On Christmas day my boys made a confession to me – they didn’t want their grandmother (my mom) at the house when they opened their presents. They both have been growing frustrated with her for a variety of reasons.
-She doesn’t say ‘please’ when she tells them to do something
-She’s demanding of them
-She speaks to them sharply
-She tells them what to do
I listened to their list of the transgressions of Grammy….and then reached a compromise with them. I would bring Grammy to the house after they opened most of their gifts, but the ones from her to them she would be here to watch them open. Truth be told I didn’t really imagine she’d remember what the gifts were per se, but would enjoy watching them open something. The compromise was agreed to by all, and the boys tore into their gifts with childlike enthusiasm.
Part of me knew this situation would arise between Mom and the boys. She has a very high anxiety level at all times. She doesn’t like having someone not do what she tells them to do, and goes from zero to anger in two seconds flat. She’s been like this my entire life, and I have seen evidence that it has gone on far longer than I’ve been around.
Mom has related stories to me about her own childhood and being ‘parentified’ to some degree by her own mother. She doesn’t refer to it with that terminology, but that is what was done from my perspective as merely an observer since both her parents passed away before I was born. This appears to have thrust her, early on, into a ‘caretaker’ role in life and she has never broken free of it. Everything and everyone became her responsibility to oversee and keep from harm and regulate and direct. I have had to have many, many conversations with her over time that while I appreciate her care and concern, I am a grown man, near middle-aged now, and will make my own decisions and run my own life. I realize that most of the time I’m simply filling the air with sound that will not penetrate for her, but I at least need to say it.
Now, it seems, she has moved on to the boys with her efforts.
I realize that much of this is ‘generational’. She was born in the era the Waltons was set in, The Great Depression, and the family construct that was depicted, three generations under one roof where the grandparents expressed their opinions on the actions and decisions of the grandchildren, was the norm. Even in my childhood, although I do not ever recall my grandparents raising their voices to me in discipline, it was just accepted.
Times have changed, though, and the boys don’t wish to be ‘parented’ by Grammy. It is lessening their enthusiasm about having her here all the time and having a more frequent relationship with her. They have begun to ‘complain’ about her coming to the house for dinner, or attending their activities, and it was ‘bad’ enough that it was time to intervene. I told the boys to allow me to speak with Grammy, and going forward if they were upset about something that she was doing, simply speak to me or my husband about it, and let us take care of it. They consented to this readily.
That was the easy part.
As I left Mom’s building with her buckled into the passenger seat, I let her know that we needed to talk about something very important and I needed her to just listen. I, very diplomatically, explained the concerns of the boys and added my own observations as well. She was reluctant to accept that she’d done anything ‘wrong’, as she typically is, and had an instant justification for her actions, as she typically does, and it then became time to interject a little ‘tough love’, as I’ve had to do more and more since Mom relocated. I gently told her that the risk she was running was damaging her relationship with the boys if it continued, and that if they continued to object to having her around more often it was going to make it more and more difficult to spend time together, because I don’t wish to ‘fight’ with the children constantly. There are enough struggles to parenting two heightened-needs children, and I have to pick my battles sometimes. She, of course, countered with an argument of how she was simply ‘trying to help them’ and that is when it became necessary to bring out the big gun.
‘Mom, they are not your children. We will raise them as we see fit. Disciplining them is not your job.’
She stared out the window of the car, and thought this over for a moment. Lately, little by little, I’ve seen something new in Mom’s eyes. The same eyes I’ve looked into for 46 years and seen drive and determination and fierceness and resolve. It’s these things that have allowed her to ‘survive’ for so many years, raising three children without much help and then getting to retirement age and beyond and maintaining her own home until a month ago. I’ve seen something creeping in over the past month that was never really there before.
Mom nodded her head and said to me, ‘You’re right. They aren’t my children. I shouldn’t tell them what to do unless they are about to hurt themselves.’ (With this she’s right – I fully support if they are about to injure themselves and she says something to them.)
Having reached that place of ‘surrender’ – I ratcheted it back a few notches from tough love to just love.
‘Mom, you did your ‘parenting’ job with your own children….as difficult as it was at times. You put a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs, and food in our stomachs. But just like it was time to retire from work, and now retire from driving, it’s also time to retire from parenting, at least as far as your grandchildren are concerned. Don’t try to be a parent to them. Don’t try to discipline them. Just love them, encourage them, and enjoy them. Don’t try to be their authority figure. Just be “Grammy” to them.’
She reached over and put her hand on mine and patted it a few times. I could tell she ‘heard’ it. I don’t expect miracles, whereas she has a lifetime of ‘care taking’ to break free of, and that’s no small endeavor for anyone. It’s easier to revert to old habits than it is to develop new ones. Time will help that.
I’ve also told her what I told the children – if they are doing something that bothers her, tell me, or my husband, and let us handle it. Let us decide what is acceptable behavior for them, and what is not. She agreed this was a better approach than further damaging her relationship with the boys.
I’ve come to realize that this change has not only affected her, it’s affected all of us in many ways. We all have new ‘jobs’ to learn in having Mom/Grammy live two miles away rather than two hours away. And Grammy has as much to learn as the rest of us about being just Grammy now to the boys, as well as how to live having retired from working, retired from driving, and retired from home ownership.
Hopefully the eternal parent in her can retire with grace and dignity as well.