Navigating the weird, wonderful, but mostly weird world of grandparenting

They used to be rational human beings, but now they won’t stop buying plastic, noisy stuff and feeding your kids sugar. Kelly Gerow has some advice for all parties.

Grandparents

Photo by: la_febbra

My children have three sets of living grandparents (my husband’s parents, my parents, and my grandparents). They are helpful and supportive, and my daughter loves when she gets to see them.1 That’s it. Thanks, everyone. I’m going to write about shows that you’re not watching on Netflix now. We’ll see you later.

(Waits a minute).

Are they still reading?

No? OK. Good.

Grandparents are strange.

When my peers and I discuss our parents, love and gratitude is implied, but everyone has friction and stressful tales to share. I’ve had a hard time reasoning how this generation of grandparents behaves compared to how their parents are/were as grandparents. My grandmothers were different from each other in every way except they were both loving grandmas, and never, ever would either of them have owned a “Grandparents House Rules” sign with indulgent whimsy like “cookies are on the breakfast menu” and “what happens here stays here.”

Is it because my parents’ generation can compare their grandparenting with their friends online and in a way that amplifies the joys and misrepresents realities of having grandkids in front of you? Were our own grandparents hellbent on doing everything their kids asked them not to because of a sense of entitlement? And if so, how did I manage to never hear my parents complain about that?

In my five and a half years of being a person whose children have grandparents, I’ve been all over the place emotionally with them. One of the most overwhelming aspects about being a new parent was learning to deal with newborn grandparents, too. It was a rocky start, and it didn’t get easier for awhile.

I appreciated grandparents more after our second child, my son, was born. I enjoyed their visits because it was nice to have someone there who could pay attention to our daughter and take her to do fun things that we neither had the time or money for while we focused on the baby. And their visits gave my daughter another person to share in her 14-hour news cycle (there has been no evidence that our daughter is ever not talking as long as she’s awake). Because of this extra time with her grandparents, she’s comfortable and happy to spend time with them, and sometimes she doesn’t even ask to play with their phones.

The things I have complained about are petty and stupid compared to other realities, like parents who are no longer living or physically well enough to have meaningful relationships with their grandkids. I feel sorry for grandchildren who won’t get to have all the memories that you’re supposed to have about your grandma and grandpa, or whatever cute name they’re given.2 

Some adult children and parents have no relationship, or they have an unfortunate one where the kids are used as pawns. Bad parents can be good grandparents, but they don’t have to be given the chance. There are grandparents who are distant and uninterested in their grandkids, and unhelpful and useless when it matters. For me, although I ignore 90% of the help offered me, I know that if I truly needed something, our parents would be here in however long it takes to get here. With cookies for the kids, probably.

Not to list every grievance from both sides of the child, but we’ve all grown in our roles. There are other grandchildren aside from my kids to focus on, and expectations have been met or failed or forgotten or adjusted to reality. What matters is that our kids are loved and safe. But sometimes I crack and get annoyed, and I’m pretty sure that’s when the grandparents hate me. Only your enemies give your children things that are covered in glitter, right?

Because I’m wiser and calmer now, I thought I’d address some common complaints from/about grandparents. Grandparents: Listen up. Parents: You, too. Kids: It’s weird that you’re reading this, but OK.

Grandparents: Cool it with the desserts and sugary snacks and crap food. Kids who grew up in the 80s didn’t eat fresh food until they were 25, and their children don’t drink soda and sugary drinks every day. Kids’ nutrition is an important thing, and you are not qualified to be in charge of your grandkids’ diets. Your own adult children are already stress-eating ice cream after bedtime, and no one wants that habit for the little ones when they grow up.

Parents: If you’re on your parents’ case about something, does what you’re complaining about really matter? Is anyone going to get hurt? Is it something that will bother you after the visit is over, or in 10 years? If not, leave your parents alone and let them do whatever dumb thing they’re doing with the kids.

Grandparents: You wouldn’t go to the house of an adult person who you respect and say, “Here are thirteen things for your house that you don’t want or need. Three of them will definitely ruin your floor.” If you can’t control the urge to buy things for your grandchildren, then make the items easy to return and don’t open them immediately. Or plan to keep them at your house.

Parents: You don’t even know the things you’ve forgotten about your child at different stages of her life. I’m on my second baby, and I barely diaper correctly. Even in the five years between our kids, pediatrician recommendations are different about major things, like medicine dosages and feeding schedules. Helpfully update your parents on what has changed since they were around kids. Be patient with your parents. They’re going to pretend they still know best, but at least they’ll know the best has been reconsidered.

Grandparents: Get the whooping cough vaccine. Walgreens does them; it’s fine.

Parents: Actually talk about visiting frequencies. What you think is too much your parents might think is too little (or vice versa), but your parents might not realize or remember how little non-errand/housework/getting ready for the day or night time you actually get to spend with your kids. A grandparent is an essential person to make time for, but one of many essential things that time needs to be made for.

Related: The holidays, whichever they may be. I read some advice that if you have a lot of people to make happy, especially around major holidays, then celebrate a holiday or birthday two or three times. Nope. I cannot disagree with this more. The Christmas season, for instance, apparently starts on September 30th and actually now ends on December 22nd, and that is plenty of time to fit in some holiday cheer with all who matter. 10 years’ worth of birthdays and holidays all blend into one anyway–unless something terrible or fire-related happened during one of the events–so don’t make a big deal about everything. My advice is to change it up every year if there’s no way to make all parties satisfied.

Parents: If you’re not paying your parents to watch your kids, you’re getting what you pay for. If you’re not comfortable leaving your parents alone with your kids, then don’t.

Grandparents: Treat your grandchildren as if they were someone else’s children. Which they are. Pay attention to the instructions. Don’t let the Grandparents House Rules sign turn into a guideline for child endangerment or neglect.

Both of you: Plan to do something with your parents/adult children without the grandkids once and a while. It’s important to remember that you were related before those kids came and changed everything, and it might help you relate to each other a little more again.

Phew. That’s a log of baggage. Good luck, I have to go eat some post-bedtime ice cream and text some grandmas a few thank you messages and baby photos.


  1. My son is about to turn one and I’m not sure how he feels about his grandparents. He will probably like them. 
  2. I haven’t thought too much about what it would be like to be a grandma, except that I want to be called “Grumpy.” 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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