Does saying ‘no’ makes us bad grandparents?
October 2, 2012
“I feel exhausted,” Marie said as she pounded the “For Sale” sign into the ground in front of her house.
That Marie and Chuck were moving took me totally by surprise. They love it here.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“We don’t care,” she said. “As long as it’s far enough
away that our kids won’t be tempted to bring our grandchildren to our house each weekend. We’re thinking 800 miles ought to do it.”
“But you love little Chardonnay and her brother, Pinot!”
“Deeply, madly, we love them. For a couple of hours. After that, I’m spent. Saturday, I spent four hours making sure they didn’t spill things on the furniture or trip and hurt themselves. They have so much more energy than we have.”
“So? Hand them back to the parents when you’ve had enough,” I suggested.
“That’s the thing,” Marie said. “Joey and Shauna show up for the weekend, and all of a sudden it’s my job to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner; clean up after them; and make sure the kids don’t poke out an eye while they run around the house at a hundred miles an hour like their hair’s on fire.
“For Joey and Shauna, it’s a vacation. For me, it’s like having a second job — a much lower-paying job that I don’t like very much. And I sure don’t like my new bosses, Chardonnay and Pinot. I finally realized there’s a reason older women don’t have babies — because we can’t keep up with them.
“When I read about that 60-year-old woman in Italy who was having an in vitro baby, I wondered who was going to take care of it for her. Then it hit me: She expects to pawn the little darling off on her grandmother.
“So I get to take care of the kids, feed the kids and change the kids, but I’m not allowed to say ‘no’ to the kids, or ‘Stop that!’ When I yelled at Pinot to stop yanking Fluffy’s tail, Shauna acted like I’d slapped him. It wasn’t the child who was complaining; it was the mother.
“Then, very slowly, as if I were an au pair who didn’t know our customs and didn’t speak English very well, Shauna explained to me how to raise children. I was supposed to say: ‘Pinot, the cat’s not a toy. Would you like to play with a toy?’
“Guess what? I really don’t need Shauna’s advice on how to raise children. I raised four of them.”
“So talk to Joey about it,” I said. “Get him to tell Shauna to back off.”
“Joey just throws up his hands like he has nothing to do with it,” Marie said. “Like he doesn’t know where babies come from, like they just showed up one day in his house. So here’s the deal,’ I told Shauna. ‘If you don’t care what your kids do in your house, that’s your business. When you bring them here, we have rules.’ Shauna got all huffy with me, but really, you wouldn’t think of bringing an untrained puppy to someone’s house and then act all put out when hosts won’t let it do its business on the living room carpet. Don’t bring an untrained child to my house. It’s rude.
“Yes, I could have said, ‘That’s not the way to play with the cat,’ but guess what? It’s my cat, not hers,” Marie said. “Let me ask you, do you have any lasting memories of someone saying ‘no’ to you when you were 2 1/2? I didn’t think so. What do you think Pinot’s little friends say to him when he pulls that kind of stunt? ‘Pinot, the cat is not a toy. Would you like me to get you a toy?’ No, they would just yell at him to stop it.”
“So you’re really moving?” I asked.
“Oh, we’d been thinking of moving for a while. Making Joey and Shauna feel bad — that’s just a bonus.”
Jim Mullen is a syndicated columnist who appears in the Sunday Express.