"I should have had my grandchildren right after college and before my kids got in the way," writes Bryna Nelson Paston, and grandparents everywhere who have been frustrated by their kids' rules will understand what she means. Paston counters with rules for grandparents. Most are tongue-in-check, but they do touch on conflicts that can become serious, if parents and grandparents lose their sense of humor.
But that is something Paston is trying hard to prevent. How to Be the Perfect Grandma is one part laughter and one part serious advice. It's hard to know which one grandparents need most.
The Generation in the Middle
Grandparents have no control over when we achieve that exalted status. "Becoming a grandma is like getting a subpeona," writes Bryna Nelson Paston, but she goes on to describe it "as close as we ever get to perfection. ... Clouds nine, ten and eleven." The only problem is "the generation in the middle," the parents, who stubbornly refuse to get out of the grandparents' way. Paston has advice for grandparents in the form of rules, including:
- Guilt-trip your daughter into having kids if you have to.
- Promise anything, but get the kid.
- Don't make any deals that you can't keep or your pocketbook can't handle.
- Always remember that you are in competition with the other grandmother.
- Never, ever let anything bad happen to the kid on your watch. But if it does, lie.
Depending upon the exact anatomy of your sense of humor, that last bit of advice may make you uncomfortable. Certainly keeping grandchildren safe is the top concern of most grandparents. Be assured, in the two incidents which Paston cites under this rule, she Did the Right Thing. But if your way of keeping demons at bay is to pretend they don't exist, you may not want to even entertain the notion that something bad could befall a grandchild while in your care.
Times Have Changed And Will Keep Changing
One fact of a grandparent's life that all grandparents can relate to is that times have changed. "The playpen is out, walkers are dangerous, bottles no longer need to be warmed, nipples don't need to be sterilized. . . ." Even more shocking, we are no longer the experts, no matter how many children we successfully raised. We may even need to take a grandparenting class before we can be trusted with our grandchildren!
Child care isn't the only thing that changes. Grandchildren change, too, because they insist on growing up. In the last chapter of her book, added especially for this second edition, Paston deals with the fate that befalls almost all grandparents. In a chapter titled "Grandma Who," she writes of her transition from being the beloved grandma of sleepovers and dress-up and zoo excursions to becoming a footnote in the lives of her teenage grandchildren. She gets occasional emails. She can lure the girls on shopping trips. She cheers in the stands at the grandkids' sporting events. Still, the pep talk which closes the book is obviously addressed to herself as much as to anyone else: "Stay strong. Don't panic. Keep busy with your own life.
And if you are very, very lucky, someday your adorable, loving grandchildren will come back. All it takes is time."