Grandparents Getting Jipped

(Warning: This is a Dr. Phil style rant that I just need to get out.)Grandpa fishing

I feel sorry for grandparents these days. Many are getting jipped out of enjoying their hard-earned role as the “fun adults” in their grandkid’s lives. So many grandparents are forced to be very “parental,” playing a major role in disciplining their grandkids. This was not the case a few generations ago, when grandparents were allowed to spoil the kids rotten… which is how it should be!

Yesterday in church we sat a few rows behind a grandma (about 65) and her five-year-old grandson. The boy’s parents were not with them and grandpa passed away a few years ago, so it was just the two of them. About a minute into the service, and I could see this was going to be a very long hour for both of them. Sitting in the front row, the grandma was clearly not about to make a scene, so you could see her picking her battles carefully (as every good caregiver does, especially in public). He tested and tested and tested her- lying on the ground, moving constantly, wrapping his coat around his head, shoving the song books onto the floor so that he could lie completely across the pew, playing with her cane and her reading glasses. She was so embarrassed and frustrated, often shaking her head and rolling her eyes with disappointment. She motioned for him to stand next to her a handful of times, with her sweet “grandma smile” and he consistently shook his head in a defiant “no.”

I was steaming!

I leaned over to Jason who noticed the happenings also and assured him, “I’ll be blogging this!”

This child clearly does not respect the authority of adults. (This was not a surprise to us because Jason and I worked with him for an entire morning for Vacation Bible School recently. That was a LONG morning.)

This interchange is symbolic of the dynamics that is too common for many grandparents and grandkids these days. I saw it too often when I was teaching. Parents are busy. So busy, in fact, that things fall through the cracks. Unfortunately sometimes those “things” involve discipline, consistency and follow-through. (It take a lot of time and effort to raise a “good kid.”) Guilt takes over. Kids gain too much control. Enough said. Not only are the kids the major victims here, so are the other “innocent” adults who have to spend time with these out-of-control sweethearts- whether it’s their teachers, daycare providers, or the grandparents. Yikes. Busyness strikes again.

A large part of our mission is to help kids have better childhoods. When I see this sort of interchange it really makes me sad more than anything. These kids are being deprived of a sacred type of relationship that cannot be duplicated – the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Special memories are made, like being spoiled with sweets, later bedtimes and precious one-on-one activities like making cookies together, fishing, or playing with a special train set. When the grandparents are forced to be yet another voice of discipline (because of the lack of discipline from the parents), then they cannot even think of spoiling them, which brings them so much joy. It’s impossible to spoil a spoiled brat.

I wish parents would just “parent” so that grandparents can actually “grandparent.”

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  1. I really, really hesitate to point this out, but jipped is really gypped, and insults gypsies just as much as the synonym jewed insults jews. I always used to say gypped, and never realized what it meant until a racist relative said jewed and I got all bent out of shape and it was pointed out to me that what I was saying was just as bad.

    That said, I agree with your post totally. Both sides miss out on grandparenting, fun babysitting, teaching, playdates, etc. when every adult has to use time and energy to discipline instead of just being able to loosely supervise and make sure nobody breaks an arm or spreads the cookie dough too far. Benign neglect is hard to come by these days.

  2. Manuela says:

    Thank you Lynn, for the comment on the word ‘jipped’, I was going to say the same.

    Also, I must comment on the post’s conclusion that adults should parent more – I do think it is correct, but also incomplete. I am sure there are parents who could make more time for parenting, but instead remain trapped in busyness.

    But there are also so many parents who simply cannot afford to make time because they have to keep the family afloat and work day in-day out. They are caught into a vicious circle where they receive no economic or social support for parenting and then they are blamed for not doing it right. Blaming the victim is a good way to obscure the inadequacies of the system we live in.

  3. Lynn and Manuela,
    Well, the good news is that it’s obvious I didn’t “mean” to insult gypsies, since I didn’t even spell the slang word correctly. :)

    I saw an appropriate sign the other day, “Bad Spellers of the World Untie.” I laughed and laughed. My mom will attest, spelling has never been my strong subject.

    Manuela, I agree that there are single parents, widows/widowers, etc. that are in a very difficult position with their time, being forced to work, which naturally causes them to be busier than other parents. This is so sad. I should’ve clarified above… I am talking about parents who are busy because they are “keepin’ up with the Joneses.” You know the difference. In my five years of teaching I saw MANY more parents who forced themselves into “busy” lives by their own choices. Rarely did I, personally, see parents who were in the position you are talking about.

    All this being said, I must admit that the “victim” card is so overplayed. The “system” doesn’t owe us anything. How many times do you hear about the poor single parent working two jobs to raise her kids, and she ends up with very respectful and highly successful children? All of the time!

