Rules to live by

Rules to live by

By teaching about the past, grandparents give kids a sense of the future

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 03/20/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’m a stay-at-home mom with four children under the age of 10. My parents live nearby, are crazy about their grandchildren, and have made a commitment to let the kids stay at their house a couple nights a month so that my husband and I can have some quiet “us” time. While we really appreciate this and the kids always love spending time with Gramps and Nana, how can I tell these two that they’re going overboard with candy, cookies, new toys and lax rules regarding manners, cleaning up after themselves and bedtime? And don’t even get me started on the way they let all four of them wear whatever they feel like whether it’s mismatched, dirty or inappropriate for the activity.  
I’ve tried explaining to my parents that it’s confusing for my children to have one set of rules at our house and a completely different set of rules when they visit. My mother’s attitude is, “Oh, they’re young, let them have fun.” I remind them they were pretty strict with me and that I turned out pretty well. She just laughs and says I need to lighten up. What should I do?

— Nessa

Dear Nessa,
Considering how many children only see their grandparents during the holidays — if at all — I think you need to remind yourself now and then that they’re very lucky to have a Gramps and Nana who love spending so much time with them. As is often said (and as you’re observing firsthand) grandparents are like a piece of string — handy to have around and easily wrapped around the fingers of their grandchildren. Recent studies reveal that children close to at least one grandparent are more emotionally secure than those without such a tie. The bond between a child and a grandchild is often unique with unlimited love, mutual admiration and unqualified acceptance. Allow your children to feel special when they’re with them. They’re babysitters who watch your children, not the television. Grandparents often provide help when needed, strengthen the family, and, by sharing their experience, build a sense of family heritage. In addition, many grandparents feel mentally stimulated and physically renewed after having been spent with their grandchildren. They often become more playful, good listeners, involved and active participants and gain emotional fulfillment. As grandparents pass on a sense of the past, kids give them a glimpse of the future. 
Your parents may not be measuring up to your own standards of proper parental behavior but it’s important to keep two things in mind. The first is that your parents have the right to set the rules for visitors — of any age — under their own roof. Secondly, children can be remarkably adaptable when it comes to adjusting to different environments. How they behave at an amusement park, for instance, is different from how they’re expected to behave at a religious service or in a classroom. As they go through their school years, they have to change their behavior daily for multiple teachers, and they do so quite naturally and with a minimum level of confusion.

Given the good job you and your husband are already doing as parents, it’s not likely the easy, breezy style your kids experience at Gramp’s and Nana’s house is going to cause irreparable harm. At the same time, you’re entitled to have your own parenthood roles respected; this means your mom and dad need to resist the temptation of undermining your efforts by interfering, giving too much unsolicited advice, or creating friction and conflict. If certain rules are important to you, it’s essential that you sit down with your parents and discuss your concerns. Gently explain your trepidations but be willing to compromise. Following this discussion, have an all-inclusive, three-generation conversation that imparts the new ground rules to your children and how they differ from the rules at home.
While it’s not acceptable for your children to develop an unhealthy sense of entitlement, demand a steady stream of presents, and expect the universe to revolve around them, there’s nothing wrong with them being the center of their grandparents’ world. Grandparents hold their hands for just a little while but their hearts forever.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site,


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