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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 3

August 2009


Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.

Her subject this month is on discipline and adapting. Future subjects that Jeanne will be covering include long distance grandparenting and separated parents. If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at:



To discipline or not

By Jeanne Davis

“I don’t like this idea of the naughty step. I think it’s much more effective to take away a privilege, such as TV.” Like many grandparents, Ed has his own ideas on how to raise children. After all, he raised his own. But like many other grandparents, who are looking after grandchildren, he does not insist. He loves the grandchildren and his children and has decided the issue is not important enough to warrant a protracted discussion.

To avoid unpleasant family arguments, most grandparents will go along with the parents’ ideas on how to raise the children, but it can get to be too much. Katharine Whitehorn, in a recent dilemmas column in Saga magazine, quotes a letter from a distraught woman: “Help! I’m a 60-year-old widow. My problem is that I just can’t cope when my grandchildren visit. Don’t get me wrong. I love them all to pieces but more than two hours with them screaming, wiping sticky fingers on the walls, teasing the dog and spilling food leaves me a limp rag. I feel guilty about it and I wish I was a cosy knitting granny, but I’m not.”

Katharine advises such women to lay down house rules, even if the son or daughter thinks they are being harsh. You have to stick to their rules about things like food if allergies are involved, but not about bedtimes and the dog. You need the courage to say how you feel, and not feel guilty about letting the parents understand that there is a limit to what you can stand.

grandparentsIn previous generations the authority of grandparents was rarely questioned. When my children stayed with their grandparents, the rules were clear. Mother explained which rooms were out of bounds, where you could eat or not eat, where you could play games, draw pictures, and bang away on the piano. My children accepted the house rules and although there were a few grumbles, enjoyed themselves thoroughly. And later, all through their university years and well into adulthood, even though they lived in distant cities, they took the time to make a special trip to the grandparents’ house to bask in love and wise advice.

Sarah, who has cared for three grandchildren at least once a week for the past 23 years, says “I always kept a lot of toys in the house for different ages – young toys, garden toys – because that has made a lot of difference. They come here and don’t have to get bored.” Sarah says she is amazed at the number of grandparents she knows of her generation who have nothing in their houses for the grandchildren to play with and then complain how difficult it is to keep them occupied.

What you feed the children is another of those areas that are deeply fraught. Ideas on what constitutes healthy food change not just with generations but with every new study that is published. When the children will be eating supper at her house, Jennifer always inquires ahead of time what the children would like to eat and what the parents approve. Thus tactic usually avoids those tense times when you sit down with the children and your carefully prepared dishes are met with “I don’t want that.” Most of us will remember those mealtimes with our own children and the battles and ruses to get them to eat one more spoonful, one more forkful.

Sometimes, though, you may have to step in to do what you think best. Clara’s son and daughter-in-law are separated, and on the days the father is in charge he brings their boy to Clara. Both of them stay with her. The daughter-in-law is a strict vegetarian but with limited knowledge of what essential nutrients might be lacking and also susceptible to the latest tablets and powders she sees in health store windows. The boy became very sick and at 15 months old was taken to hospital with a blocked intestine. With her son’s agreement Clara quietly began to feed him a more balanced diet when he stayed with her. Her daughter- in- law saw the improvement in his health and eventually began to add the proteins he lacked, though upset at Granny's interference, somewhat grumpily. He is today a healthy, strapping teenager.

Food, routines, TV, tidiness! Whatever adjustments you may have to make will be well worth it. If there is ever a moment of doubt, I only have to remember the excitement when I arrive on my day at the grandchildren’s house and the shouts of “Grandma is here! Grandma is here!” And the joyful smiles on their faces when they spot me waiting for them at the school gates.

Previous articles in the series:

1. Grandparents do make a difference

2. When Grandparents are on duty

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