Grandparenting in Freedom Country

At work the other day, I got to talking with an older Russian customer. The man had one of the thickest accents I've heard and his English was at times very rough. But he managed to communicate just fine and was eager to...so we talked.

At one point he asked me if I had children and their ages. When he learned I have a son his grandson's age, he asked, "but do you spoil the child?"

I contemplated that thought. "Spoil" would have certainly meant something very different to my WWII surviving German grandparents than it means to most contemporary parents. Still, I felt it safe to say that I didn't. "I don't think so," I said. "He doesn't get whatever he wants."

"My son," he said. "He let the child get always what she want. Now...she no get from me what she want? She cry and cry." He made a dramatic tears-falling-from-eyes gesture and described what sounded like a full-on tantrum.

He continued, "then I ask...am I be too hard with the child? He always let her choose what she want. She always the one decide. I think...maybe this okay in freedom country."

I loved that. I loved watching this man in his late 60's--a man who could have certainly been dialing it in at this point--putting sincere thought into the choices he was making as a grandparent and striving to understand the parenting choices of his son. I loved that he was adjusting for the differences in culture and truly considering how they may or may not affect parenting decisions.

And I loved the phrase "freedom country."

It's a difficult thing to make these kinds of considerations, for any parent. It's difficult for me to avoid having the knee-jerk reaction: "this is not okay for my child because when I was a kid... or it must be this way because when I was a kid..."

It would be an easy road to take to simply say: somebody already figured this parenting thing out for me. I turned out fine, so I'm just gonna do it exactly as my parents did and find other things to obsess about.

That said, there is a lot I can learn from how my parents did things. For example, I happen to agree with my customer that spoiling a child is ill-advised, even in a "freedom country." However, if I press myself to say why a child should not get everything he wants, the first justification I want to reach for (the tried-and-true because if he does, he will not learn to accept "no" and will think he can ALWAYS have everything he wants)...well, it comes up short. Aren't we always trying to communicate to kids that they can have everything they want? Can't not taking no for an answer and finding ways to navigate/work the system help a child develop some pretty effective and prized survival (or let's call them "thrival") tools?

The difference, I suppose, is that we want kids to reach for the things they want, not to expect that those things be handed to them.

(Good, we figured that out. I don't have to start spoiling my children on a technicality.)

Nobody has figured out the perfect parenting formula, and no good parent would just kick her heels up and relax with the knowledge that she is doing a good enough job. We will always be thinking and questioning, in many moments and over a good many decisions.

Then one day, as the theory goes, we will launch our children into the Great Unknown and watch like creepers from the bushes and try to restrain ourselves from intervening while they quite blissfully fuck things up for a bit.

And then we will watch with smirks on our faces when they one day begin to obsess over their own parenting decisions. This is just how things go.

I know my folks and my boyfriend's folks have parenting wisdom well beyond the scope of what we can see from our perspectives; they must often see us doing things that they think we should have done differently, and with good reason. I also love that they don't always rush in to share that knowledge, though. They have stepped back to let life move forward.

But I like how my customer reminded me that, even as they watch us from just out of earshot (too far to hear them suck in their breath as we step boldly into the latest colossal parenting error), they are always thinking about us, and our children beyond us...always concerned with our familial contributions to the world that will extend beyond their own lifetimes. I love that he reminded me that grandparents care about us and our babies probably more than we can imagine.

How lucky we all are for that.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I don't know very many people who are as introspective (reflective) and respectful (interesting that they both have SPECT---to watch---as roots!) as you are, Kisa. I think there's almost zero chance a child of yours would turn out to be anything but exactly what your parents would have hoped for their own children. My only caveat is that a parent isn't the only variable in this whole stew...No matter how loved and cared for, children come with a certain amount of biology, and for some of us, the huge challenge is how to accept that. I love that you paint all of us---parents and grandparents---as stalkers, because so often that's exactly what I've been doing all these years: stepping waaaay back and peeking, with both hands over my eyes and two or three fingers spread. I do appreciate the *creeper* affirmation...