Earlier this year, both my husband and I had business trips planned during the same week, so my mother graciously and eagerly offered to watch our two kids while we were gone. Before I left, I bought a dry erase board from Target and left her extensive and detailed instructions of how she should take care of the kids while I was gone.
It went a little something like this:
• Make sure they do their homework. Monitor them while they read their chapter books and prepare their snacks and lunch the night before school. Practice subtraction flash cards.
• Iron their clothes and hang them on their doors the night before as well.
• At school drop-off and pick-up, stay in the right lane!!! Have the kids leave their tennis shoes and rackets for practice in your car so they don’t forget. Early dismissal is on Friday, not Wednesday.
• Make sure they don’t snack on cookies in the pantry before dinner and have them wash their hands before eating.
• Double check to see if they brushed their teeth because they usually don’t after the third or fourth warning.
Overall, my dry erase board had about 25 bullet points. But it just took my mother one glance to be completely appalled and — quite honestly — offended.
“Do you think I’m an idiot?” she shouted at me over the phone while I was on my way to the airport. “Or did I leave you in the woods to be raised by wolves?”
I had to pause for a second, because as much as I didn’t want to admit it, she had a point. That list wasn’t just about my kids — I was inadvertently questioning my own mother’s parenting abilities by writing it, as though she hadn’t successfully raised both my sister and I for the first two decades of our lives. The last time I checked, I was pretty certain that I turned out to be a decent, law-abiding citizen who pays her bills on time and always uses her blinker before turning into the left lane. My mom taught me everything I basically know. So why was I doubtful as to whether or not she could handle my two children all on her own?
Maybe she was right — maybe I do treat her like an idiot.
And unfortunately, it’s not just me. It seems that many of us treat our own parents like minimum-wage teen babysitters when it comes to letting them watch our kids. Just last week, I found myself reading through an article dedicated entirely to listing out the many rules grandparents should abide by while babysitting their grandkids. Rules included everything from not giving them too many gifts to putting them to bed on time to cooling it on the junk food — oh, and here’s the worst: Don’t ROCK any babies to sleep.
But I’ve seen it all over, including in popular parenting forums. Take this thread on WhatToExpect.com, in which parents posted the following:
- “If they cannot or will not respect your wishes they do not need to have access to the child. They had their chance to raise babies. Now is our time.”
- “My in laws do not have a right to my baby. They get supervised visits and NEVER drive him in the car. They will not even be informed of where his daycare is. They are completely untrustworthy and lack common sense. My husband is still alive by some sort of miracle.”
- “I love my mother dearly. She is a great mom, and it’s not that I don’t trust her. My issue is every request I make, is met with an eye roll, and smart remark.”
Seesh. Some of us really do act like employers from the deepest rings of hell.
We’re constantly teaching our children to respect their elders; so why are some of us treating them like crap ourselves? Dr. Ruth Menzoff, an author and resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, wrote about this phenomenon in a blog for The Huffington Post, in which she noted that “respect is more than merely following orders, it’s an interactive process that requires trust.”
In other words, rather than getting pissed that grandparents are not abiding by our strict house rules, we should step back and instead encourage them to follow the spirit of our advice while also recognizing that they have decades of rich experience in the parenting biz.
Dr. Menzoff explains:
“Parents disrespect their own parents when they don’t recognize that experience is worth something, and grandparents disrespect their kids when they forget that the parents have 24/7 responsibility for the grandchildren. The parents are the ‘deciders,’ but the grandparents can still be advisors. It seems simple, but all human relationships are complex. They need understanding, discussion and guidelines, not rigid rules. Besides, parents and grandparents model good communication skills for the grandchildren when they listen to each other and try to understand each other’s behaviors.”
After all, that’s what makes them so grand, right?
After both my husband and I came back from our separate trips, our house was still standing. Our two children were still alive, their rooms were semi-clean and they managed to feed our dog every day. My kids were happy and my mother got to spend the quality time she loves having with her grandchildren so much.
At the end of the day, I realized that it’s not really about my parents respecting my wishes when it comes to my kids; it’s about putting in the collaborated effort to do what’s best for our kids together. I know my parents and my husband’s parents love our children just as much as they love their own, and that’s something that should never be put into doubt.
Plus, there’s no babysitter in this world who’s more loving than Grandma and Grandpa (and willing to work for free!).