Monday, August 18, 2008

When Grandparents Don't Meet Your Expectations

So... my son does not have stellar grandparents.

Set #1 are busy, involved professionals at the top of their field. So that means every encounter with my boy wonder is accompanied by their Crackberries. Even on Shabbat, because they're not observant. And because they're not observant, they make treife lamb chops on Shabbat afternoon, and then wonder aloud why I am making cottage cheese for dinner. Their children were raised by a nanny so they have no memories of how difficult it is to be 3 and why 3 year old boys seem to wet their pants all the darn time. They adore him, but it is as if from a distance. Think Michaelangelo's David. You rock (and are rock). But I worship you from behind a velvet rope.

Set #2 are just clueless. Poor judgement and all of that good stuff. Grandpa is too distant to engage, and Grandma actually once pinched my son back after he was gently pinching the loose skin on the back of her hands. Yes, pinched. HARD. He cried. Luckily, they live too far away to do real damage.

I find it difficult--downright challenging, infuriating and exhausting--to manage the expectations that I had about my son's grandparents. I wanted them to have toyboxes at their houses, give teeny tiny presents even when it's not a birthday (but only every once in a while), and to be able to babysit even overnight every once in a while. Now, at every step along the way, I am overwhelmed with a kind of sadness when we spend time with them, because none of them are the kinds of grandparents I wanted them to be. Or that I wanted for my son.

I had 3 wonderful grandparents, at least 3 who were wonderful when I was a kid. One grandma got bitter and angry in my adolescence, and my beloved grandpa who always called me sweetie pie and gave very wet kisses died in 2000 (my son is named for him). My other grandma is to this day the kind of grandma every human being would want...warm, wonderful, the most loving person on the planet. We talk weekly and she often speaks to my son on the phone and they have the funniest conversations: "Grandma, I like mango ice cream best." "Mango ice cream? I never heard of that. Don't you like chocolate?" "No, mango. You should try some."

Did I just not see the ways in which they were not meeting the expectations of my parents? They babysat when they could (only one lived close by), always brought a little treat or sent funny cards, called all the time, and always seemed like my personal ally in the constant war against my parents, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that they annoyed the crap out of my parents just like my parents do for me.

Because the fight that I'm thinking of is not a productive one, or one that can actually solve any problem I'm willing to talk about, I'm going to have to manage this shortfall in expectations myself. My husband and I talk about it all the time. I want to shield my son from it, but don't know how to hold in my skepticism that they won't actually get him hurt or god forbid worse when they're alone with him.

Maybe that's because I recently discovered that diet Pepsi is a favorite of my son's...introduced by his grandfather. That was to accompany a lunch made of.......sheet cake. Mmmmm. Eaten while he sat in wet pants for a few hours. No biggie.

Perhaps meditation will work.


Juggling Frogs said...

In addition to meditation, it can help to have every negative moment feed your resolve to be the best grandparent, EVAR, when it comes your turn.

Awesome grandparents would be great, but you're giving him something much, much more important: an fantastic mother.

And yes, your favorite grandma might have driven your parents a bit nuts, and fell short of her expectations. So, maybe the best judge of grandparent-ness is your son. Does he think they're wonderful, or does he want to avoid them?

He might grow up, hoping and expecting that you'll feed his kids soda and sheetcake, so they can have the experience and he can still hold up healthy rules.

lars shalom said...


Maya said...

You know, I'll bet you're right.
Our favorite aunt was our favorite because she let us eat sugar cereals and didn't make us eat vegetables, and we could watch t.v. all day if we wanted to, and she listened to Z.Z. Top when she vacuumed (which was rare). My mother, who ground our own flour and peanut butter and didn't allow sugar in the house and grew all our own vegetables and didn't let us watch t.v. probably didn't think our favorite aunt was all that good of an aunt.

Anonymous said...