    Don’t even get me started about the lies that people tell themselves, regarding “needing” two incomes. It’s all about your lifestyle choices. It’s all a matter or need versus want. Again… back to our day-to-day choices. We are not victims of our choices.

  4. Yup.
    That’s all I’ve got to say.

  5. Minette says:

    Thanks for ranting about something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. I have a 5-year-old nephew that is a wild child because my sister and her husband have not set limits with him. He’s allowed to stay up until 1 am – because “we can’t get him to go to sleep”. It’s really very sad because it’s almost impossible to take him out to restaurants and enjoy ourselves, and you end up dreading spending time with him instead of enjoying it. THANK YOU for giving a good voice to this issue.

  6. Concerned Citizen says:

    Expecting a child to sit through a church service is a form of psychological torture and should be condemned by society at large. The boy’s reaction is nothing personal, and has nothing to do with discipline and everything to do with a gross lack of empathy on the part of adults – it is a perfectly healthy, normal, and natural reaction to an environment that is severely oppressive to children. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to be treated for Adultitis. Rather than resisting the vitality of so-called wild children, let us find ways for them to express it freely and safely, joyously and exuberantly.

  7. I expect my 3yo and 7yo to sit through church, because otherwise I would never get to go! However, I also know that what keeps my son still (and paying attention, believe it or not!) is a stack of blank paper and a pencil or two. My daughter needs a bag of cheerios or pretzels. They must stay in the pew, but they may lie down or roll underneath. And we sit in the very front so that they can see. I expect to do a bit of shushing, but we do all right. We also have permission to “tour” the altar area any time services are not going on, so they are really beginning to know it as a place for them to participate, not just watch from the edges.

  8. There goes my wife offending the neighborhood again…The outrage about gypsies spurred me to consult wikipedia, where I found out that the term “gypsy” is indeed sometimes considered a derogatory term.

    And here I thought it meant old ladies who stole children and/or reveal dreadful fortunes to werewolves played by Lon Chaney.

    P.S. Why do people allow themselves to get so easily offended these days? It reminds me of the time when I mentioned I visited an oriental grocery store and some guy had to point out to me that people from Asia consider the term “oriental” derogatory. I told him I wasn’t sure what else to call it since the owner of the store decided to name it Lee’s Oriental.

    P.S.S. By the way, that situation with the kid that Kim described had EVERYTHING to do with discipline (or lack therof.) There were several other kids of the same age who were admittedly bored out of their gourd and understandably fidgety, but were demonstratively more well-behaved than that kid. As a former kindergarten teacher, Kim knows the difference between often misunderstood wild spirits and spoiled brats. Wild spirits are created by God; brats are created by parents.

    I’m out.

  9. While I pretty much whole-heartedly agree, I need to mention that things might not be as they seem.
    We have a 7 year old boy with ADHD who finds it very difficult to sit still and can get oppositional to even the most well intentioned, well delivered commands.

    Labelling children as “naughty” or parents as “careless” without understanding or empathising with the causes can be very harmful.

    When we have been trying to do stuff in public it is often the disapproval of adults around us, rather than our son’s behaviour that can be hardest to deal with.

    Having to apply inappropriate discipline because it’s whats expected rather than whats appropriate can be counter-productive and demoralising.

    Standing up for what you believe in a doing the right thing for our son can get us even more black looks and tutting.

    We work very hard to attain a measure of balance at home, in public and at school where we avoid the worst trouble spots without giving in to every whim, but this can so easily be undermined.


  10. In full disclosure, I don’t have any children of my own, but I taught hundreds of kids how to swim when I was younger (teaching swim lessons was a decent paying part time job).

    While I agree with Concerned Citizen that sitting through church is a form of torture (I hated every minute that my parents made me sit through), I still think kids should respect their grandparents (even if they are miserable). While my siblings and I may have misbehaved (passing notes, giggling, etc) with my parents, we always were on our best behavior with our grandparents because we knew we would be rewarded.

    Recently, I’ve noticed more parents letting their children run around stores (yesterday I was rammed by a cart pushed by a five year old in the grocery store) without any supervision. I have been tempted to return children to their parents, but I have just smiled and thought I will NEVER allow my children to behave like that…

    Okay, I guess I had a little bit of a rant too…just not as organized as yours!

  11. You alluded to the 2-income trap which I think is wrong. As if one stay-at-home parent would make the child behave. I know many SAHM who spoil their children rotten. It’s more about attitude. My mom had to work but believe me, she and my dad made sure to discipline their children to behave appropriately.

  12. Couple of thoughts here:

    @jon: Don’t use a fake “disorder” as a scapegoat. There’s a reason the words “attention deficit” are in ADD or ADHD.

