I love to spoil my grandbabies. I love taking the littlies on outings, having them to stay (we all camp together in ‘nests’ on the lounge room floor), or taking them on holidays, when I laugh (to myself) as they push the boundaries. Don’t even ask about the red soft drink spilt on white sheets in a ‘cubby’ built in a hotel room – the staff are probably still searching for a missing body after discovering the pile of red stained sheets in the bathroom!
The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is very precious, no matter how it’s expressed. It gives children a sense of safety and protection, and a link to their cultural heritage and family history. Grandparents can also add a new dimension to play and companionship.
Grandparents can be a cheap babysitting option and a steadying source of support to families, too, especially when parents are going through stressful times. For example, one study showed that the stronger the attachment of a grandchild to a grandparent, the less likely the child of a depressed mother is to experience depression themselves as adults.
However, whether you are a new parent or a grandparent, the road to family harmony can be paved with a few rocky patches. Here's how to get on the same page to keep everyone happy.
‘Spoiling’ their grandkids is almost like a rite of passage for many of us – we somehow feel as though we have earned the right to enjoy this precious bond on our terms. We love the connection that runs so deep, but we also love that we can relax and not feel stressed about rules and routines because we can ‘hand them back’; we aren’t ultimately responsible, as we were with our own children.
And now, as grandparents, we have time and perspective. We know all too well how quickly this time flies, and we know that missing a nap or getting an occasional sweet (as long as your child doesn’t have allergies) isn’t the end of the world, and it won’t mean the ‘rules’ will change at home with Mummy and Daddy. After all, even very small children quickly get to know that while Nanna or Granddad might be a soft touch, the boundaries remain normal at home.
As parents, it can be difficult to be ‘vegetables and boundaries’ to your children while their grandparents get to be ‘ice-cream and fun’, especially if they were harsher on you during your own childhood. But if you’re struggling with grandparents who indulge your kids, it can help to see things from your parents’ perspective: the grandfather who now pushes your child on the swings for hours, when you can’t even remember him taking you to the park, was probably stressed about earning enough to feed you when you were a child, or he may have been driven to advance in his career to give his kids (you!) a good education. Or he may simply have mellowed in his old age. But does it really matter? Try to step back and enjoy this precious connection for what it is – extra love for your child, and an opportunity to create happy memories for young and old.
Handling the spoiling
Instead of taking offence, if grandparents get it wrong in your eyes, or you feel as though they’re stepping over the line in some way, try to remember that it isn’t about who ‘wins’ – instead, the aim should be to try to work things through with respect for each other.
If you don’t approve of treats, tell the grandparents, gently, what you would like them to do. You can try saying something like, “Johnny gets a runny nose when he eats ice-cream, but he loves apple chips” or “Grace already has lots of pretty dresses, but she’d really like some toys for the sandpit.”
If you would rather grandparents spend time with your child, rather than buying gifts, try and facilitate this. Reinforce it positively when it happens – tell them how much your child enjoys feeding the ducks with them, or listening to their stories.
If you feel safety is an issue, discuss it or stay and quietly supervise. And if you feel undermined, say so honestly. It might hurt a little, but it is far easier to clear the air and get things straight right now, rather than simmering with resentment or to ‘punish’ grandparents – and ultimately, your grandchildren – by keeping them at a distance.
Pinky McKay is an international Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She is also the author of the new ebook Weaning with Love, which is available from her site now.