My kids are lucky. They have three grandparents who love them and are part of their lives. On one side, they have my mom, a woman who became a certified yoga instructor at 60, and my dad, who practically has to be tied down to stop him from working in the yard and around the house. On the other side, my mother in law likes nothing more than to feed the ones she loves, preferably while at home. My parents’ active lifestyle means that they sometimes miss activities they promise to attend, and my mother in law’s homebody preferences and increasing health issues also mean she sometimes misses activities.
It can be hard for kids to understand why their grandparents are no-shows to events, don’t buy the exact gifts they request, and generally don’t live up to their expectations. As parents, we need to explain things so they can understand and aren’t hurt by it. Yes, even if your parent is a thoughtless nimrod and entirely wrong. (That is not the case in our family, just in case anyone was wondering.)
Why Bother Explaining?
The primary reason is to keep your kid from being hurt and, hopefully, build a good relationship with their grandparents. Everyone needs a strong support network in life. Grandparents can not only be support for you as parents by providing babysitting and other childcare help, they can be a support for your children as they grow up. Our kids have both found activities and interests that they share with their grandparents that they don’t share with us, their parents. They all enjoy these opportunities for bonding.
The other reason is because you are teaching them how they should treat you when they have kids and you are the grandparent. None of are perfect. If you teach them to be understanding and compassionate with their elderly relatives from the time they are little preschoolers, there is a much better chance they will be there and understanding when you are old and need them.
Of course, you have to take your child’s age into account with your explanations, but even a small child can understand explanations. Just keep it simple and related to things they understand. They may not understand Grandma and Grandpa are going to their “high school reunion”, but even preschoolers can understand “they want to see sick friends they have known since they were your age.” It’s also good for them to know grandparents have friends, too.
You have spent a lifetime with your parents, and probably quite a few years with your in-laws. The reverse is true for your spouse, of course. Combined, you should have a pretty good idea of how reliable they are. If they are often (always) late, or often (always) cancel at the last minute, your kids will be happier if you manage their expectations from the get-go. If they are taught that a grandparent’s promise to “definitely be there” really means “we really want to be there and will try really hard”, then they are less likely to be heartbroken the times they don’t make it.
Talk About Differences
My mother in law is more old-school than my mom. She loves to cook for those she loves. Now that she is too old and infirm to cook much, she loves to buy them dinner and treats from the grocery store. My mom is a much more modern grandma. She doesn’t cook from scratch, but she and my dad take the kids on a trip to a place of their choosing every single summer. We have talked to our kids and they know that their grandmas show love different ways, but that doesn’t mean one loves them more than the other one does.
We have also talked about how their grandparents are different people. I have been known to yell at their grandparents, but they understand the reasons for it and that it’s generally not OK to yell at other people. (Hearing aids only work if they are both in and turned on. Shocking, I know.) They also know that their interests vary just like anyone else’s. They hear the message “different is OK” all the time at school and on kid’s TV shows. It’s good for them to know that’s true for grandparents and family members as well.