Grandparenting: Less is usually more

Parenting has long been a learn-as-you-go experience. While there are now many books and classes on the subject, grandparents can also be useful resource. But there's a big caveat, fellow grandparents: Your counsel is useful only when asked for. Perhaps even more valued is a loving and wise silence. My own in-laws were a perfect example of the grandparents who were there with the loving arms and comfortable lap but offered no unasked-for advice. How often, I wonder, did they bite their tongues? My own grandchildren now live miles away but I make it a point to see them often. Their family structure and rules differ from those we used when raising our children, but I feel no need to impose my ideas on either my son, his wife, or the children. And I follow the rules of their household when visiting. Their rules are proper for them and for their lifestyle. When we are together, the parents govern the day and when I am alone with the children, I endeavor to follow the rules they are familiar with. So far, we have had no clashes of wills in this regard and may it always be so. One practice I find admirable is that they hold a family circle when problems arise. During one visit, I felt the need to talk about a matter and I asked for a family circle. I put my concern forth and a solution was reached. Having said all of the above, there might come a time when a grandparent would see a solution to a problem from the vantage point of experience and jump in with it, unsolicited. There was a time, recently, that I unzipped my lips and was able to quiet a stormy incident. I was at the house prepared to stay with the children for two days and nights while their parents went on a camping trip. I was uncertain as to how the two-year-old might react, since he had never been away from his parents overnight. However, he surprised me greatly, waving goodbye with a happy countenance. In direct contrast, the five-year-old, whom I had taken care of overnight several times, surprised us all by crying and carrying on, even running out to the van demanding to be allowed to go along. After minutes of this, with my son adamantly refusing to let the child go with them and his wife wavering on the side of acquiescence, an idea came to me. I picked up my car keys and told the child that since he did not want to stay with me and wanted to go with his parents, I was going home to Maine. There was a stunned silence on his part at this information and the crying ceased in an instant. He was a joy during his parents' absence and I felt some justification in joining the fray at that point, with what turned out to be the solution to the problem. Perhaps it was the exception that proved the rule. Since I have become a grandmother, I've learned new techniques from these parents and can see the good results in their children. Conversely, I am convinced that some time- and field-tested methods never go out of style. Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

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