Thursday, April 11, 2024

“Every generation has new parenting ideas, but as a grandparent it’s hard to hold my tongue” by Sheila Perkins


Let me first establish that I love it when my grandchildren come to visit, even if they end up staying in my home for two whole weeks. I am grateful for their presence in my life and cherish the time we have together. That’s a given.

But, right now, I’m biting my tongue, possibly hard enough to leave a permanent ridge in it. Why? Because, once again, I am enduring a lengthy monologue, filled with unnecessary and exhaustive information. This time, the topic is the benefit of eating broccoli, how its enzymes help with nutrient absorption in our gut, which is crucial for preventing inflammation.

As an adult, I’m almost comatose listening to this science lesson, but as a three-year-old, my grandson is having none of it. I don’t blame him. He couldn’t care less about broccoli; all he wants is ice cream.

I resist the urge to speak up and keep my tongue firmly planted between my teeth. Why? Because I know that if I were to say anything, it would likely be the wrong thing. I think saying “no supper, no dessert” would be helpful. However, I know that would not be well-received by the parents or the child. It may even lead to a tantrum, now commonly referred to as “big feelings.” And then I would have to listen to another long-winded discussion, this time about how to handle those big feelings.

The lecture over, my grandson refuses to capitulate and lets out an ear-piercing scream as he flings the dreaded vegetable across the table, hitting me square in the face. Now, I like to think of myself as a tolerant, open-minded person, but even I have my limits.

“That’s it!” I explode.

A surge of shock and annoyance floods through me as a green glob slides down my glasses I don’t wait for the parents to intervene; instead, I lock eyes with my grandson. “Nana’s house; Nana’s rules. And one of those rules is absolutely no throwing things at people. Understand? Furthermore, if you can’t behave properly at the dinner table, you’ll have to go sit somewhere else. Alone.”

My darling boy’s eyes widen like saucers and his bottom lip starts to quiver, but he doesn’t look away. He seems to be debating the ultimatum, so I wait in silence. Finally, with a soft exhale, he nods his head, gives a faint reply, “Okay, Nana,” and continues eating his meal with a newfound sense of determination.

The meltdown is over, catastrophe averted, so why do I feel like I did something wrong? It’s because I know this is not how his parents would have handled the situation. Their version of parenting does not allow for stifling a child’s feelings and certainly does not involve threats. My less-than-popular reaction reflects the way I was brought up so, for better or for worse, it just popped out of my mouth.

Wiping the vegetation from my specs, I think to myself, is it so bad to make a child do something they don’t want to do? I’m not suggesting we got back to the era of “spare the rod and spoil the child” or even “children should be seen and not heard.” I am, however, teetering on the brink of the “because I said so” abyss.

Isn’t it possible these children might one day have a job where the boss’s every motivation is not explained? And they will just have to do what they are told, without any negotiation or examination of their feelings. Full stop. Not every request requires a protracted debate or explanation.

I understand children have needs and that each generation of parents takes a different approach to providing them. Along with unconditional love, children also need to comprehend expectations and consequences to feel a sense of security in the world. This has always been the case but although expectations are still clear, the road to consequence has been muddled with good intentions. Today’s mom and dad simply cannot bear to see their child unhappy, even for the shortest period of time, and will go to great lengths to restore a happy family dynamic.

Modern parenting philosophies strive to involve the child in a grown-up world to an extent never before witnessed.

The rationale is that granting children the ability to influence family decisions gives them agency, and although that is a concept never floated during my upbringing, it’s an idea worth considering. The problem I have with this approach, however, is that numerous studies have shown that being burdened with too many choices or decisions can result in increased anxiety in young children. I learned this through osmosis following countless battles with my own young children over which colour of drinking glass they absolutely needed, but now there is actual scientific evidence to back me up.

So, as yet, it’s impossible to determine which style of parenting is more effective but as with most generational change, the pendulum continues to swing. My belief is that it will come to rest somewhere in the middle. I’m not expecting this to happen any time soon, however, so my tongue will just have to toughen up. The groove might just get a bit deeper.

Sheila Perkins has always had the writing bug but it wasn’t until the pandemic that she could focus on what she loves most … telling stories. During the Covid lockdown, she took several courses and workshops to hone her long-neglected writing skills. Lo and behold, four years and two novels later, she still looks forward to those hours each day she spends pecking away at the keyboard.

“Every generation has new parenting ideas, but as a grandparent it’s hard to hold my tongue” was originally published in the Globe and Mail.

For information on submitting a First Person piece to the Globe and Mail (plus five other places to send your short pieces) see here.

To read more short stories, poems, short memoirs and essays, see here, (and scroll down).

See my upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here. ~Brian 


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