Actress and mother Tiffani Thiessen said that her ‘must-have’ item as a new mom, was her mom. I couldn’t have agreed more as I’m pretty certain I would have not have survived the past two years as a mother without one of God’s most precious gifts to me: my sons’ Nana. I also hear a lot of stories about how difficult grandparents can be. How they nag, refuse to follow any of the rules set by the grandchild’s parents, spoil their grandchildren, and undo all the hard work parents have put into things like their diet or discipline. Although a slightly unconventional grandmother, my mom is often asked by her other grandmother friends how she does it: maintain a healthy relationship with her own child (and her son-in-law), and is able to play such a large role in raising two grandsons. I decided to sit down with Nana, and find out for myself just what her secrets to grand-parenting are.
What’s the hardest thing about being a grandmother?
It’s definitely seeing your grandchild disciplined by his parents. It physically hurts me! It feels like I’m the one who’s being scolded – I think most grandparents feel the same way. I just feel so much sympathy for my grandchild when he gets himself in trouble with his mom or dad; it’s just heartbreaking to see him suffer or feel sad. What I usually try and do (if I’m close by when he does something wrong) is to tell my grandson to quickly apologise to his mother, before she can get angry. I can usually sense when he’s crossed the line with my daughter (I can tell when she’s reached her limit), and that’s when I try to come in and rescue him. Hearing such an adorable, “I’m sorry” usually calms her down, and it’s my way of saving him! Of course there are times when the situation goes beyond my help, and that’s when I just have to go as far away as possible because I will just feel this pain in my stomach (don’t know how else to describe it) when he cries.
What was something you really struggled with when you first became a grandmother?
I think the first few months, when my grandson was just a newborn, it was incredibly hard to hear him cry. And my daughter and her husband were quite strict about not picking him up immediately whenever he cried, so of course I had to restrain myself which was very difficult! Of course I’m sure my own three children cried just as much when they were babies, but for some reason I can’t really recall it all that well, and anyway it just sounds so much worse when its your grandchild; I suppose with age it’s much tougher to bear.
It had also been so many years since I last handled a baby, that I had to relearn everything from scratch. It was intimidating at first to take care of such a tiny infant especially when doing things like helping to give him a bath. It took some time to gain confidence, and things were a lot easier once the baby grew to about 5kg.
I do have to say that being a grandmother isn’t easy, if you are one of the main people looking after the baby, because babies in their first year need just so much care and attention. So as a grandparent, although it’s wonderful to be so valued and appreciated, it can also be exhausting at times.
What do you really think of parenting styles today?
I can’t really speak for other parents, but as for my daughter and her husband, I would say the way they raise their sons seems to be a lot more strict than what I’ve seen in other families of their generation. They put a lot of thought into what is allowed and what is off limits for their sons, from no screens, to bedtimes and even what type of food is permitted (and at what time!) For me, it’s a little on the strict side, and it’s not exactly the way I did things when I was a first-time parent, but I try to respect their parenting style. I think everyone has their own way of raising kids, just like grandparents have their own style too.
What is the one thing you strive to teach your grandchild, above all else?
I try to instill a sense of obedience in my grandson who is now almost two and half years old. My main message to him is that he needs to listen to his mom and dad. I want him to know that I’m on the same side as them, so he won’t try and take advantage of me or try and manipulate the situation (kids are very smart these days!) So for me, it’s important that I continue to tell him to obey his parents. My own kids were quite obedient, and I think it really helps them later in life. Even grandkids can learn respect from grandparents, so I take every opportunity to repeat this to him. Connected to this, I try to teach him to be responsible and clean. I encourage him to help with chores at home, to pick up his own toys, to be careful about not breaking things or making a mess. He’s naturally very helpful so he’s been quite easy to train. Also I believe that kids are always watching what you do, so if you are a tidy person, they will usually turn out the same.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to first-time grandparents?
Let your grandchild’s parents make the rules, and then follow them as best you can. I think if you do whatever you think is right for your grandson and just ignore what his parents want, it can cause a lot of conflict. Since we live together, I don’t want any conflict at home so it’s important that I cooperate. For example, if they say certain types of food food are not allowed, I don’t give feed them to him. My daughter usually communicates and new rules to me directly, so I’m able to discuss them openly if there’s anything I don’t agree with. And she’s quite open to my suggestions and advice, so thankfully we don’t have much conflict.
I think it’s all about listening to what your child wants, because it is their turn to be parents, and your turn to be a grandparent which just means giving your support and love, not your criticism. It’s such a blessing to be a part of my grandsons’ lives, I would advise every grandparent to try and just follow the rules (even if you may know better!) so as not to jeopardise the relationship you have with your grandchildren.
Michelle Lim-Chua is a mum of two and a copywriter with a special interest in sociology. Born in New York City and raised across six different countries, Michelle loves traveling and is naturally curious about people and their cultures. She moved to Malaysia more than seven years ago, found God and fell in love with a boy from Melaka. Michelle is still learning, along with her husband, how to be a good parent.