A New Role for Grandparents

A visit to my Italian Grandma’s house was something very special to me as a little boy. Even though she only spoke Italian and I spoke English and little Arabic, we got along great. I mostly remember the smell in her house, since it seemed as if she was always cooking. I learned very quickly what “mangia” meant (eat!), as she was always celebrating some event with lots of lasagna and Italian pastries. I was allowed to stay up late and play with her puppy, and I never remember ever getting in trouble. It felt like a comfortable home enveloped in love.

Grandparents seem to have a different job today according to feedback I get from many readers. Rather than having the privilege of spoiling their grandkids, grandparents are increasingly taking on the role of disciplinarian for entitled children.


“Why do I have to be the “mean grandma” that expects children to eat at the table, asked to be excused, clean up after themselves, play outside, say “please” and “thank you”, and constantly have to entertain them when they are bored?” wrote one reader. She lamented the fact that her grandkids are “entertained constantly at home” and that her job is to teach kids self-control and courtesy rather than enjoy their company and indulge them with treats.

Grandparents are in a real dilemma. They want to lighten up and develop that very special connection with their grandkids. However, they can’t tolerate disrespect and bad behavior. Grandparents seem mostly irritated by their grandkids sense of entitlement. Children have an insatiable desire for more attention and things. Rather than show appreciation, grandkids only have increased expectations that the next visit to their grandparents will be more, bigger, and better.

“I have yet to have any of my grandkids ever say “thank you,” or ever ask if they could do something for me,” remarked one reader. “I suppose I should speak up, but I don’t want to cause trouble and not be able to see them anymore.” It’s a mistake to be held hostage by your grandkids or their parents. Grandparents need to take responsibility for dealing with this issue, rather than lamenting its occurrence.

The solution is for grandparents to become more assertive and set expectations for what happens in their house. Speak with the kids and the parents beforehand. If you expect kids to eat at the table, make certain they know that beforehand. Tell the children they are limited in the amount of television they can watch, and that they are expected to “thank you” for acts of kindness.

You’ll notice a significant change once you are clear in your rules and consistent in your consequences. My message to grandparents is simple. Stop being held hostage and start teaching your grandkids that courtesy, respect, and self-control are more important than cell phones, computers, and trips to the mall.

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