When I was a child, my brother and I spent every Saturday watching at least 5 hours of cartoons.
My mom worked every Saturday, so bright and early she would take us to my grandparents house. My grandma, Dorothy, always called the night before, and my brother and I got to pick what we wanted for breakfast- waffles, pancakes, bran muffins or biscuits. We would arrive in our pajamas to an early morning feast of home cooked breakfast with as much butter, syrup and jelly as we wanted. After breakfast, often without even getting dressed, we would settle down in front of cartoons, usually Loony Tunes, a few old westerns to make my grandpa happy, and then finish with Nickelodeon. My grandma and grandpa watched with us. I remember sitting on my grandma’s lap. She was always so warm. Sometimes my grandpa would go and work on a project for a while or turn off the TV briefly and chase us around the house. They had a hot tub we went in a few times and a cherry tree we climbed. Their neighbor had two dachshunds that entertained us. My grandma had several sparkly shoes that we tried on and danced to music from their record player.
Times with my grandparents were some of the best times of my childhood.
When I became a parent, I was working and in graduate school. With both my parents and my husband’s parents living locally, asking for child care help from grandparents was very natural. My mom and my in-laws stepped in and became regular babysitters for my oldest daughter and my son. At first, I approached my parenting role as a kind of gatekeeper and I supervised grandparent involvement with a critical eye. I packed all food that my children were to consume while with the grandparents and cringed if even the mention of “screen time” was uttered. While I could not control the activities my children did while at their grandparents homes, I complained about not being able to control the amount of television they watched or the amount of sugar they consumed.
But the truth is, my children’s relationships with their grandparents are not something for me to micromanage. While it is my job to protect my kids from real danger, real danger does not include the occasional mindless “unboxing” video or non-organic food. And I realized after several years of micromanaging, that the best thing I can do is move out of the way and encourage my parents and in-laws to foster relationships with my children.
Recently, my mom found a letter from my grandma, Dorothy. It was one that she had written at least 25 years ago, but no one remembers reading. The words were fresh and the handwriting so familiar. Reading it was like reading a letter from heaven.
The relationships my children have with their grandparents are so much better than anything I could have thought up or orchestrated.
My father-in-law, who was an engineer, connects with my son in a way I could never have planned or arranged. They connect over wooden trains and a sling shot air plane. My daughter and my mother-in-law enjoy playing a beauty salon game together on her tablet. She makes the kids jello and macaroni and cheese. The kids talk about it all week. They can’t wait to go back.
My mom teaches the kids about plants and shares her love of gardening. They often trash my house. I come home to art, books, toys and puzzles everywhere and such happy kids.
My dad is goofy and he makes the kids laugh. He’s like a big kid himself and always brings the kids a surprise snack. It’s never healthy. They love to go swimming with him and he will stay in the water with them for hours.
I have stopped sending packed lunches to grandma’s house. I have stopped stressing over screen time. I’m starting to embrace the goofiness and be satisfied with a messy house and happy kids.
I love my parents and my in-laws even more watching them with my children. And I know the memories my kids are making with them now will stay with them as they grow up.