There is a dilemma that accompanies the winter holiday season that is rarely discussed out loud. It certainly is a topic that is dominating my parenting groups this month. That is, how do parents deal with grandparents who want to do as they please with their grandchildren when it comes to celebrating the gift-giving holidays. They might over-gift the grandchild, even though they have been asked to put on the brakes. They might give an item specifically forbidden by the parents. Or they might see gift giving as a competition with the other grandparents, quantity and cost being the measuring stick. These are the grandparents who disregard their own adult child’s wishes for his/her child, the very same ones who see their status as grandparent as a license to do as they please, as in “it’s a grandparent’s prerogative.” What’s a parent to do? What should a grandparent do?
I’m pretty sure that all grandparents want to enjoy a special relationship with their grandchildren. For years they have heard that there is nothing like the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild…unconditional love and all. But many just don’t know how to make that relationship happen. For sure there are those who suffer from the misguided notion that it is through material gift giving or giving permissions not granted by the parents, that the grandchild will love her most. This could not be farther from reality, especially in December.
Your adult children are the gatekeepers to your grandchildren. And your relationship with your own children sets the tone for your connection to their offspring. Knowing this truth ought to make every parent want to bend over backward to follow her adult child’s lead.
Think of it this way. You have already raised your children, and you did it just the way you wanted. Now it’s your child’s turn. She needs to do it her way, and that includes doing whatever and however she wants– making decisions about what her children get to eat, when they go to bed, whether they watch television, what toys they can have, and how many or what gifts they should receive at the holidays. Imagine how you would have felt if your in-laws or your own father let your child have candy just after you explained your no sweets rule? The grandparent’s prerogative thing just doesn’t work. And it sure doesn’t pave the way to a meaningful relationship with your grandchildren, to say nothing of your own children.
It is true that there is nothing like watching a child unwrap a gift and squeal with delight to bring a burst of joy and satisfaction to a grandparent’s heart. Score one for Grandpa! But gift giving does not a relationship make in the long run.
Each grandparent has the opportunity to bring something special to her relationship with her grandchild, something that will have lasting meaning and that carves a memory. The child will outgrow her glow-in-the-dark-Barbie Golf Set, but she will never forget that Grandpa took her on a fishing adventure or Nana to her to story time on Mondays, how Grandma took her to see Lion King and Poppy helped him build an airplane using a real hammer and nails. Experiences make the most lasting gifts, as the memory stays forever.
My friend Debbie recently shared her 5 year old granddaughter’s comment. “My Grandma Audrey gives me lots of presents, and my grandpa Sam tells jokes, but I just like being with you, Grammie.” The cord of connectedness between grandparent and child is made of many strands, not many gifts. Are you the grandma who always has an ear for your grandchild, regardless of the topic? Are you the grandpa who gets down on the floor to play with dinosaurs? Do you take time to enter the child’s world to have fun together?
Whether you live close or far, your grandchild can feel connected to you. Beyond the technology that can bring you together; your relationship can thrive on what you do when you are together, not just on the gifts you deliver in December. And if you must, why not ask your kids what to give the grandchildren? Then your grandchildren will catch the contagion of their parents’ love for you because you have supported them as they make their own way in the world of parenting. No dilemma at all.