    My aunt uses ADHD to excuse her kids’ behavior and my sister uses it to explain her kids’ lack of respect of authority. However, when my aunt’s kids are with anyone other than their mom/dad, they’re almost angels, even though they know they’ll never get rewarded with anything material. What do they get out of being good then? ATTENTION! We actually talk WITH the kids, not AT them. We play with the kids on the floor at their level, not toss them some crayons or the TV remote and say we’re spending time with them.

    My own sister is one of those parents (albeit a single mom of 2) who dumps her kids on the grandparents. Granted, she LIVES with my parents as well, so she just thinks they’re the default babysitters.

    Luckily she’s marrying a TSS next year so she’ll move out, become an adult and hopefully learn something from her new husbands abilities to handle “troubled” kids. He’s going to be a great dad, and is a great example of what REAL attention is.

  13. How about a perspective from a Grandpa? I have 3 grandchildren and when talking them to church I make a point of talking to them before the service so they have some understanding of what is expected… they get to know that we are visiting someone and how they should behave… Ok ..sometimes they forget but sometimes they remember tooo..

    The two year old is challenging but her parents do provide a large amount of discipline…. her Dad calls it Brad’s Boot Camp….and she knows was is expected…

    My belief is that with love, discipline can be applied with success… even when the child is active ( and not every kid has ADHD)…its called being a kid and thats why we are called parents … our purpose it to help them get a good start in life… to help them get an understand life, relationships, and their’s not just about getting material things….with consistent application, kids do get it….

    As far as the busyness of life… my wife and I made the decision for her to stay home during the early childhood years …that’s why we had children… to help them develope the life skills to succeed on their own…this takes time in talking with them..not just giving orders …but explaining the reasons behind the rules and then following up and applying the rules with love and discipline. We gave the big house and big cars to live up to this commitment….

    and so it is with Grand children … we can help only if the parents have taken the time to get to know them as little people… the acting up is a result of not listening to them and not talking with them… they want to feel important too…

  14. corrections: talking should be Taking

    and we gave UP the big house and cars

  15. People don’t take offence more than they used to, they are simply less shy about pointing it out.

    The grandparent thing depends a lot on cultural expectation. In some places, it’s actually more common for the grandparents to raise the children. On the other hand, they are usually young grandparents.

  16. There’s a lot we can say about parenting, or bad parenting. It’s easy to say how it should be, when we don’t have kids. Parenting is the hardest job out there. The hardest. It takes every emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental discipline within you to do the best you can to raise a child into a responsible, caring adult. As a parent of a 3 year old I have a long way to go, have made many mistakes, and am trying my darnest. I’m sure I’ve been judged by well-meaning onlookers. While I agree that parents need to be involved, need to create boundaries, need to take the responsibilities for having children, etc. I just have to say, I hope anyone who does not have kids yet, doesn’t eat their words if they some day do. Kim and Jason, you guys will make great parents someday. But it’s also easy to idealize how we would do things before we get there. :) Please take this as a friendly thought to consider.

  17. “This child clearly does not respect the authority of adults.”

    Any adult that believes in religion isn’t deserving of respect. Moreover, an adult that attempts to indoctrinate an innocent child in Christianity should be punished. Forcing your irrational faith on a young person constitutes a vile form of child abuse.

    The damage from priests molesting kid’s bodies pales in comparison with the disgusting effects of Christianity upon their minds.

  18. Thanks for all of the comments on this!

    It’s neat to think about how one’s specific background of experiences impacts the filter in which they experience the world. I know the countless cherished memories I have with my own grandparents from my childhood, along with the five years I spent teaching kindergarten had a huge impact on the formation of this post.

    After this rant last week, you would guess that I sit in church every week tense and frustrated. Actually, the opposite is true. Today at church I found my eyes welling up a number of times at the beautiful images of families together. This is a much more common experience for me. I saw a grandpa holding his year old grandson, kissing him on the forehead numerous times throughout the hour… such a proud Papa. A seven-year-old boy in front of us “mouthed” the words “I love you” to his mom randomly, for no reason. His mom said it back and wrapped her arm around him, pulling him close. These are just two of the wonderful images I saw. There are so many more “moments” to be seen that show the love and joy among families.

    Amidst the differing opinions here and there, one thing I think we can all agree on is our common desire to do the best for our kids in this crazy and unpredictable world.


  1. […] Grandparents Getting Jipped: This really burns me. Grandparents are supposed to help out, to babysit, to take the kids to the movies. They are not free babysitters for working parents, or parents who are dumping their kids off with the grandparents at church while they sleep in. This article steamed me, because it’s all part of what I perceive as a slow breaking of the generational contract (more about that in the future). (@ Escape Adulthood) […]

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