Up North Blog

Rules for Grandmothers

Mary Sutherland, Colebrook, and Hawthorn Mary, Colebrook, and Hawthorn

Grandchildren are adorable, wonderful, imaginative and brilliant. But being a grandmother is no easy task. With a few years of experience, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade. Here are some ideas for getting the best out of your grandkids – with the least friction from their parents.

1. Keep your mouth shut.

I’ll start with the hardest rule. We grandmothers know we know best, but nobody told our children or their spouses. You may open your mouth when asked a direct question like, “What do you think of homeschooling?” Be careful here, because usually they have already made their decision. So put a thoughtful look on your face and give them two brief pro’s and two brief con’s on homeschooling. Then ask, “What are your thoughts?” Now shut up and listen!

When they tell you what they plan to name the new grandbaby, don’t shout “What?! You’re going to name him/her that?!” Of course they are, and you will be reminded of this for years to come.

Mary Sutherland The joys of grandparenting!

Once in a while, depending on the importance of the subject and your specific knowledge and experience with questions, you may give your opinion. For example, if the question is “Should I have my child repeat first grade?” or “Should I have my child go into early fives instead of kindergarten?” The answer to this question can make or break a child – here you speak up.

2. Keep your door open.

There are individuals among our grandchildren who need a place to get away from their parents or a place to sleep or to hang out. Be welcoming, whether it be for an hour, a night, a week, a summer or a couple years. All of us need a place where we feel safe, where we are loved unconditionally.

Mary Sutherland The multi-tasking grandmother! Mary has 17 grandchildren.

When they stay all night, tell stories you told their parents, stories told by your mother, their great-grandmother. Mine love the “Hippopotamossa Mossa Mossasus” (half made-up parts, adapted to who’s listening, and some parts embellished beyond the original story). We play a game we call “Who can remember the most nursery rhymes?” By the time we get to number 33, everyone is asleep.

Read to them, sing songs, do plays, and take walks.

Lots of grandmothers are mothers again. My son Paul mentioned he knows many young grandmothers in their 50s and 60s who are raising their grandchildren. “Once a mother always a mother,” said Paul, and he is right. Aren’t we grandmothers wonderful?

3. Keep your refrigerator and freezer stocked.

Popular items to keep at the ready are milk, juice, apples, oranges, jam, peanut butter and cheese. Always have an extra loaf of bread and a package of cookies (Oreos are always a hit) in the freezer.

Mary Sutherland Keeping the fridge stocked with treats is a good idea, but buying ice cream always works too!

4. Keep your gas tank full.

Emergencies do happen. A grandchild is hurt or sick and the school can’t get in touch with the parents. The car won’t start, we can’t find the car keys, we ran out of gas, I’m in a ditch. The grandchild is too sick to go to school and we need you to babysit. It’s 6:30 a.m. and the child is 15 to 25 miles away. Hurry, hurry, time’s a wastin’. Teenager calls, “Grammy, I need a ride please.” “I forgot my homework” or “my tennis shoes.” OK, OK I’ll come. We learned this one from our own children, so not much re-learning is necessary.

5. Keep a drawer full of different sized clothing.

Underwear, socks, one size fits all t-shirts, sweatshirts, pull on pants, extra mittens. Boots are also handy. Little ones have accidents, and they love to walk in mud puddles and snow drifts, soaking their shoes and socks. In Northern Michigan the weather changes four times in an hour. So “Be prepared” is not just for the Boy Scouts, it’s also a grandmother’s motto.

Being prepared with extra t-shirts, pants, or cuddles is all part of the grandparent job description. Being prepared with extra t-shirts, pants, or cuddles is all part of the grandparent job description.

6. Keep a sense of humor and an open mind.

The times, they are a changin’. So many things once thought inappropriate – belly buttons in view, tattoos, pierced ears, hair styles, hair colors, clothing styles, boys with pony and pigtails – are now pretty much acceptable by everyone except grandma. Be respectful. They are not out to hurt or embarrass us.

Dr. Spock is no longer the guru. When to toilet train, stop nursing, introduce solid food, how and when to discipline, all differ from our time. Hey, some of the changes may even make more sense. Again, be respectful. Go back to rule number one: Keep your mouth shut and smile.

7. Keep a toy box in the hall closet.

Keep it overflowing with an assortment of wooden blocks, big ones, little ones, all colors. A few matchbox cars. A couple small animals and people. In my box are blocks made by their Grandpa Dale, blocks their parents played with, and a few from yard sales.

Our grandkids do not need fancy toys. Both the boys and the girls have spent hours building houses, garages, barns, forts, towers, roads, amazing creations with nothing more than the same odd blocks and their imaginations. Colebrook, Hawthorn, and Finn are especially creative, but wait a minute, what about Mary Margaret and Bev, who also surprise me with their skill and architectural ability? Oh yes, and there is Isabella, Mariam, Isky, Fisher, Akasho, Keeston, Patrick, Henry, Jenn, Sam, Vanessa, and even William, only two years old and not yet in the competition. All 17 of my grandchildren, like yours, are truly remarkable!

My friend Paola Gianturco’s book Grandmother Power is a must-read for all women. She has traveled to hundreds of countries and written five books about women around the world. Paola’s “Festival of Woman” was at the Dennos Museum couple years ago. Look for Grandmother Power in your local bookstore.

Mary Sutherland “Grandmothers are God’s gift to the grandchildren.”

I asked Marge Gunsallers, a friend of mine from Florida, for any thoughts on this article. She said, “Grandchildren are God’s gift to us as we age.” When I told my son Paul, he disagreed. “No, no,” he said. “Grandmothers are God’s gift to the grandchildren.”

Take your pick.

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