On grandparents.
August 22, 2012

A few weeks ago, the son of a friend of mine turned one.  My friend’s parents live within a mile of their grandson and they wanted to do something special for him, so they hosted his first birthday party.  And everything went splendidly until my friend opened the card that came with her son’s gift from his grandparents.

The card said congratulations and happy birthday to the family and, oh, by the way, here is a list – three pages typed and printed – of all the areas where we think your parenting could use some work.

- - -

My husband and I live four houses away from my parents.  My father and my mother are still married and live in the same house that I grew up in.  Sometimes when Charlotte does something particularly cute or dresses in a particular way, a neighbor will chuckle and pass along memories they have of my siblings and me as children.

This dynamic is something that frequently inspires questions.  How does my husband like living so close to his in-laws?  (He loves it.)  Do they get along?  (Yes.)  How often do we see my parents?  (Usually two to five times a week, typically for several hours a pop.)

After Charlotte entered our lives, the questions became more focused on how my parents handled grandparenthood at such close proximity.  Do we ever clash?  (We did once.  We resolved it and moved on.)  How do we handle differences of opinion or practice?  (This is very infrequent.  I was parented in an almost identical fashion to how we parent Charlotte.  When differences do arise, we’re usually talking black labs and yellow labs, not cats and dogs.)  Do my parents ever saddle us with unsolicited advice?  (No.)  Do they like living so near their granddaughter?  (Yes.)  Do they hinder our social life?  (No, PARENTING hinders our social life.)  (Actually, we probably hinder my parents’ social life sometimes.  Oops.)  How often do they voice discontent with our childrearing?  (Never.  Not once.)

When friends ask me what the hardest part about living in such close proximity to my parents is, I never have an answer.  Um?  Maybe?  Um?  I don’t know?  There’s a hard part?  But when they ask me what the best part is, I have a million answers.

For better or for worse, this does not seem to be the case with most of my peers.  On the one hand, I frequently hear my friends praising their parents…but at the same time, it seems that the vast majority of my fellow parents are locked in constant battle with< their families with regards to their parenting practices. And, if the list my friend’s parents enclosed in her son’s birthday card is anything to judge by, it’s a pretty vicious battle at that.

- - -

Yesterday afternoon, Charlotte and I fell asleep together for a short while after coming home from the park.  When we woke up, I asked her what she wanted to do with the remaining hours of the day.

She thought about it for awhile.

“Let’s take only my tricycle to Grandma’s house,” she said.

So we did.

We did it because we both are loved and valued and accepted and treated with dignity at Grandma’s house.  We did it because we both enjoy the company at Grandma’s house.  We did it maybe just a little bit because Grandma’s house has air-conditioning.  And we did it because Grandma’s house is a pretty fun and welcoming place to be.

The more I hear about power struggles amongst relatives, the more I hope that one day I remember the example my parents set so that my children can say the same of my home.


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  1. By on August 22, 2012

    Wowza!  Talk about bad timing!  I feel for your friend..to be so excited and enjoying your son’s first birthday party and then be hit with a list like that.  Even if they wanted to discuss parenting with her, there is a time and place for that and a different way of doing it. 
    I grew up on a farm with my grandparents living right next door.  I’m sure there were tensions between my parents and my Dad’s parents, but as a child, I loved being able to just run next door and see them anytime I wanted.  I wish my parents and my husband’s parents lived closer…my kids only see them once or twice a month.

  2. By on August 22, 2012

    I don’t have any problems with either my parents or my in-laws. I cannot imagine what it would be like. It does seem to be the rule rather than the exception. My parents moved into my sisters neighborhood a few years ago and everyone was nervous about how it would go. Instead of stepping on each others toes or getting sick of each other, they find it much better than when they had to drive a couple of hours and stay the night in each others houses in order to visit. They visit for a while, then go home. Works well for everyone. My mother has always contended that she sets the rules for her house, even if they are a bit more strict than we are at home with the kids. I think it makes sense for the kids to learn how to behave in others houses.

  3. By Amber on August 22, 2012

    You are so lucky to live close to your family. Its killing me living far away from ANY family and now we can’t afford to change our situation :(

    Also: I have no trouble with in-laws myself, but my parents sure did. It was AWFUL.

  4. By on August 22, 2012

    Carrie, we did the same thing. Grandma’s rules at her house, my rules at our house. It worked great. But then, I have a great MIL. Once she didn’t tell me that the Kleenex box was empty because she “didn’t want to tell me how to run my house”!

  5. By on August 22, 2012

    My son is 2 3/4 years old. He loves playing with cars. When he plays with his cars, he makes them crash sometimes. He likes it.

