Grandparents are a hot commodity, if they're tactful

December 28, 1993|By Elise T. Chisolm

It's kind of like this -- you want to be the best grandparent TC ever. But I have found out over the years you have to know how to be a good parent first. There's a narrow line between interference, suggestion and helpfulness.

As a grandparent, you have to be sensitive to your own children's wishes as to how they want to parent -- abide by their requests, that is, if you want peace, not war.

As practicing grandparents, we have to have endless patience, exceptional hearing, eyes in the back of our heads and know when to skip it and when to zip it -- our opinions, that is.

You have to make up your mind whether to admonish, cajole or just say NO when you are with your grandchildren and their parents. Because secretly you want your grandchild to think you are super and you want the parents to think you are A-1 on their list of grandparents. 'Fess up. And therein lies the problem.

For today's grandparents, when to keep your mouth shut and why is a real dilemma. Especially now that more grandparents than ever are care-taking. We are a hot commodity.

For socio-economic reasons we have been put back into the role of parental merry-go-round.

But here's a rule of thumb: If you keep them sometimes without the parents, then you are the boss. If you keep them every day, you are the boss.

But if your grandkids are with you with their parents -- the parents are their bosses.

Magic to your ears would be to hear one of your children say to a friend, "Oh, my mom is a wonderful grandparent." But in order to have magic, you have to practice and hone it.

And I guess I have learned a bit through my mistakes.

For example, at the mall one day, my grandson is walking 10 feet behind us -- just far enough that I can't see what he's doing, and just far enough away to be snatched by somebody who wants a darling 4-year-old with big brown eyes, chubby cheeks and, oh, those long eyelashes.

It drives me bonkers, so I say to my daughter, "He's too far behind, honey. I can't see him."

She tells me she has panoramic-peripheral vision and he's OK. She does and he is.

Or this: You're at a restaurant; the 8-year-old won't eat what she's ordered. You think she's too thin, so you bribe her. "Just one bite and I will take you to Disneyland." She knows you will never follow through, so she takes one bite and asks for a car of her own.

Her mother adds, "Mom, if she's hungry, she will eat."

But I'm not sure where she gets her information. From a bunch of New Age baby boomer doctors who carry gym bags instead of doctor bags to work?

What do I know? I do not have a degree in early childhood ed, just past experience in keeping the bathtub clean, the socks in pairs, the mold out of the fridge and the pet gerbils out of the beds, along with expertise in cooking and coping.

And speaking of coping: A teen-age grandchild has an all-night date for the prom. Aghast, I say, "You mean she is going to a breakfast party with him, too? When will they sleep?"

Bad choice of words -- "sleep" -- with today's mores. It has so many different meanings.

Then the great diaper debate: Don't suggest that disposables would be better, as in, "Gee, I had to use pins and cloth diapers, but you don't have to."

"No, mom, we are worried about the landfills."

Tell her you've seen them too.

And if you think the new baby should sleep on his or her stomach -- shut up, that is still a medical controversy. If you believe in playpens and pacifiers, hush, hush, sweet Charlotte. It's their baby.

And here are the last of the good grandparent rules: Don't ever say what you used to do in your day even if you washed all the clothes by hand in the basement tub.

Watch out. You don't want to be known as "grandmommie dearest."

Above all, remember, loose lips sink relationships.

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