Getting In The Way: Signs Grandparenting May Be Hindering Your Parenting
I already knew what the deal was when my 4-year-old came frolicking to the car in her “backup outfit” with her father the other day when we picked her up from her grandparent’s house. As soon as he plopped her in her car seat and proceeded to buckle her in, he revealed, “She ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after getting spaghetti everywhere.” The perfectionist in me dreaded the 20-minute drive home as I pictured her white and light grey GAP sweat suit covered in grease and Ragu that I knew would never fully disappear. I was pissed because I had just found that sweatshirt after it had fallen to the back of the dresser after searching for it all winter. I had sent my adorable toddler out of the house this morning looking straight out of an Old Navy campaign, and this evening she looked like she was rolling across the Olive Garden’s kitchen floor.
Let me be clear: I am not one of those parents who expects her child to sit in a corner all day so she doesn’t get dirty. I don’t spend portions of my paycheck on designer labels that she’ll grow out of in a few months. When she’s with her grandparents or playing, I expect that there will be dirt, crumbs, and other randomness. I low-key even enjoy the days she comes home with her edges everywhere, shoes untied, and a tie-dyed tongue from an ice pop with a smile. I know those are the days she rode her tricycle, flew kites, caught butterflies and lived her best little 4-year-old life. However, I’m noticing that grandparents, in general, have a funny habit of giving no f-cks at some points when it comes to spoiling their grandchildren and completely throwing out all the rules they once held dearly when they were knee deep in the stresses of parenting themselves. Like, seriously: How hard was it for my mother-in-law to tie a napkin around this kid’s neck or let her eat in an undershirt before she decided to let her rip the runway in the Chef Boyardee Collection?
I’ll be the first to say my support system is as good as it gets. I saved thousands in childcare because of two sets of retired grandparents that are completely in love with their first grandchild. I can sit at work and actually concentrate in a staff meeting because I have peace of mind that my child is with people who honestly would give their own lives for her. But as thankful as I am, I have to be honest about the fact that sometimes grandparents need a reminder that their actions may be in fact making their children’s job harder as parents. So often I’ve bitten my tongue or felt guilty when I get slightly annoyed that my mom is at the door with a handful of Oreos for breakfast for a toddler who just had a breakdown when I asked her to eat a banana. There are also times when I have a late night at the office only to discover my baby playing Mortal Kombat with her Pop Pop at 8:00 PM. As much as our parents are deserving of respect and appreciation for not just raising us, but also reprising some of those same duties, it’s important to remember that you are now the parent and allowed to make rules and routines that reflect what you want to take place in your household. You’re also allowed to reject values that you were raised with and parent in the fashion you think makes sense for this day and age. Lastly, with even the most incredible parents who did an excellent job raising you, you have to remember you are a completely different being than the person you are now raising and that requires change, growth and adjustment. You may have lived through butt whoopings and routine Robitussin and turned out OK, but it doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for your child or your style as a parent.
The following are a few signs that it’s time to have a conversation with Nana and Pop Pop so they can get on board with your style of parenting:
Your child’s nap schedule is non-existent.
This is number one because my child has been allergic to sleep since she was in the womb. Sleep can be tricky for all involved who have ever cared for a toddler. This is why it’s so important that if a parent has a schedule, you try to respect it. It’s been meticulously curated for a reason. Grandparents and caregivers, all I ask is for you to use your timing wisely. I’m not asking you to make sure my child is in Dreamland at precisely 11:30 and .2 seconds, but please don’t time a round of hide-and-go seek for 6 PM after you just let her nap for the past four hours. I don’t want to be interrogated with questions like, “Why do we have eyelashes?” at 3 AM by a four-year-old while I invest all my hard-earned money into the melatonin industry.
They have a “You turned out OK” approach to car seats, seat belts and allergies.
I’ll be the first one to tell you some of my millennial peers are overdoing it on the “safe spaces” and doing their children a disservice by eliminating any struggle or pain that comes their way. I grew up in a time when your parents could leave you in the car on the summer day so you could read your book and not bother them while they got their coffee maker shopping on. My childhood was filled with castor oil, Robitussin and allergies being discovered only when you had trouble breathing in the presence of King crab legs. However, the world is changing and many laws now reflect that. So save the, “And you turned out OK” rationalizations and just put the child in the damn car seat and feed them the gluten free pizza.
One word: Hatchimals.
