Mel and I have three children. We’ve been together for over a decade, and to say that our parents have different approaches to this whole grandparenting thing is an understatement.
Mel’s parents are a little more traditional in the sense of “How about you drop off your kids at our house? We miss them.” Then they stuff them full of candy, Happy Meals, and screen time, and drop them off all jacked on sugar and false expectations that our family rules have gone out the window.
And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t really have a problem with Mel’s parents spoiling our children just a bit. They live in Idaho, and we live in Oregon. They don’t get to see our three kids all that often, so when they do, they obviously make the most of it. And we let it happen.
They are also the grandparents who will stay at our house for a week just to be around our children. And naturally, that comes with a list of pros and cons. Mel and I get some extra help around the house with cleaning and general child wrangling. We get to go on a few dates, and my father-in-law fixes some stuff around the house, which is always appreciated because I’m not handy in the least. But at the same time, bedtime goes out the window during their stays, and there is something uncomfortable about having family in your home for more than a couple nights, regardless of who they are.
On the flipside, my mother is a very different grandparent. My father died when I was 19, so it’s just my mom. She’s remarried, but my stepdad kind of does his own thing. But I suppose my mother does too. She’s more of a “You’ve spent your hour” kind of grandmother. She lives in Utah. She sends gifts. She never forgets a holiday or a birthday. When the kids are at her home, she gives them candy and treats. Her home is full of framed pictures of grandchildren. She’s also really good about giving Mel and I our space, which I appreciate. She also asks what the rules are in our home before doing anything, and I appreciate that too.
If I were to put both grandparents on a scale, my mother and Mel’s parents would be on opposing ends of the spectrum. I’m not even sure how well the two get along. Not that they argue or anything. They simply have very different ways of approaching family and life in general, and so while they are pretty civil, I can’t see them ever hanging out.
That’s the thing with grandparents. Not all are created equal. Some are completely apathetic. Some were not meant to be babysitters. Some distance themselves and remain uninvolved, acting like their job in this whole parenting thing is over, and it’s time for you all to get your own life and manage your own business without their involvement. Some are almost too involved, making comments and critiques of your parenting and relationship. Some like to comment on the state of your home and ask imposing questions about why a mother would return to work if she didn’t have to.
If we don’t have parents, or in-laws like this, we know someone who does.
I have to assume that there are some grandparents who are just right, who nail this whole grandparenting thing perfectly, and check every box. They don’t miss a beat. They give the right advice at the right time. They don’t meddle and are open to watching the grandkids while following most of the rules you set down in your home.
But the thing is, I’ve never seen those grandparents. At least not in real life. On TV, sure. But not in reality.
In fact, I think most people complain a little to a lot about the relationship they have with the grandparents in their lives. I know that Mel and I do from time to time. And the fact is, I am confident that Mel’s parents and my mother complain about the way we raise our children. I don’t think any of us think we are screwing up the whole thing, but I know that everyone has their opinions on the matter.
But the reality is, as a parent, I’m screwing up all the time. I’m figuring this out as I go. My children are being raised in a very different era than I was, with different challenges and expectations. I’ve never been a parent before, and my children are unique individuals who function differently than Mel did, or I did, or our siblings did. I think all parents want people, including the grandparents in their lives, to cut them some slack. But for some reason, we often have a difficult time granting the grandparents that same grace.
Just like we are finding our way on this parenting adventure, they are figuring out how to be good grandparents. They are defining their roles, while figuring out what is expected of them in this new stage of life. So maybe we should cut them some slack too?
I mean, they obviously love us. They love our children. They cared enough for us to not drop us off in the woods. As a parent now, I can understand how they might have had the inkling from time to time. But they didn’t, and I’m grateful.
And I know there are some grandparents who are really bad at all this. Some who have substance abuse problems, or some other serious red flag, and it’s best that your children don’t hang out with them. If you are in that situation, I’m sorry — honestly and truly. There are definitely situations where grace doesn’t need to be extended.
But if the grandparents are trying, I think it’s time we give them the benefit of the doubt and start spending a little more time thinking about what they are getting right and a little less about what they are getting wrong. Then call them up, and let them know you appreciate their effort.