She carried you for nine months, raised you, helped shape the person that you are today, she is your mom. And now that you are a mom yourself, do you find that there are new challenges to your relationship with her? Is it difficult at times to be a mom around your own mom?
I’m lucky in the grandma department in many ways. My mom loves spending time with the kids, she’s extremely hands on, and as a bonus she’s a pediatric nurse. If one of the kids wakes up in the middle of the night sick and I need a second opinion I can call her up and get advice. The kids adore their “Nina” and I know that they are in good hands when they are with her.
All of that being said, there are things we do differently, parenting wise. First, there are huge differences and advances in parenting tools and products. Now we have organic kale baby food in pouches, iPhone baby monitors, night lights that monitor the room temperature, incredible things that our parents didn’t have (and some things they didn’t need).
I remember the first time I left Finn with my mom when he was an infant. I had our brand spanking new video monitor (which is a dinosaur now, only five years later) all set up to monitor the sleeping Finn. Who was in the next room. I angled the monitor perfectly so there was no static on the screen, made sure the sound was coming through clearly. My mom was sitting on the couch, getting settled in, finding something to watch on TV and smoothing out the newspaper. “Okay mom, so here you go, do you want me to put it right here on the coffee table?” She looked at me blankly. “Put what on the coffee table?” she asked, sounding puzzled. “The baby monitor!” Clearly she MUST need to monitor the baby obsessively just like I did of course, I was thinking. “Um, no, it’s okay over there, he’s just in the next room, right?” she gestured towards the door, a mere ten feet away. I launched into a whole explanation about why it was so important to watch him, rambled off some newly learned facts about SIDS, expressed my nervousness about the crib bumper and wondered aloud whether or not I should just go in and take it off when she interrupted me. “We will be fine, I have done this before, remember?” She said it in a firm but soothing voice, and I was soothed, but I was also incensed. Yes, she had done it before (three times in fact, and Finn was her third grandchild) but I had not. My obsessiveness, although annoying, was my own way of coping with the overwhelming feelings of new parenthood. I liked the fact that she was supportive, but I also wanted her to know that I knew what I was doing too. Maybe she thought I was being paranoid but I was okay with that.
My mom and I have danced the dance of parenting around each other many times since that first experience. Most of the time I take her advice, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’ll buy the baby product she thinks is absolutely useless, sometimes I’ll reluctantly leave it at the store. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes she is, sometimes neither of us are. I know I’m not alone with this delicate balance either. I’ve talked to many friends and fellow moms about their relationships as moms with their moms. There are a lot of you who have the “Non-Sitter Mom”. The mom who openly says they do not want to babysit so don’t ask. They love their grandkids, they just don’t want to babysit them. Others have the mom who will babysit but maybe isn’t super hands on. They can pop in a DVD and park the kiddos on the couch, gets the job done but a trip to the playground is out of the question.
Then there’s the new adage which I’ve seen actually printed on onesies, “What Happens at Grandma’s Stays at Grandma’s”. These are the grandmothers who have no holds barred. You want some candy? You got candy. You want to watch eleven episodes of Sponge Bob? No problem. You want to stay up till midnight and drink soda? It’s all good at grandma’s house. These are the grandparents who just love to spoil your kids. These are the grandparents that buy the forbidden toys (a thousand of them), that say yes when you say no. How do you navigate that minefield without sounding completely ungrateful? Here, watch my kids for me (for free) but don’t give them anything I wouldn’t. And again, you have that reminder looming, “I have done this before WHEN I RAISED YOU“. But you wonder, where was all this free wheeling parenting when I was a kid? My mom has actually given Levy Oreos for lunch before, there were NEVER Oreos in our house growing up. Never! They were “junk food”. But now as a grandparent my mom has a hard time saying no to little Lev. Especially when it comes to Oreos and Cheetos.
Then you also have the grandparents who are just on completely different levels. It’s hard to get angry about it, especially when they are well meaning, but sometimes it can be trying. With Finn, it was organic from day one. Organic everything, crib sheets, baby shampoo, baby food. I would buy organic apples, carefully peel them, steam them up and mash them for his little meals. Everything he touched was wooden, natural, organic, perfect. Then one day I walked into the restaurant his grandparent’s own to see his grandfather giving him Diet Coke. In a bar. My little organic fed baby was drinking DIET COKE IN A BAR. It took all of my self control to not snatch him away and wash his system out with filtered spring water.
But, in the end, it was good for me. It was good for me to unclench a little, to learn that no matter how much I wanted to I couldn’t control everything. When the little clashes arise between my mother and I on how to parent I have to remind myself that yes, she does have quite a bit of knowledge on this subject already. We may parent differently sometimes, but we are both good parents. When the forbidden toys come home on birthdays and holidays I simply tell myself (sometimes through gritted teeth) that I am lucky the kids have grandparents in their lives that love them. When a new article of clothing arrives that I would never have purchased for them myself I resist the urge to hide it and instead put myself in their shoes. They picked this out, thinking the kids would love it, so I should just get over myself and let them wear the incredibly ugly shirt that I hate.
When they come back from a weekend trip to grandma’s house full of cotton candy and with Dorito dust in their hair I remind myself that one day too (if I’m lucky enough) I will be the grandma. I will be able to spoil the kids rotten, the way I would never let myself spoil my own. I will be able to let my grandkids try soda and eat candy at my house and buy them whatever they want at the store. I will be able to do all this with abandon, knowing that I raised my own kids well and they will raise my grandkids well. My kids will have the hard job of balancing fun and discipline, and I will get to sit back and reap the rewards of a parenting job well done and just enjoy the fun.