Don’t want to live with them; don’t want to live without them: grandparents add many wonderful qualities to your family life. They tell your kids embarrassing stories of when you were their age. They ply your kids with food, clothes, and new toys, all for a hug and high-pitched “I love you, Grandma!” They have stilted, awkward conversations on the phone with toddlers, proudly display crayon scribbles on their fridge, and keep a carton of expired ice cream in their freezer. But finding the right balance between “involved” and “entrenched” can be tricky. If you do need duke out some issues with the grandparents, keep in mind the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Issue #1: Gifts
Parents: You buy your daughter a Barbie; they buy her an American Girl doll family. You buy your son baseball cards; they take him to a World Series game. You buy him a Hess truck; they buy him a Toyota Prius. While you are overwhelmed by their generosity, you wish their generosity wasn’t so, well, overwhelming.
Grandparents: Whether you only have one grandchild or twelve, your role is to buy them stuff their parents won’t. If that means having to take out a second mortgage on the house so that your grandchildren can come to Tuscany with you, so be it. On second thought, why not just give the grandkids the house?
Winner: Parents. While all the extras are flashy, in the long run your kids will appreciate the time you spend with them, the life experiences you provide, and the values you instill in them. And the four-year, out-of-state tuition you shell out for.
Issue #2: Babysitting
Parents: Your parents are your go-to first choice for babysitters. Growing up, they were so strict with you, you’re sure they will keep your kids in line. However, you notice the youngest generation gets to stay up later and play a lot more Nintendo with them than you did. Hmmm.
Grandparents: The way to your grandchildren’s hearts is to be as vastly different from their parents as possible. Which is why babysitting often entails binge-watching Peppa Pig while eating Carvel cake for dinner.
Winner: Grandparents. Listen, parents- do NOT look this gift horse in the mouth. If you try to make “suggestions” for how they should handle your kids while you’re away, they will suddenly have a bridge tournament the same weekend as that wedding you want to attend.
Issue #3: The Crib
Parents: You’ve received countless propaganda insisting that you put your baby to sleep on his or her back (your child even has a onesie that says “This side up” on her tummy). The crib should be a barren wasteland devoid of toys, blankets, bumpers, and other life-threatening sources of entertainment. And don’t even think about a crib with a drop-down side.
Grandparents: You stuffed your children’s cribs with more toys than an FAO Schwartz, and they lived to tell about it. You were told to put babies on their stomachs so they wouldn’t choke on spit-up, and they lived to tell about it. And without a drop-down side, how can you reach into that ridiculously deep crib to pluck out the screaming youngster?
Winner: A draw. Everyone turned out fine. Who knows? Next year, the American Academy of Pediatrics might recommend placing your baby in the crib on an upside-down diagonal, surrounded by toys the same color as your womb.
Issue #4: Dinner
Parents: You spend hours preparing a kale stew, and your in-laws show up on your doorstep with corn dogs and potato chips. You try to convince your toddler that soba noodles are the same as macaroni, only to find your parents let her skip dinner and go straight for the homemade Tollhouse pie. Your child’s need for proper nutrition should trump the grandparents’ need to be popular.
Grandparents: If the goal is to get the children to eat, then why does all their food look like stage-prop vomit? Why should a toddler eat sushi when there’s five Friendly’s within driving distance? Also, you ate nothing but pizza-flavored Combos for ten years, and look how well you turned out.
Winner, winner , chicken dinner (but only if it is boneless, skinless, and cut into dinosaur shapes): Parents. You have the right to stuff your kiddo’s faces with whatever you deem fit. Good luck with that kale dish.
Issue #5: Parenting Skills
Parents: Perhaps your parents are making up for mistakes of the past, or showing off their spotless track record. Either way, they make no bones about pointing out your parenting shortcomings: Your infant son is sucking on a battery. Your baby has been sitting in her own poop for the better part of the afternoon. Your daughter pulled chewing gum off the underside of a park bench and put it in her mouth. Nag, nag, nag.
Grandparents: Your own kids turned out pretty fabulous, so clearly you did something right. It is your duty to impart to them the wisdom of decades of perfect parenting every time you would handle a situation differently. And you definitely don’t remember the time you left your daughter at a Chuck E. Cheese for an hour and a half while you accidentally brought home her friend Caitlyn, who you thought was your daughter, since both of them were wearing pink dresses.
Winner: Grandparents. Parents, your son really should take that battery out of his mouth. Gross.
Issue #6: Visitation Rights
Parents: Maybe one set of grandparents wants to visit every other day, bringing new wardrobes for the kiddies, a dessert that appears to be made solely out of pixie stix, and a camcorder to record every soccer game and recital. Maybe the other set of grandparents wants you to drive over an hour to visit them, where they serve quinoa, have lots of un-gated staircases, and don’t even know which channel is Disney Jr. Can’t there be a happy medium?
Grandparents: Sometimes you just want to quietly finish the latest James Patterson book without a Nerf football hitting you in the side of the head, or vacation in a place without themed characters walking around. And other times, you want front-row seats for your three-year-old granddaughter’s jazz routine to “Ghetto Superstar.”
Winner: Grandparents. Dear parents, the grandparents finished raising their own kids thirty years ago. As great as it would be to dictate the terms of their involvement with your kids, they are free to visit or not visit as often as they like. Remember, you can always not be home.