on us. As soon as we mention that it’s time to feed the baby, grandfathers disappear as if we’re about to do a burlesque show. Grandmothers roll their eyes as if this is some crazy trend and not something that women have been doing since… Oh, I don’t know, the dawn of time. Also, we don’t need to hear you say, “So, how long are you planning on doing that for?” This is hard enough as it is.
If you have child rearing opinions that conflict with ours, do not express them in front of us. If, say, one of your other grandkids ate the vegetables off a hamburger and left the hamburger, do not brag, “He likes vegetables even more than he likes food,” letting us know that you don’t think vegetables are food. If you encouraged this grandkid to stop playing outside and come in and watch T.V. because it’s harder to watch kids when they’re outside playing don’t do it in front of me. If a babysitter did these things, I would fire her.
And cut it with the sweets all the time. I know it’s a time-honored grandparent right, and that kids are able to distinguish between rules at home with their parents and special days with grandma but they actually can’t.
Our son thinks fruit is dessert. We feel incredibly blessed to have gotten away with this. But if you shove ice cream in his face after fruit-dessert, then you will have done a lot of damage on the whole fruit-dessert front we’ve been working on. Because for weeks after you leave, they will be expecting ice cream.
Take a tip from every babysitter in the world: They don’t let it be known that they’re going to feed kids ice cream. They do it behind the parents’ backs. And then it’s a little secret between the sitter and the kid which is cute or something. But more importantly, the kids don’t expect it from the parents— because the parents weren’t around when it happened.
I realize that all these rules apply to myself when I’m a grandparent. No matter what kind of crazy ideas my future daughter in law has about raising her child, I will have to go along with it and bite my tongue. (And you know that karma dictates that she will be at least as bossy as I am.) Instead, I will try to anticipate her needs. I will pitch in around the house when I visit. And I will spend many tedious hours at the antibacterial, foam-based “play-structure”, which is what a future playground will be.
It’s not all toys and ice cream. And it’s not much of a vacation. Which is why I will probably never visit my grandchildren: It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Maybe I will just buy a condo in a warm climate far, far away from them and send them whatever the future of emails are.