I’m an at-home parent. There’s rarely a moment when my kids are out of my sight. I’ve grown accustomed to being the gatekeeper to which TV shows they watch, what food they eat, and what activities they are allowed to do or not. Behold, my power!
But, I’ve had to learn to let go of that stuff over the last few weeks during their seven hour stays with a babysitter while I teach summer camp at a local children’s theatre.
I’ll also be letting go of my power as my children spend next week at “Grammy’s Boot Camp”. You might be wondering what sort of unfortunate luck my children must have to be subjected to military-style treatment with their grandmother. Will they encounter push-ups and kitchen patrol? No, the only push-ups they’ll receive will be the flavor of soft serve orange ice cream, and their only kitchen patrol will be helping to make chocolate chip cookies. “Boot Camp” should be translated as “Grammy gets to spend a week having fun with the grandkids (and occasionally indulging them)”.
Grammy has been doing boot camp for the past few years, and it’s always warmly remembered by my daughter. She comes back telling us about her adventures with her cousin, going kayaking, visiting the zoo, playing games, and eating some meals at McDonald’s. For some reason, it’s the “eating McDonald’s” that my wife and I have a tendency to selectively remember. It’s not that we obsess too much (only enough to write a blog post about), but it is a concern.
Certainly, I’m not a perfect parent. I take the kids to McDonald’s every so often to visit the play land and eat a happy meal. I’ve even been known to defend McDonald’s against other sanctimonious parents. So why do I have any expectations that my mom should treat my children any differently? Hasn’t she earned the right to feed them whatever meal she pleases? Yes, I believe she does have that right, which is why I’ve been telling my inner-helicopter-parent to chill out and let go. It’s also why I’m writing out my thoughts here – perhaps to better understand my flaws.
My mom is not guilty here. She’s a hero. A big reason she does “Grammy’s Boot Camp” is probably to give my wife and I a much needed week alone. No, the problem is not with Grammy. The problem lies with my wife and I because we have issues letting go. We’re as guilty as any over-protective parent of micro-managing the lives of our children.
Obsessing over scientific studies doesn’t help, either. I sent my mom this article by Amy Graff, who was concerned with the junk that her parents might be feeding her child. The article referenced a study from earlier this year that showed a correlation between the weight of a child and how much time that child spends with grandparents. Amy Graff seems to come to the same conclusion as me. Grammies do what Grammies do, and sometimes what they do includes treating the kids to the occasional delicious morsel. And, you know what, a little McDonald’s won’t kill them.
My mom rightfully replied to the Amy Graff article by pointing out that my brother and I were never treated to a week of fun-filled activities by our grandparents. Perhaps the times have changed, or perhaps my grandparents were not suited for such “boot camps”. Either way, my brother and I should be thankful to have parents who are willing to be actively involved in the development of their grandchildren. Certainly, I’m not complaining. In fact, let me publicly thank my mother and stepdad for planning this every year. Thank you!
There’s one caveat to everything I’ve written so far. I think that even the most active grandparent needs to understand that there are some principles a family shouldn’t have to sacrifice for anyone, even for grandma and grandpa. For instance, it’s unacceptable for meat-eating grandparents to feed barbecue to their vegetarian grandchildren against the parents’ wishes. Similarly, grandparents of faith should keep their threats of hellfire to themselves when their atheist grandchildren visit. Luckily, my principles don’t clash with those of my parents, or at least not in any significant way.
Well-intentioned grandparents should also remember that there’s a good reason children are denied sweets and treats. There have been occasions when one of my parents have questioned the behavior of my children, only to spoil them with a gift or treat moments later. It’s hard being a child’s gatekeeper. Every time I let my kids eat some ice-cream, I’m thinking about every petty fight between her and her sister that happened that day. The incessant vuvuzela of teasing, begging, and whining begins to add up so high that allowing them anything that can be seen as a reward seems questionable.
I think it’s a valid point that giving up control is hard for parents, but it’s also hard for grandparents too. It should be said that the more grandparents visit, the closer their proximity, the more they need to respect the rules and expectations of the parents. And the more the grandparent wants to buck the principles of the parents, the more that they should keep parenting advice to themselves. Again, these comments are not applicable to my own parents, who have been very respectful to our wishes.
I’m thankful to have grandparents who care and spend time with my children. And my children are thankful to be spoiled on occasion. As long as boundaries are respected, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m interested to hear from my readers whether you have trouble losing control to babysitters and grandparents, and how you’ve dealt with it.