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About six months ago I received a question from a mother concerning the grandmother’s decision to buy the grandkids cell phones for Christmas without asking the parents first.
“My mom did not ask us before she ordered them and we do not want our kids to have cell phones. We told her that the kids are not ready for cell phones (the oldest is 10). She said it will teach them responsibility and independence. I disagree and worry they will spend more time on the phones than homework. Besides, Grandma bought only 2 phones for the four children to share which will create another problem.”
I am a grandmother so I try not to infringe on GRANDPARENTAL TURF. And everybody knows grandparents have the inalienable right to give the grandkids presents!
But I agree with the mother in this case because 1) In general children this young do NOT need and should not have cell phones. 2) It is thoughtless to give a personal item like a cell phone to kids this age to share.
But I suggested the mother handle this matter carefully because four young children and the parents of four young children NEED loving grandparents in their lives. Parents have the right and the duty to explain their feelings about an inappropriate gift or any action grandparents undertake that parents feel is inappropriate.
I would not have done what this grandmother did: order first and tell later. I would have asked my daughter first.
I have been thinking about this issue on and off ever since. Parents’ rights? Grandparents’ rights? Rights is an awfully strong word and a cell phone purchase is not a legal matter. But how should parents and grandparents interact with each other so that such misunderstandings do not occur?
In a talk I do for grandparents I mention the two “I” words that can sometimes get grandparents into big trouble: INTERFERENCE and INDULGENCE.
The best gift grandparents can give the parents of their grandchildren is confidence in their parenting. How do grandparents help parents feel confident? We don’t interfere. We don’t criticize. We are sparing with unsolicited advice. We choose our words carefully before giving solicited advice. Why? Because it is not our house or our family. When a grandchild is born a new family is created. Sure we are relatives but we are not the ones in charge.
This is not only common sense but it is a matter of good manners. None of us would go to a friend’s house and run a finger over the pictures looking for dust. None of us would tell a colleague how to raise their kids. When you become a grandparent, your best bet is to treat the new parents with the respect you have for a friend or colleague.
Indulgence has been described as a grandparent’s job! We are supposed to indulge our grandchildren. A cartoon I clipped years ago shows two little boys talking. The caption reads, “I love my Mom. She’s like a grandmother to me!”
But even indulgence has to be carefully administered.
What are some helpful RULES?
* NO SURPRISES. Thinking of a present or a trip with a grandchild? Check it out with the parents first. Even if it’s only a little gift, the child may already have it.
* RESPECT THE PARENTS’ RULES. If they limit screen time (as they should) don’t buy a TV for the child’s room.
* GIVE THE GIFT OF YOURSELF. What I remember most about my grandmother was her stories about when she was a little girl and the food she cooked. I’m sure she gave me gifts over the years but I only remember one, a small gold ring with my birthstone given on my 16th birthday. I remember years of story-telling.
Grandparents: Keep on good terms with the parents of your grandchildren. The grandkids need you and you need your grandkids. They have a way of keeping us young!
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