When my kids grew old enough to spend entire weekends (and even longer) at their grandparents’ house, I was initially overjoyed. Finally, I would be able to have some peace and quiet in my own home, and they would be someone else’s problem. I thought little about the importance of nurturing and supporting a quality grandparent/grandchild relationship, and more about long hot baths and sleeping in. I sent them off that first time to my parents’ house with a precise list of their schedules, food likes and dislikes, specific instructions detailing my discipline method of choice (and how to properly implement it), as well as the importance of maintaining their strict bedtimes and nap times.
It took me practically the whole week of organization and list-making just to send them away for two days.
They returned home from that first trip to Grandma’s house like they had spent the weekend in Vegas on a bender with their old fraternity brothers. They were physically exhausted, with bellies swollen from overindulging on foods that absolutely weren’t on the approved foods list. They each had giant sacks full of Dollar Store trinkets, and a stash of candy loot that would make Halloween night jealous.
I was mortified and horrified.
How could my mother betray my childcare wishes like that?
Was she not aware of what it would now take to reverse the damage she had caused by allowing them to engage in this wanton behavior while under her watch?
Didn’t she remember what it takes to be a mother, or had it been so long she had gone bonkers and just spent 48 hours going full on “bad mom” to my kids?
While I angrily unpacked my kids’ weekend bags (incidentally, nobody had brushed their teeth all weekend), aside from noticing all the bad things my mom had let my kids do, I had failed to notice one very important thing — how utterly happy my kids were.
They had had a blast at Grandma’s. It was as if they had been trapped at boot camp with me and were finally able to enjoy their first AWOL weekend. Their faces (unwashed and sticky with lollipop residue) told me all that I needed to know — that the weekend away at their grandparent’s house was the most fun they’d had in a very, very long time.
It was all the fun, with all the things, but without all the rules.
It’s been many years since that first weekend away, and since then I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve dropped off all my kids at my mom’s house, and sped away as fast as I could. It’s also been many years since I tried to manage the relationship my kids have with their grandparents, or attempted to tell my mom how to parent them.
I realized after that first visit that the grandchild/grandparent relationship is not only a unique one, it’s one that I need to stay out of as much as possible. My input is simply not needed, and that is something that I believe my mother (and all grandparents) have earned.
In a nutshell, grandparents have paid their dues, done their time, and have survived raising children so well-adjusted and successful that they grew into adults who gave them grandchildren. And they deserve a set of those grandkids to spoil rotten in every way they can imagine, because they know those kids are in desperate need of a “yes” parent every once in a while — and that’s the grandparent. At home, things will get back to “normal” — teeth will be brushed, bedtimes will be enforced, and candy will be minimized — and a brief “grandparent hangover” is a small price to pay for the memories made and relationships fortified.
But there is also something else that grandparents know. They are acutely aware of the warp speed passage of time that is childhood, and their efforts to make it one giant party for their grandkids is a reflection of that. They have a different set of expectations and goals than parents do. While ours are to shape, mold, and endlessly discipline and guide our kids into perfection and high achievement, theirs is to shower those same kids with a type of love that is unconditional.
A type of love whose goal is just that — love. Their love isn’t full of rules and restrictions and all the overachievement pressures that come with raising children these days (remember, they did that already.)
Their love is full of ignored bedtimes and chocolate cake for breakfast.
It’s full of bare feet and running through sprinklers.
It’s full of midnight movies and all-you-can-drink soda and popcorn.
It’s full of Dollar Store trinkets and pockets full of bubblegum.
But mostly, it is full of love from people who an overabundance of it to give, and want to give it all away while they’re still able to watch it being enjoyed.
So pack up your kids and send them to grandma’s soon, but maybe keep the “how-to parent” list at home.