My father has been an elusive grandparent, all for the sake of maintaining his loyalty to the step-mother no one (and I mean no one) cares an ounce for. At the age of 72, he cares more about running for local public office than spending an entire afternoon with his grandkids. My son just turned five. My daughter three. In all that time, would you believe there has not been one (not one) overnight. Not one weekend stay. Not even an entire afternoon. His idea of being there is passing by in stealth mode while his wife is at work or stopping by for about an hour or two, and even then he just sits on the sofa and reads his paper or falls asleep. He is a well-educated, strong and independent man who has allowed himself to be immasculated by this woman, this woman I detest. It is more important for her to have everything in her house in immaculate condition rather than create an atmosphere of family and harmony. Their home is a virtual museum. When children are around, you can sense her impatience. I wonder sometimes, does he care to know our childrens favorite television show? Game? Color? Hell, does he remember their birthdays? I put up with this for five years and finally decided to tell him he can go to hell. He is not welcomes in my home anymore, nor do I care to speak with him. My children are better off without him. You can be sure of that.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:

It sounds like your father is an asshole and your step-mother has mental issues. You don't need them. I wish you the best.

Anonymous said...

My parents are not your typical Jewish parents. Well, my father anyway. He married a black woman, dark as hell. I believe she was once a street walker or engaged in that profession from time to time. None of the customs my friends take part in and experience as true followers of our faith are experienced in our home. All my father and his wife do is stay locked up in the bedroom most of the day, and I usually see thivk smoke emanating from the bottom of the door. It smells like drugs or crack cocaine or something like that. We are always broke. Having extra money to do things as a family or even buy things for the house is never there. My son is scared to knock on their bedroom door as my father just screams out loud and orders him to go away. You never hear a peep from his wife. Just moans. I've heard her say a few times, "Pass that shit nigga!" and then it's all quiet again. Just dead silence and more smoke coming from the bottom of the door. My son, his grandson, deserves better than this!

Anonymous said...

I am just now realizing that my parents are not the ideal grandparents that I had hoped for when I had kids. I have 3 kids under 5, and since they were born my husband and I have had more disagreements and arguements with my parents about our kids. When my now 3 year old son was born we asked them to look after our dog and they nearly brought the dog to the shelter because they could not "put up" with my harmless dog. Well, that is pretty much how they treat my children, as if they are "problems" that they do not want to deal with. When we questioned why they could not spend a little "quality" time with our kids, especially since they were asking for them we were told that our kids are a problem for them, they are far too busy and that if we needed support we should consider putting our kids up for adoption. WOW, ok? Now mind you my husband and I have been married for 10 years and waited 5 years to have kids, he is also my highschool sweetheart. When we asked what would provoke this response I was told that I have no time to do stuff and be with my parents, so why should they help us with our kids. But they do have time for my older niece and nephew that they take overnight every weekend. We are in our early 30's and work jobs around 3 kids, which is very challenging. After 5 years of putting up with this nonsense, I finally told them to stop bothering us and not speak to us again, I do not want my children to get hurt. They will not apologize for these hurtful comments. I have not talked to them for 3 months. Any suggestions on how to deal with this situation?

Anonymous said...

You could do as I did - Tell them there not deserving of such beautiful grandchildren and to go jump in the lake. It worked for me. I have not heard from them in almost 3 years, obviously I was right when I said that they really didn't care much about their grandchildren, or their own daughter for that matter or you'd think they'd tried to have reolved the prblem by now. My parents are both over 58 and are quiet well off and totally bloody selfish with their time. It could be 6 months in between visits from Grandpa and even then he'd not spend a second of it with his grandchildren. All of his time would be on the couch watching the TV. My daughter, now nearly 6, has forgotten who they are and doesn't even recognise them in a photo. My son calls them "Bad Grandma and Pa" when referring to them - a result of them trying to pull him out of kindy without my permission.
Luckily the school intervened. I knbow in my heart my kids are better off without them - My husbands Dad (73yrs) is wonderful with them an I know if his mother was still alive, she'd be the best there ever was too. They also have my grandfather (Their Great) who is special to them too. So I know they are not without that sort of love that only a grandparent can give - being that they're willing to give it though.

Your not alone -especially when you have your kids