Seeing my daughter be a mother recalls all my own memories of raising three kids; I believe grandmotherhood has that effect on all of us lucky enough to be called Mimi, Gigi, Grandma, or in my case, Lolly. Watching our own kids parent when they live with us is on a whole different scale than when they come to us for visits or when we meet them for dinner and a movie.
It’s a daily grind.
I am blessed to have a good relationship with my daughter and her partner, but even the best parent-adult child relationships can be strained by the reality that is living in the same household. Mix lifelong dynamics and persistent red-eyed-fatigue with stay-at-home orders and a toddler possessed of a strong will and you’ve got a recipe for explosive conflict or at the very least, chronic tension.
But there are techniques that may leaven what can be a trying situation:
- Discuss and create a system to share chores. Libby and my hubby split the grocery shopping and cooking. Yes, Libby and partner pay rent, but it’s not anywhere near half the mortgage. Having her cook most of the meals provides her an opportunity to share the load in ways not financial. She has a sense that she is contributing (and she is in a very real way because I hate cooking). When they first moved in, I found myself folding her laundry not because she asked, but because I automatically fell into my old role as her mother. She didn’t ask it of me, but I did it, and I sometimes resented it. Once I realized I had created the situation, I stopped folding her laundry unless I just wanted to. Which sometimes, I do.
- Resist the temptation to overindulge the grandkids materially. When they first moved in with us, I bought things for the babies all the time. That habit is easily maintained when kids come for a visit once a year. But when the kids live in your home, constant goodies set up an expectation that isn’t healthy for anyone in the family; kids get spoiled with things, their parents feel the need to keep up, and the house is overtaken by toys. Now I try to ask my daughter if it’s okay for me to pick up a particular toy or I text her a photo of an outfit I am considering to get her approval before heading to the self-checkout line.
- Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Let me repeat that one because it is so vital: DO NOT offer unsolicited advice. I have known parents of adult children who believe it is their right to do so, and they have done untold damage to their relationships with their children. Instead, wait for your adult kids to come to you and ask their questions. When you do offer advice, consider phrasing it as a query, “Have you thought about…” goes a long way toward opening conversation and building bridges. “What you ought to do…” is a phrase rife with judgment and closure, even if it comes from a loving place.
- Hold realistic expectations: I am a neat freak, but my daughter is not. I talked myself into understanding that her bedroom is simply not going to be as pristine as it was when it was my unused but pretty guest room. So I rarely go in there. Plus, it provides her a sense of privacy. No adult child wants to be afraid that her mother is going to look under the bed.
- Honor your child’s parenting choices. There are some things that my daughter does that are different from what I would choose. It is my responsibility to uphold and support those choices as long as they are safe and nurturing.
- Communicate openly and honestly, with kindness and respect driving every conversation, particularly when conflicts arise. And they will arise. Allowing anger to simmer and roil under a cloak of compliance will damage your relationship with your kid. A word of caution, though: approach him or her like the adults they are.
- Set boundaries, but be flexible. We’re still experimenting with this in the form of a playroom. When the kids’ toys created an obstacle course in our family room, we put our dining set into storage and converted that room into a playspace. Guess what? The toys still manage to wander into the family room. I could be tyrannical, but that is not healthy for me, nor for the rest of the family. So I aim for flexibility. When I feel frustrated, I close my eyes and remember what it was like to be a young mom managing diapers and toys and nursing while trying to cook and help with income. It was, and is, hard.
- Get as much cuddle time as possible. If permitted, I will hold my five-month-old grandson for hours at a time. Yesterday, I just couldn’t get enough of smelling Zeke’s neck. It had that sweet milky-infant scent that is so intoxicating. When Hazel walks up and grabs my index finger and pulls me along to a destination of her choosing, I follow. No questions asked. Motherhood sped by; Grandmotherhood is my chance to do it again, but with the knowledge and appreciation of how precious and fleeting this time is. There’s simply no substitute for plump baby arms and sticky toddler hugs.
- Have fun. Play in the paddling pool, watch Moana twice a day if necessary, take the moments necessary for peekaboo and tweaking tiny piggies. Let your grandchildren remind you how to laugh, and make time to enjoy a glass of wine or a game of Cards Against Humanity with your adult kids after the babes are tucked in. It’s a beautiful life, after all.