    My mother was over for a weekend and my son was a little fussy and willful, like a normal toddler. A few days later while talking on the phone she confided that she had concerns. All those cars crashing, so aggressive; that must be the cause of his behaviour. I admitted I didn’t like all the noise, but it’s an activity he enjoyed. It’s not like he filled his days with it. Most of the time when he’s playing with his cars he’s quiet and has them talk to each other… “Hi, I’m a corvette. Oh, hi! I’m a tractor!“.

    Anyway, my mother waited another day or so and then sent me a long email about my son’s behaviour. She suggested I take him to a behavioural therapist.

    My son is a gentle sweetie pie. Yes, he has bad moments, but they are few and far between. What could possibly make her think he needs therapy is beyond me. This from the woman who kept throwing blankets on him when he was a newborn because his hands were cold and begged me to talk to the doctor about it.

    I guess some people don’t know when to speak up and when to be quiet….

  6. By on August 22, 2012

    Hmmm. Grandparents.

    I spent part of my childhood growing up across the street from my grandparents. It was convenient because they had a pool! I’m not sure there was ever any tension between them and my mom and stepdad, but I know when my parents eventually moved, it was with reluctance to leave them. My grandmother still say how much they miss my mom coming over for morning coffee.

    Now that I have kids of my own? My mom now lives 8 hours away… And even though my husband’s family and my father/stepmother live minutes away, she still sees my kids more than any of their other grandparents. She visits regularly, spoils regularly and just all around loves my kids to pieces.

    My mom is very intrigued by some of the choices I make for my children. My stepdad seemed pretty confused/bewildered by some, but if anything, all they ever did was poke fun at me for being overly cautious or particularly liberal. Now that Jude is older though… Not that 3.5 is ‘old’ (but they’re beginning to see his personality, curiosity, imagination, etc), I think more and more, they are starting to ‘get’ it.

    “what, you don’t feed your kid food from jars, boxes and cans?!?“ is now “he is such a great eater! I wish you would have though snap peas were a snack’

    “he doesn’t watch tv or play with plastic toys with tons of buttons?!?“ is now “ he’s so focused on his play! He has such an imagination!“

    So, while they never judged me, but maybe poked fun or were confused, they’re now seeing the results. For my stepdad (an outdoorsy guy) to be able to take my son fishing or for a hike an have him interested/aware is great. It’s definitely different from what he experiences with his other grandchildren.

  7. By on August 22, 2012

    When we had Isla there were many disagreements between us and our parents… Issues over breast feeding, waiting to introduce solid foods, cloth diapering, sleeping habits, babywearing, etc. We’re a bit granola, so it was such a stark contrast from our parents and they felt offended that we were choosing a different path than they took with us.

    My MIL and step-FIL live in Mexico for 6 months of the year and live in Ontario (still a 6 hour drive away, so we never see them) the other 6 months. Isla was born in March and they were coming up in May. At the end of May they finally got to meet Isla, who was already 2 months old. My relationship with Isla was strong, I knew all of her noises and I was very attentive to her. Within minutes of meeting Isla and watching us interact she was criticizing me… Telling me that I shouldn’t let her sleep that way, that I shouldn’t carry her all the time, that Luke should be around more often, on and on and on. Once Luke came home I told him about what happened and he told her to cool it. Later on that night Luke and I were drying Isla off after a bath and my MIL walked into our room. She took one look at Isla’s eczema and started telling Luke that I was a bad mother, that she had a very bad rash and that she needed to go to the doctor immediately. She was talking about me like that RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!! I lost it, I started bawling, I locked myself in my closet and I called my mom, sobbing to her. It was awful. Luke lost it on his mom too.

    It’s been better since then, but there is still so much tension. And she hasn’t even apologized. :‘(

    MC - I don’t know what happens when our parents become grandparents, they lose a lot of their sanity or something. The same kind of stuff happened to us when we had our firstborn, loads of inane suggestions were thrown at us and our parents made us second guess every choice we were making for her. As new parents all we want and NEED is support, I’m so surprised that our parents can’t give us that.

  8. By on August 22, 2012

    I should add my dad/stepmom have made their share of comments. Nothing particularly hurtful, but like ‘really?!? You just said that?!?‘ kind of stuff. While I’m cautious about things like plastics, car seats and chemicals, they’re more cautious about bumps and bruises and frequent hand washing… So we often don’t see eye to eye when I encourage my kids to ‘brush it off’ and they encourage me to coddle then. But again, their visits are so infrequent that it hardly matters.

    I think if anything, I get more comments about my
    Choices from MY grandparents. ‘i mean it’s great thr your breast feeding, but my babies drank evaporated milk and corn syrup from a bottle and thrived just fine’... Umm… I’ll take that into consideration??

