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Grandparenting: Right or Privilege?
by Jill Schafer Boehme
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It is a classic scene. You have dropped your children off at your mother’s house for the afternoon so that they can spend some time together. “Please don’t give them any sweets,” you say. “We are having an early dinner tonight.” Several hours later, you return to find your children eating bowls of ice cream around the kitchen table. Strewn around the table are the spoils of a trip to the toy store. “Mother!” you exclaim. “Well, they’re my grandchildren,” comes the retort. “I have the right to spoil them.”

DO grandparents have the “right” to spoil their grandchildren?

I contend that being a grandparent is a privilege, not a right. One of the blessings of having raised one’s children to adulthood is the pleasure of welcoming grandchildren into one’s life. A grandparent’s relationship with his grandchild is directly proportional to his relationship with his child. If a mutual respect is not evident; then it is unlikely that a healthy grandparent/grandchild relationship will be possible. Any grandparent who expects – or worse yet, demands – certain “rights” has, in my opinion, overstepped his bounds.

The parents have sole responsibility for a child’s well being. Though a respected grandparent’s input can be invaluable, this input is not, nor should it be, the primary source of decisions made in regard to childrearing. Comments such as “Well, I never let YOU do that when YOU were little, “ or, “If I want to give Jeremy a little candy there’s nothing wrong with that” are out of line. It is important for parents to set respectful, healthy boundaries with grandparents, particularly those with whom their relationship may have some level of dysfunction. A parent may not feel comfortable, for instance, leaving the children with a grandparent who is verbally abusive. The grandparent may insist that he has the “right” to see his grandchildren, but as long as the verbally abusive behavior continues, the parent is doing the best thing in the interest of the child by not exposing him to verbal abuse.

Another example: Suppose your father-in-law smokes. He and your mother-in-law have invited you to drop off your toddler overnight so that you can go on a much-needed date. Their offer is gracious, indeed! But how do you feel about the atmosphere in their home? You know that your father-in-law smokes in the house, and you are not comfortable letting your child sleep there. Should you do so, anyway? This is an example of an opportunity to set a healthy boundary. “Thank you so much for your kind offer, but we are not comfortable allowing Natalie to sleep in your house because of the smoke.” This response conveys gratefulness for the offer while clearly stating that you will not allow your child to sleep there. It is important to be respectful and gracious while being firm about all decisions made regarding your child.

So, what about spoiling? We hear it all the time: “I love being a grandma, because I can spoil them and hand them back.” Is this what we really want for our children? Of course there is nothing wrong with a little extra attention; a little later bedtime when Grandmom is visiting; a special gift from Grandaddy “just because I love you.” A grandparent, however, who consistently flouts parental authority has no right to do so. As long as you, the parent, are clearly expressing your decisions and views, any grandparent who does not respect your wishes needs to be confronted, lovingly yet firmly. Not only is such a grandparent showing disrespect for his child, but he is giving his grandchild mixed signals (“I can smear peanut butter on the walls at Grandma’s house but I can’t do it at home”), which is confusing and detrimental to the child.

An open, honest line of communication between parents and grandparents is essential for healthy relationships. When there is mutual respect between grandparents and parents, there will be room for the grandparent/grandchild relationship to flourish, safe within the boundaries that have been set. Grandparents can be a special blessing in a child’s life, and it is up to us parents to ensure that it is so.

Copyright 2000-2002, Beat Your Own Drum. All rights reserved. Please do not copy or distribute without the written consent of the author.

Written by: Jill Schafer Boehme
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