Crow’s feet, a little shrinkage, a crown of white, and some aches and pains — yep, I’ve earned the title of Grandpa, wearing it as a badge of honor. And it is my pleasure to shower the little ones with the unconditional love that only a grandparent can give.
Now I am very familiar with the adage instructing how one should relate to adult children, especially in-law children: Keep your mouth closed and your wallet open. However, I turn the question to you: How sweeping is this credo? Are you really supposed to seal your lips and turn the other cheek when you see mistakes that could hurt your grandchildren?
I’m not referring to abuse; that would obviate the question. But I am referring to some common pitfalls of the parenting journey: overscheduling, pushing to overachieve, sharp criticism and unjust consequences.
I’ll give some recent examples of the latter categories, the ones that sear my heart.
Sammy, a delightful boy of 7, failed to do his homework. Not only was he compelled to miss his recess to complete the missed assignment (a consequence I have never agreed with — I am a strong believer that kids need recess), but he was grounded for three days at home too. So he earned a double whammy.
In my humble opinion, since Sammy faced repercussions in school, home should have been his haven. A gentle conversation over cookies and milk couldn’t hurt to emphasize the importance of responsibility. But after a difficult penalty, shouldn’t he have come home to a hug and some comfort?
At a different juncture, 11-year-old Abie spoke back to his parents. His consequence? The whole family was going out to eat, and he had to stay home by himself to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While I don’t condone disrespect, I do feel that the punishment should fit the crime. To me, missing special family time is a real shame. It’s the glue that keeps families together. And to deprive a child of that will loosen the adhesive, perhaps creating irreparable damage.
Then there’s my Sherry, age 12, who loves playing sports. It energizes her and provides a healthy outlet. Yet when she came home with a poor grade on her report card, her parents informed her that she would have to miss soccer season.
“If you bring your grade up next semester,” they promised, “we’ll enroll you in the league.”
Sherry was devastated.
When 15-year-old Bruce forgot to take out the garbage and the family wound up with two weeks of accumulation, he had to take over every other child’s chores for a week.
In addition, as a rule, the kids are not given spending money for “extras” or what their parents view as luxuries. Any money they accrue, be it through baby-sitting or odd jobs, must be used to go out with their friends or to buy something they want. So, yes, I plead guilty: When I see them, I often slip them some spare cash.
Do you get the picture? Would it be so terrible if I invited my daughter out for a heart-to-heart chat? Perhaps I don’t have to score a direct hit; subtlety is more tactful and less intrusive. I can simply share different methods I’ve learned over the years. I certainly don’t want to give her the message that I don’t trust them as parents, even though I have my reservations about their methods.
Or maybe I can place a great child-rearing book on my coffee table next time they visit? Send it to them as an anonymous gift?
My kids run a tight ship, and who knows? Maybe my grandkids will grow from the rigidity and become ultraresponsible.
I’m worried about scars. I think kids these days (maybe always) need a gentle touch and extra compassion. It’s a tough world, and if home isn’t a refuge, where can they go? And what will happen to the next generation? Will my grandkids transfer the authoritarian upbringing that they endured to their offspring, or will they overcompensate with permissiveness and strike an unhealthy balance?
I fear to speak, yet I fear not to speak.
I await your suggestions and hope you will send them to Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, Sept. 25.
Wishing all of you a healthy, happy new year filled with bountiful blessings and the answers to your prayers! Warmly, Rachel Stein