I’m convinced that whatever company created the Hatchimals line of toys had a secret plan for all parents to plunge their bodies into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. If you purchase this toy for any child that doesn’t have to reside in your home, you deserve whatever karma brings your way. If you’re not familiar, Hatchimal toys are basically a collection of creatures that emerge from a shell and can squeak, squawk and give your child the ability to make your brain erupt from sheer annoyance. Leave the noisy toys at Target and invest in a quiet board book if you treasure the relationships you have with parents everywhere.
They create more work for you.
Whether it’s hosting a Chef Boyardee fashion show on all your kid’s cute outfits like my mother-in-law or Pop Pop dropping f-bombs for your kid to repeat, parenting is hard enough without caregivers taking your whole workday to create new problems for you to try and solve in the two hours you might have before bedtime. Its true grandparents may get all of the perks with only half of the responsibility, but consider that discipline and forethought should make an appearance every now and then.
You can’t agree on age-appropriate entertainment.
Look I get, the concept of Paw Patrol having emergency response on lock in Adventure Bay is far-fetched, but I need my baby to have her childhood innocence and imagination as long as possible. Caregivers please save your binge-watching of Law and Order: SVU Unit until after pick-up time. I know it appears my child is enjoying a snack of milk and cookies while Benson and Munch get their interrogation on, but the minute I catch her trying to put the Yorkie under arrest, we need to talk.
They overstep boundaries when it comes to religion or family values.
While my spouse and I don’t particularly subscribe to one walk of faith or another, I would never ask my in-laws to abandon their beliefs while my child is in their care. In fact, it’s important to me that she is exposed to spirituality and faith in some way even if she later chooses to reject it. However, I don’t want to spend time explaining to a terrified toddler that it doesn’t hurt Christ when we eat his body and drink his blood. Keep in mind that the gospel according to Grandma should not result in my child needing therapy.
They don’t respect your process for transitional stages like potty training and pacifiers.
Luckily my daughter handled potty training and putting the pacifier down like a champ. But I can’t imagine the frustration of parents who have made significant progress with these developmental milestones only for a caregiver to pop a binky at the slightest cry. Emphasizing communication and strategies are key, especially when it comes to troublesome transition phases.
They fail to communicate.
Did I stress how extremely grateful I am to have avoided daycare costs because of two sets of grandparents who are happy to watch our daughter while we work and only want to be paid in hugs and sticky fingers? However, it’s important for grandparents to know that while the childcare rules can be a little more relaxed in their homes there are still certain expectations for most parents. I remember years ago when my daughter was barely walking and took her first trip on a city bus. While my mother-in-law agreed to watch our daughter at her house, somehow over the course of the day she ended up across the city at her house. While this wasn’t a big issue, there was no call or text to either parent before they took their window seat. When we asked the reason for the field trip she simply responded, “I was bored.” While I trusted that my child was safe in her care, I didn’t like the idea that she didn’t think it was important to notify us of the change in plans. I didn’t expect a detailed itinerary, but if the school district can’t up and take my child on a trip around Philadelphia, the least her caregivers can do is send a text that they’re on the go.
They’re struggling to understand the new roles.
Even after four years, I still consider myself a new parent. My spouse and I still have many “firsts” to encounter including my daughter’s first day of school, her first plane ride and her first real best friend. It’s important that parents be allowed to have and create their own experiences and not be judged. Like many things in life, the best lessons are learned through trial and error and it’s not helpful to any parent to constantly be criticized for lack of experience or for wanting to try a different style of parenting with their child than what they were raised with. No parent likes to feel like the grandparents are taking over and using their time as caregivers to relive their glory days. It’s important that grandparents are mindful to balance support and advice with trust that they raised someone who is now a competent and responsible parent of their own.
They have taken discipline into their own hands.
Luckily when it comes to butt whoopings, my parents and in-laws have been on the same page with my spouse and I. It’s unfair to leave caregivers unequipped with no options of how to discipline your child, particularly when they become toddlers who will use every opportunity to test their patience. However, if you’ve had a conversation about non-corporal punishment and they are still reaching for the belt as a reflex to your three-year-old’s tantrums, it may be time to explore some other childcare options. It’s difficult because discipline can be very personal to a parent and can change with each generation. Even my husband tries to occasionally revisit the idea that children don’t respect anything but the belt. However, when discipline changes on the daily according to household and caregiver, it can send conflicting messages to a child and in the long run actually make it more difficult to practice healthy discipline.
Toya Sharee is a sexual health expert who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.