Smart. Relaxed. Confident. An expert. That’s the grandparent that central casting sends out whenever a Meta gramps or nona is required for a commercial or mainstream TV show. But does this fabled super-grandparent actually exist?
Get a group of moms in a room, and sooner or later we’ll be kvetching about our parents and in-laws. And why not? At the risk of having a troop of angry modern gramps and nans protesting outside my doorstep, I’ll be so bold as to say: as parenting experts, grandparents as a group are highly overrated. Here’s why.
BABY BOOMERS MESSED UP THE FAMILY IN THE FIRST PLACE As a generation, we’re
rejecting Boomer values of disposable marriages (our divorce rates are lower than theirs partly because more of us are waiting longer to wed, or are living common-law, being a bit gun-shy after our own parents’ divorces). Furthermore, our parents’ choices have added incredible stress to the holidays, as we try to schedule December face time with, in some cases, four sets of grandparents and ancillary step-siblings. And, as parents, we’re trying to find our way out of the culture of competitive parenting that emerged in the ’80s. That would be your decade, gramps.
FIRST-GENERATION IMMIGRANTS WITH DIVIDED LOYALTIES AND DIFFERENT VALUES The children of immigrants often grow up hearing tales of how much better the “old country” was. But if things were so good, our elders wouldn’t have moved. Poverty, civil unrest, racism, caste-ism, political repression, lack of social mobility: these are all reasons why many moved here. Small children don’t need to be brainwashed into romanticizing cultural values that differ from Canada’s liberal, democratic, egalitarian ones. In addition, some Old World seniors can be out of touch with contemporary child-rearing practices, from child safety standards (watch them to make sure they don’t buy out-of-date playpens or illegal walkers!) to behavioural expectations (e.g. being heard is just as important as being seen nowadays). This is one area where grandma and grandpa could take some lessons from us.
BREAST IS BEST, EVEN IF GRANNY DOESN’T THINK SO Most contemporary moms agree with the World Health Organization and Canadian Paediatric Society that breast milk is best for baby. Some 85 per cent of us are trying it now, compared to just 25 per cent in the mid-1960s. Unfortunately, only 17 per cent of new moms keep nursing exclusively till the six-month mark. Why? Breastfeeding is physically taxing, and not always socially sanctioned. We don’t need our moms or mothers-in-law to come home with a bottle kit and formula, pitching us the virtues of formula, when wholesale rejection of nursing was the default choice of their generation. You’re not the expert here, so step off, gran.
THEYRE SUPPOSED TO BE ECCENTRIC AND INDULGENT, NOT SUPER NANNY Finally, I know this “grand” generation is unlike any ever seen before. They hike, shop till they drop, are going after that Masters they abandoned when we came along. But some alpha grands seem to have forgotten they’re supposed to be fun. Our kids are already highly motivated and over-scheduled. Nan doesn’t have to kick it into overdrive by announcing that she’ll drive little Graydon to a Saturday class even if her own slacker son won’t. Not what we need. We need grandma and grandpa to take Graydon to the zoo and stuff him so full of carbs and sugar that he passes out in their Impala on the ride back, so we can just slide him into bed, where he’ll stay for the next 11 hours.
‘Cause that’s where they shine. Not as parenting experts, not by a long shot. I’d like to suggest that our parents stick to doing what previous generations of grandparents have been loved for: doling out the fudge, sharing the cottage and being the world’s most indulgent babysitters. And leave the parenting to us.
Yuki Hayashi is training to be the world’s number one nana in 2027. Five-year-old Esmé says overnight visits will be supervised by her, though.