When babysitting our 18-month old granddaughter (at that time, our only grandchild), she wanted to put on her rain boots in the house. We helped her get them on and as we watched her gleefully dancing around, I said to my husband, “She looks waaay too excited for something so simple. You don’t suppose she’s not allowed to have the boots on the in house …?”
Sure enough, we found out later that she wasn’t. Happily, our daughter-in-law and son realize things like this are going to happen and because they know we really do try to follow “house rules,” they roll with it.
It’s true: my husband and I absolutely 100% follow the rules of the house. That includes even when the parents aren’t around.
Occasionally I’ll hear a friend talk about ignoring a house rule when the parents aren’t home. “It’s no big deal,” she’ll say. “After all, I’m the grandma. I’m allowed to spoil my grandkids.”
Sorry. I’m never going to intentionally do something against the parents’ preferences. They are trusting me with their child. I feel an obligation to not betray that trust even on a little thing like chocolate milk.
I make it a policy to not question rules or disagree with them. If the parents say to the kids, “No singing at the dinner table,” I don’t ask why. Their home, their rules! Plus I never ever communicate to a grandchild that I disagree with a rule.
Finding out the rules on safety issues.
Knowing the limits and boundaries of the household is especially important when it comes to safety. Some situations pop up when the parent is home. Find the parent and ask:
- “Is she allowed to sit on the windowsill?”
- “Shakka says he always puts the bread in the toaster. Is that correct?”
- “Gabby is jumping on the bed. Is that something I should tell her not to do?”
If the parents aren’t around, I always err on the side of safety. “I know you said Mommy and Daddy let you ride your tricycle in the cul-de-sac but I’m not comfortable with that. I’m sorry but I can’t let you do that this time. I’ll ask Mommy and Daddy when they come home so I know the rule for next time.” Then, I stick by what I said.
When it comes to house rules on non-safety matters – is Alex really allowed to take books outside? – we always ask about things that seem important, if the parent is nearby. On small matters, we use our best judgment.
Sometimes that means we inadvertently let things happen that might not be the way the parents do it. And that’s okay!
Our son and his wife have said to us that kids catch on quickly to the fact that things can be unintentionally different with grandparents, even as much as we try to follow house rules. After our visit, our grands often say to their parents, “But Gram let me wear two head bands” or “But Grandpa said I could take four stuffed animals to bed.” The children hear their parent’s reply, “Well, that’s just with Gram and Grandpa.” Kids accept that logic — as kids have from the beginning of time. The parents also accept it because they know we really try.
When your grandchild turns three or four, he or she perhaps can help you with the house rules. Try something like, “Katie, is Micah allowed to use crayons at the coffee table? I don’t live here so I really need you to help me out with the rules of your house!” If Katie is like many preschoolers, she’ll embrace her role as the truth-teller whose help is needed. Sometimes a child can’t handle that and will be a stinker about it, telling you the opposite. But chances are, you can figure out that’s what’s really going on. After all, you’re a grandparent.
Being a good visitor also means honoring the routines of the house. Learn more in my post on that subject.