  9. By Lindsay on August 22, 2012

    I LOVE this entry. LOVE! L-O-V-E! It’s one of my favorites yet, simply because it rings so true to me, too. My husband and I bought our home about 5 minutes (in the car) from my parents. I live in the same neighborhood I grew up in and I love it. I think we actually see my parents every day—it’s rare we don’t, even if it’s them stopping by just to give my 14-month old a goodnight kiss or to drop off a piece of artwork he painted for them. Like you and your family, I’m raising my son about 99.9% the same way that my parents raised me—right on down to the same schools, the same hippie co-op preschool alternative, the same everything. Maybe there are “new” things that my mother who hasn’t raised babies in decades was quick to give me the side-eye about (“you’re telling me that the baby WANTS to stay swaddled?“ when I was showing her the Miracle Blanket swaddler we used) but she learned, just like I learned as a first-time parent. My in-laws, on the other hand…well, they’re not a pretty story. They live about 10 minutes away by a car and have only met my son a handful of times. He’s just not that important, I guess…

  10. By elizabeth Mackey on August 22, 2012

    I think that is so great that you live so close to your parents and have a great relationship! I wish that my parents were the kind of grandparents that were like your mom and dad. I didn’t grow up around my grandparents, so I always wanted my kids to have what I didn’t. Sadly they too missed out on having that wonderful grandparent/grandchild relationship :( I plan on reversing that as soon as I am a grandparent. I want to be the grandmother that is respectful of my kids parenting skills and have the kind of environment in my home that they would want to come and spend lots of time.  The cycle of bad grand parenting will end with my parents and my in-laws.
    i can’t wait to be a grandmother :)

  11. By Alicia S. on August 23, 2012

    My husband was a teenager when he had my step-daughter, 12 years ago. Before I came into the picture, needless to say, his immediate family was a huge part of the village that raised her - especially when her mom became uninvolved. (He was never the typical teenage dad; he worked incredibly hard and owned a house in his own name before he even graduated high school.) He was always financially independent, but because he was a man, raising a little girl more or less on his own - for the first six years of his daughter’s life, he was used to taking any advice that came his way.

    Our parents live within walking distance of one another, and we live about five minutes from there. I adore living so close, but there was definitely a time in the beginning where friction was almost a constant. Looking back, it’s easy to see how hard we all worked to adjust and get along, but it was certainly a process.  Because my IL’s were such an important part of Mary’s life even before I was, it was important for us to not cut them off completely from having a big say in her life - and when you’re building a new family, that’s going to complicate things. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, but it made the start a tough one.

    We learned to make peace with discussing big decisions with them, (decisions we wouldn’t concerning our younger two) while making it clear when we don’t intend to bend. Over time that was enough. Eventually, they stepped back a great deal, without having to resent us for forcing them to do it. I remember what a big to-do there was over us pulling Mary out of one school to put her in another five years ago. Whereas, a few months ago, I wasn’t even nervous about telling them that we’ve decided to start homeschooling her. I knew that I’d have their support; I knew that they would trust me to handle it.

  12. By Alicia S. on August 23, 2012

    Cynthia—that’s awful! Just reading your comment had me fuming. :-(

  13. By Catherine on August 23, 2012

    You are so lucky, Sarah.  I love my parents and wish I lived anywhere near them.  :(  My husband and his parents all get along with my parents and I love my in laws but we are all states away.  Maybe someday.  I’d love it if my children could ride their bicycle to my parents house from ours.  Alas.

  14. By Laura Bishop on August 27, 2012

    Sarah-
    You are truly lucky that you have parents that respect your parenting choices.
    On the surface, my parents show respect for most of our parenting choices.
    But a few times I got, “You shouldn’t STILL be breastfeeding him! He’s TWO years old! “(I nursed my son until 2 and a half)
    There was the, “Oh let him cry! We let you cry it out and you turned out fine!“ (Sure on the surface I’m fine but underneath I’ve got some anxiety issues that hinder me sometimes)
    Recently I was called controlling by my mom because of my toy system:
    http://blissedoutbaby.blogspot.com/2012/04/our-toy-system.html
    and then I had to practically beg them to install child locks on all their doors that led outside to their un-gated pool. They should have WANTED to provide the safest possible environment for their granchildren that they could. Oh and I was told that they preferred not to put a child lock on their front door because it would, “look ugly” and their door cost them $10,000. SO the look of a door is more important than my son’s safety? (My son could very easily walk out their front door into the street, so we do not allow him to spend the night there without us even though they want to be able to take him for a weekend)
    Anywhoo- this post gave me an opportunity to vent which clearly I needed. :) Thanks for that, and for any brilliant ideas you may have for me and my situation.


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