“If you raise your kids, you can spoil your grandkids; if you spoil your kids, you can end up raising your grandkids” suggests an unknown author, possibly the same unidentified pundit who suggested, “if you give your kids everything, they will appreciate nothing.” To which wisdom, I would like to add, if you give a child a fish, he will ask, “why did you give me a fish?” but if you teach a child to fish, you can stand around in the stream most of the afternoon before picking up a pizza on the way home.
Why it is that grandparents have such an easy time caring for children who present as uncontrollable, inconsolable terrorists in their own homes? Traditional wisdom—seldom the correct answer in these columns—suggests that grandparents “achieve peace in our time” by acquiescing to every outrageous whim of their descendants. Is it true that mamaw and papaw take the grandkids to the amusement park, feed them an unrelenting stream of glucose, keep them up till all hours, and then return frenetic, exhausted pampered monsters to the generation in the middle?
Or, to the contrary, do grandparents know something that parents don’t?
Have grandparents, in their impending dotage, noticed that “all them things that seemed so important… they vanished right into the air” (Bruce Springsteen, 1980)? Or have grandparents internalized that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, (Giovanni Torriano, 1666.) Specifically, do Bubbe and Zeyde know that the grandkids are more likely to do homework and household chores without thermonuclear, psychotic shrieking on the part of their ‘rents? In short, are nana and papa just exuding calm, an emotion that kids absorb and enjoy?
It’s not that Ouma and Oupa don’t enforce bedtime, it’s just that Nai Nai and Ye Ye know the secret of bedtime:
- A good dog is a tired dog.
- In the grand scheme of things, bedtime is probably not the hill on which you wish to die.
But what about sparing the rod and spoiling the child? What about being too lenient? Aren't the children of hippies sucking social services dry the same way those feral, tie-dyed youngsters breast fed until they learned to drive? Aren't millennials refusing to work because they are entitled and infused with philosophy and gender studies degrees from over-priced universities? What about a whole political discussion of liberal versus conservative parenting styles whose boredom coefficient is only exceeded by its irrelevance to the point where I want to put a fork it my ear to make the extraneous nonsense stop?
In a word, "no." In more words, "that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard and I spent my formative years listening to middle schoolers explaining why they didn't have their math homework."
Parenting isn't about style. Parenting isn't about ideology. Parenting isn't about liberal and conservative. Parenting for darn sure has nothing to do with politics. Parenting is about meeting your kids where they are, being sensitive to their needs, getting it right.
Some adolescents need to complete a three-day solo hike with no gear other than a five pound sack of flour and a knife. Other kids need to cuddle up with mom on the couch and talk about being bullied. Parenting is about figuring out who your kids are. Parenting is about giving your kids each and every thing they need. Parenting is about ignoring each and every thing your kids want.
An example may make clear the difference between needs and wants: Chances are your kids need responsibility. to make a contribution, help out around the house. Chances are they don't want to.
Could we learn something fundamental and significant from abuela and abuelo? Here’s my summary independent of ideology and network news: Err on the side of nurture. Make cookies. Be present. Bask in the unrelenting joy of getting to hang out with your grandkids.
There has to be a reason why the children behave so much better with Bibi and Babu. Could it be that yaya and pappous learned from their own children what is important--less than you can possibly imagine, other than reveling in those few precious moments we are gifted with the children entrusted to our care?