I was crossing the road the other day with Vera, when I saw a scene between a grandmother and her grandson.
They were trying to cross the zebra crossing but they couldn’t get anywhere near it, much less cross it. Simply because the elderly lady could not get the boy to hold her hand.
She was extremely crossed.
Grandma: You must hold my hand!
Boy: No! …No!
Grandma: You are so naughty. I’m going to tell your dad when he gets home!
Boy refused to budge.
Grandma: Come! Hold hands!
Boy: No, no, no!
It went on for a while. By the time we got across and walked quite a distance, I could still hear the tug o’ war going on.
My heart went out to the elderly lady. She was probably not quite equipped for a job like this. Taking care of a toddler going through a rebellious stage can be hair-raising on most days. And I somehow don’t get the feeling that this was an isolated event.
In Singapore, a lot of the parenting responsibility is shared between parents and well-meaning grandparents. They are natural helpers because most parents work outside of the home. However, most ‘grandies’, as I like to call them for short, are hardwired to love, not to discipline.
And even if they are able to discipline, they don’t have the same authority as parents. Their words don’t carry the same weight and it doesn’t help that they often use empty threats to scare the kids into submission.
The little ones often catch on to the inconsistencies between parents and grandies faster than you can say “rascal”. Needless to say, life as a childminding grandparent can be tough. I know because I’ve seen the way my three year old twist her grandies around her little finger (when she thought I wasn’t looking.)
So how can we give these wrinkled helping hands a needed boost? Here are some ideas that I’ve tested out in my home.
1. Set clear groundrules. Write them down and stick them on the wall so everyone knows it’s there. Do this for only the top 5-10 most important rules in your book so that you focus your energies on the most important things.
2. Seek their agreement. Rules do not just limit the behaviour of your kids, they also limit the behaviour of the grandies who help to enforce them. Some rules can cause too much discomfort on the part of the grandies, so as far as possible, discuss with them and check whether the rule is first of all achievable. If it causes too much difficulty or unhappiness, then be prepared to change it or pencil in some wriggle room.
3. Help them see the benefits of the rules that you’re trying to establish. For instance, you’ve set a bedtime routine for the kids. Explain to them why having a routine can help the kids to wind down and prepare them for bed.
4. Treat them as allies, not enemies. It’s tempting to put the blame on grandies when things go wrong, but they have feelings too. Instead of chiding them when things go wrong (I’ll be the first to confess that I sometimes do this), perhaps you can talk it out, put yourself in their shoes, and understand their difficulties. Ask questions like, “what is lacking?” or “what can be done better?”
5. Give them ideas on how to occupy the kids. This is where routines also help. For instance, after nap-time, it’s outdoor play-time. Or after dinner, it’s drawing / craft time, followed by a bath. Once you help them to structure the day into manageable blocks, chances of the kids acting up due to boredom is lower.
6. Bring them along to parenting workshops. Who says parenting workshops are just for parents? Grandies can definitely benefit from these workshops, and it helps to get an objective third-party view of some of the common struggles that we face.
7. When all else fails, remind yourself that their love for your children is unconditional. Love and discipline go hand-in-hand, so take heart and even if they are lacking in the discipline department, you can at least be sure the other portion is well taken care of.
8. Fulfill our own roles well. Even if the grandies are able to uphold house rules, it doesn’t take away our responsibility to discipline and teach our own children. We have to set the foundation of love and discipline in the home. Only then can the grandies or alternate care-givers be effective in building upon it day-to-day.
How do you help grandies become better care-givers? What areas do you struggle with, if any?