I am not a genius, but I am smart enough to know that my involvement with my grandchildren is based on gracious access granted by my son and daughter-in-law. I am also smart enough to know that that access could be denied at any minute.
Now, I don’t think that they would do that. But, I need to make sure that doesn’t happen. By following a few simple “rules” that I have made for myself, I think my chances are much better.
Let me just say here that my daughter-in-law is a gem. We have actually moved 5 doors down from them (a situation that would have sent me right straight into hysterics or depression when I was the young mother). She is very gracious and even acts like she likes having us close by. I want to keep it that way.
We did ask her permission to move there. While it was a move back to our “hometown,” I knew that we needed to let both our daughter-in-law and son know that we were not trying to upstage them on anything. Mack and I have kept a low profile and we are very dedicated to the fact that the only reason that we are there is to be near our grand babies.
Again, my daughter-in-law is a much nicer person than I am, but I tried to think about the things that did bug me or might have bugged me had my in-laws moved down the street. Some of these things might not bother my daughter-in-law in the least, but here’s my list.
Never, never, never show up uninvited. This is a no-brainer in my mind. I can honestly say that I have kept to this rule without exception. Occasionally, I’ll need to drop something off, but I always text for permission first. Or, place the item on their doorstep and quietly leave. (BTW.. that rule does not go the other direction. We have told the “kids” on many occasions that our door is always open. They have a key to our house (we do not have a key to theirs) and they are welcome any time, whether we are there or not). One of Mack’s and my favorite things is when Jack shows up unexpectedly after the kids go go bed, for a walk with the dogs around the neighborhood. I can say that, no matter what time this happens, whether Mack is eating dinner or ready for bed, he never fails to go on these father-son walks.
Respect their nuclear family time. While having fabulous, wonderful, fun, and glorious grandparents is a great bonus for a kid, a strong nuclear family is even more important. My preference is always for the kids to do something as a nuclear family. We are thrilled, of course, when we are included, but we don’t feel slighted when we’re not. We know that strong family bonds are made by time spent together.
Keep your big mouth shut! Now, I’m just gonna say…I have a doctorate in early childhood education. I have raised 3 spectacular boys, and been involved in the education of 10,000+ little kids. I know little kids. But nobody wants to hear about it! I only offer my opinion when asked (even then, it’s rarely appreciated). I suppose, if there was something very harmful going on, I would be forced to speak up, but thankfully, that has not been the case. We had our chance to raise our kids. We made mistakes and we learned. My kids are older and wiser than I was when our kids were little. They will figure it out.
Defer to the parent. From whether or not the boys can have an ice cream or a sleep-over, I always turn to the mom and ask her permission. This does two things: 1) lets the kid know who is boss, and 2) let my daughter-in-law know that I know who’s boss! From the beginning, I have said to our eldest grandson, “Your mom and dad are the boss of me. What they say is the rule.” Now, I have agreed to the fact that the 6 year old is also the boss of me. He loves that, and I’m just fine with it.
Help out in the way that THEY need help. Not the way (necessarily) that you want to help. Our DIL works 3 days a week as a professor. Wednesdays are her late days. She works until 9:30 on those days. I try to schedule my other activities around Wednesday so I can be available to help. I’ll pick up the Kindergartener from school so the baby doesn’t have to be disturbed from his nap, bring a simple kid-friendly dinner and help with bath time and bed time routines. I get the benefit of spending some time with my own kid (most other times that I help out, it’s to babysit for the parents to go out for dinner or a movie). My DIY doesn’t have to worry about preparing and leaving dinner and my son gets a bit of a breather on a long, solitary day.
Realize that it’s not about YOU. This was a hard one for me. When you are the mother, the world revolves around YOU. Basically, you make the decisions, you are the queen of your family, everyone defers to you. But when you are the grandmother…not so much! In order to maximize time and interaction with your grandchildren, you have to accept the fact that you are not in charge; you are not the center of the universe (I don’t like this!:)).
Do your own thing. When we first moved to Fort Worth to be near the babies, I started up a new graduate program, joined the church choir, and signed up for cello and pottery lessons. I knew that it was not cool for me to sit around and wait on the kids to call me to come play. Now, the other side of that coin is that I will skip a class or change a schedule in a heartbeat if I’m needed. I think that having your own thing offers several advantages: 1) Makes you a much more interesting person. You have lots to share with your children and grand children when you participate in activities apart from the kids. 2) Helps to define your schedule. As a person who worked most of the time my kids were growing up, I need a schedule. I can get more done than 10 people – or I can sit for hours and do nothing. I don’t feel so good about myself when I take the “sitting” option. 3) Let’s your kids know that you are not a doormat (though, sometimes I like being a doormat). It is the kindest thing in the world for your kids for you to create a beautiful, interesting life for yourself. It takes away their guilt when they are busy and don’t want to mess with you, and it also gives them a wonderful example of what a vibrant, interesting Third Act can look like.
Keep a calendar. Mack and I schedule around important kid activities. Now, Mack is a busy guy – still working. He presents workshops around the world and is very active in his industry. But, he and I both know what is most important. Back in August, when the school calendar was published, we put a May 18 “schedule around” event on our calendar. That is the date that Coby had his Kindergarten program. No way would we have missed that! We already have a 2018 date on our calendar, for when our son and daughter-in-law will take a fun anniversary trip for a week. Now, we don’t always do this perfectly, and I try to give myself permission to be imperfect. Unfortunately, I had a plane ticket, hotel room, and conference registration already scheduled and paid for when I found out the date for Grandparent’s Day at Coby’s school this past January. It broke my heart, but I missed it. Papa was able to schedule his work week around it, though, so the boy had representation (Truth be known, he’d rather be with Papa anyhow:)).
Model. Take the time that you have with your grand children and their parents to model kindness, devotion to God and country and family, neatness, reading, speaking kindly, etc. Anything that you think is important. Truth is, our kids (and grands) rarely listen to what we say, but they never fail to notice what we DO.
Have fun. Be fun. These days are fleeting. Mack and I want to have fun with these babies as much, as often, and for as long as we can. They will not remember if your laundry all got done or if there was a gourmet meal in the oven. What they will remember is that you loved them and spent time with them. We are silly. We sit in the back yard and blow bubbles and we skip home with the boys wearing head-mounted flashlights and singing You Are My Sunshine. Six years have already passed. While I am amazed by that, I don’t know why I’d be surprised. The years with our own kids went by in a flash. I’m going to hold on to as much of this as I can.