As a pediatrician it is not unusual for me to hear from grandparents about parents today. “They spoil their kids so much. I can’t believe what I see. Back when I was raising my kids if they spoke to me the way that kids speak to their parents today, I’d give them a good pat on their bottom. Boy when I was growing up I would never speak to my father or mother that way. We were a lot stricter back then.” Those grandparents are absolutely correct. But you must understand the cultural context – Parenting is harder today.
Today most families need both parents working to make ends meet. There are also more single parent families then ever before largely due to the pressures of family living. There is a constant barrage from TV and the internet telling families what they need to have. Much of the force of this barrage is directed toward children. Advertising to children has reached epidemic levels. There are more products made for kids then ever before. Meanwhile, due to work lives, families spend less time together and kids spend more time watching TV or surfing the net. Not all of this is under the parents’ control! So what can grandparents do?
Grandparents, today, play an important supportive role for the families of their children and grandchildren. As our world has changed, so has the role for grandparents. Traditionally grandparents were the ones who had the right to spoil their grandchildren. But today, I can guarantee you your grandkids can be spoiled very well without you! Grandparents should aim to simplify their spoiling of their grandchildren. Emphasize spending time playing with your grandchildren. My grandfather played checkers with me every time he came over. What game will your grandchildren remember playing with you? Have games at your house that they like to play.
Encourage a simple life at your house. Cut out the TV. Go for walks, cook, or do projects they like. A real treat for grandchildren is to have the grandparent’s house different from their house.
Decrease the treats at your house. Cook and eat healthy meals. One of the biggest ways kids are spoiled today is with food. Food advertising has had the biggest influence on children and their diets. The traditional role of spoiling grandkids with ice cream and treats needs to be modified in this era of childhood obesity. I remember going to my aunt and uncle’s house where they always had ripe bananas – and that was my “treat”.
One of the biggest areas where grandparents can help their children parent is with discipline. Discipline today is different and kids are suffering due to the lack of it. Today parents cannot threaten or use corporal punishment. The issue of abuse has changed our society permanently (and that is good). As a result parents are at a loss today. If you had an authoritative style when you raised your kids, you may have to learn a new style to help your children parent your grandkids. No matter what, support your children’s parenting styles. Help your kids to say “no” to their kids. Don’t undermine them by saying “yes” behind their backs. Without corporal punishment, isolation and ignoring children needs to be done at times. Support your kids in using techniques such as “Time Out”.
Extended family is a value to families today. Grandparents provide daycare, meals, experience and family history to their grandchildren. But today’s parents are in crisis. “Two popular shows, Nanny 911 and Supernanny, demonstrate the general need for parenting advice. You, grandparents, have a history of parenting. Yet, you, too, have to learn to adjust your style of parenting and grandparenting to today’s world. There are new challenges that you didn’t need to face. The overall challenge to parents and grandparents is to learn how to raise kids who are generous, healthy, and educated instead of what society is promoting – self-centeredness, poor physical health, and constant entertainment.