Shut Up And Wear Beige
Blending in is something my Jewish family doesn’t do well. Strike 1, they are from New York, Strike 2, they have thick Brooklyn Accents, Strike 3, they are LOUD! So you basically want them OUT of the room within minutes – unless of course they are your parents. So when my parents come to town to dote on their grandkids, the energy levels ratchet up – especially between my loving southern Tennessee husband and my northern gregarious mother. My late grandmother Ida said to me “Bennett, I feel sorry for you.” When I asked her why, Grandma said “cause I wont be able to protect you from your mother.” After all, as the saying goes, grandparents and kids have a common enemy – parents.
The war began in the year 2008, on a windy fall morning after the birth of the children. UPS would drop of enormous boxes of clothes and gifts from people we didn’t know and others we did know. Many of the unknown gifts were “proxy” gifts from my parents’ friends whom we didn’t know at all. And it was painfully clear that Liliana was getting the bulk of the expensive fancy gifts. The joke was Liliana got a Mercedes and Gregory got a pencil. One day a box of clothes arrived from my parents and I separated them out into piles, one for Gregory and one for Liliana. It was 2 to 1 in favor of Liliana – so I swiped my hand across the stack of clothes like a dealer dividing poker chips and sent the extra back. That didn’t go over well. The parity of gift giving was important. We were already getting questions from Gregory like “Why did Liliana get X and I don’t get anything?”
We talked on the phone, they yelled, we yelled, Michael took over and it was getting worse. We banned them for 30 days from seeing the kids and for a time that worked. It felt they were always in our face, on our back, demanding to see the children as much as they could. I mean, why couldn’t they just blend into the family we created instead of trying to run it? Why couldn’t they just shut up, wear beige and enjoy the kids?
As I learned, what our family was experiencing isn’t out of the norm. Grandparents are as untrained as new parents on how to be a participant not only in the lives of their grandkids, but more importantly, in the lives of their children and their spouses. A lot of it I liken to control and independence. They didn’t respect the way we were parenting and no the boundaries we set up. It was our turn to buy what we wanted for the kids, it was our turn to try and fail at discipline, it was our turn to experiment on food, and teaching our kids.
It wasn’t easy for anyone. For example, one of my parents told my employee that my little girl has a red vagina and we need to change the toilet paper. In another instance they told my friends from college that Michael was too much of a disciplinarian on the children. It was just bad. They complained they were walking on eggshells and we complained they were tossing them at us.
I was in the middle of a cold war. As soon as I saw the consternation building and it tiring to seep into our marriage – it was time to put a stop to it. I honestly say a lot of it was my fault. After all, I do love my parents, but my parents had easily manipulated me for a very long time.
It was time to play it smarter and wiser. During a few conversations, I let it be known that these are the rules and if they don’t like them, they have a choice; either follow them and enjoy their time with the grandchildren or break them and not be invited at all. Harsh, yes, but necessary for our family to function. Months passed and I started to notice something – it was working. The last visit was the best visit we every had. And I for one stopped giving in and letting myself be manipulated by guilt and conscience. I can also say that my relationship with my parents is so much better because we understand each other.
Grandparents are a vital and integral part of raising any child. But the moment it begins to interfere with what you as a parent want – you need to find a way to fix it – because the rewards that grandparents add to your child’s life greatly outweigh the losses of grandparents not being a part of your children’s lives. It just took a lot of introspection on both sides – to discover the answer.
What about you? Have you had issues with grandparents and boundaries? Let’s hear it!
Bennett Cunningham is a Bankruptcy Attorney licensed in Texas and is a former investigative reporter for KTVT (CBS station) in Dallas. Bennett has garnered 7 Regional Emmy Awards, including the Best Investigative Reporter in Texas 2 years in a row, as well as several National Awards for his exposés into the mismanagement of taxpayer dollars and government waste. Bennett is also admitted to practice in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas and the US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Texas. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney’s and the American Bar Association – and most importantly, a stay-at-home dad.