The Four Word Guide to Being a Groovy Grandparent
Does that adjective make you cringe?
Yep, me too, although almost anyone old enough to have grandkids came of age when to be groovy was to be cool or, in contemporary parlance, epic or rad. If you grew up in New England, maybe you were happy to be known as wicked awesome. When today’s teens and young adults get excited about someone or something, they use descriptors like sick, lit or dope (ask them to explain).
But whatever you call it, is the goal of grandparents to have our kids’ kids think of us as cool, like the absentee parent who tries to buy his kid’s affection with expensive toys?
Our daughter and the oldest two of our soon-to-be-five grandchildren left last week after a wonderfully long visit, their first visit here at Peace Ridge after returning home from several years serving in Europe.
For three weeks our home was full of shrieks of joy (ours), days of adventure (theirs), plus pulling of hair (sometimes ours). When you’re nearly 3 and 6, every day of life is a brand-new Etch-a-Sketch. When you’re on the shady side of 65, the same is true.
Grandparenting is the ultimate Do-Over, a chance to experience once again the amazing buoyancy of a baby in your arms, a toddler’s hand clutched firmly around your heart.
Here are a couple things I’m learning about being the kind of grandparent our littles need more than want.
Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change, but principles never do.
An early mentor taught me that leadership trope decades ago. There are certainly no more vital leadership principles than those used to guide the lives of little humans.
Parenting methods change, though. Those of us who came of age in the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child era might think we’ve earned the right to be the spoilers instead. Groovy Granny, the Amusement Machine. After all, Mom and Dad are the strict disciplinarians now.
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen recently became a first-time grandma. She argues this point in her wonderfully funny and wise new book Nanaville.
“Grandparents have a natural tendency to segue into a role not occupied by a child’s mother and father. But since it is in the very nature of good parenting to be responsible and reliable, what that can sometimes mean as a grandmother is positioning yourself as the fun one…Hence the persistent grandparent mythology that the job is inherently to indulge and spoil, which casts Nana not as the bad cop and not even as the good cop but as the getaway driver.”
I’ve marveled at how patient our kids are with their young children. They employ timeouts and toy-takeaways as effective methods of discipline, and they’re loving but firm when it comes to naptime, snack time and screen time. I’m not about to betray their trust by treating the grands differently on my watch.
Another grandparenting principle I’m learning?
In the cast of family characters, I’m no longer the leading lady. My daughter has won that role in her family, my daughter-in-law in hers. Our son and son-in-law have replaced their fathers as the men responsible for their child actors in the drama of life. My role as well as my husband’s is to come alongside them all with love, support and practical encouragement but to leave the parenting decisions to them just as our parents did with us.
Are there exceptions? Of course. As I type these words I am pounding out prayers for close friends who are in mediation this very moment with their adult children who are unable, or unwilling, to make healthy decisions for their little ones because they refuse to make them for themselves. When you see something – a child, for instance, with no responsible adult protecting them – you say something. We’ve done it ourselves and gained a couple extra kids to raise in the process.
But as Anna Quindlen writes, where we once led, we need to learn to follow. After the birth of her first grandchild, Anna was nattering away to someone about child-rearing decisions to be made when her friend turned to her and said, not unkindly, “Did they ask you?”
Are your kids turning to you for advice in Bringing Up Baby? They will, most likely, just as we eventually asked our folks how they handled the rascals they raised. But these four words from Anna’s friend can guide us to becoming the grooviest grandparents around: Did they ask you?
If the answer is no, zip that lip, grandma.
And just love them instead.