On spoiling the grandchildren — a poll
Three things that are always true:
As soon as you wash your car, it will rain.
A dog will be your best friend.
And grandparents exist to spoil their grandchildren.
I’ve long believed the first two. But more and more, the third seems to be undergoing challenge and change.
Once upon a time, grandparents were relentless, surreptitious treat providers. If their precious little prince or princess wanted a naughty candy bar or some forbidden ice cream, the grandchild knew who would furnish it.
If Mom and Dad said no, no, absolutely no to any such indulgences, Grandma and Grandpa stocked some anyway. Parents who provided careful nutrition, and only careful nutrition, were often left in the lurch.
A friend in Massachusetts is right in the thick of this conflict. She’s the grandmother of four. All of them live about 90 minutes away by car. So, the kiddos are often at Grandma’s home, often for days at a time.
The parents of all four children are as rigorous about food as parents can be. No processed anything. Nothing with inordinate amounts of sugar in it. As for fast food of any kind, it’s Public Enemy Number One.
However, Grandma likes Burger King. She goes there by herself when the “fam” is not in town. As she correctly points out, Burger King hasn’t killed her yet.
But battle lines got drawn as soon as the “grands” were old enough to eat solid food. Grandma trooped them to her neighborhood BK without checking with the parents first. World War Three soon broke out.
Grandma says she didn’t mean to subvert the will of the parents or endanger the health of her grandchildren. She simply saw Burger King as an occasional, harmless indulgence.
It’s not as if the grandkids would eat nothing but chemically enhanced burgers when they visit, she says. She provides plenty of yogurt and veggies around the clock.
But she admits enjoying the smiles as the younger generation chows down on Whoppers, and smears too much ketchup on their little faces.
The Whopper Wars threatened to derail peace in this family. The parents felt disrespected. Grandma felt undermined and misunderstood.
Meanwhile, the grandkids overheard all this conflict and wondered — not for the first time in recorded history — why adults are such wackos.
But then the adults negotiated a compromise: The kids would not get Burger King at home, ever. But when they visit Grandma, they can expect a visit to that brightly lit emporium down the street.
How great it is that disarmament has arrived for this New England family. But how difficult this issue is proving to be for others.
This correspondent commissioned a poll among several of his fellow grandparents. How do you handle food edicts handed down by your children, about their children?
Do you routinely ignore those standards? Do you rigorously observe them? Something in between?
What came back was a kaleidoscope of approaches and case studies.
My pal Greg believes in shared secrets. When his granddaughter was 2½, he “took her out and bought her some huge chocolate monstrosity, which she ate on the spot.”
Grandpa asked granddaughter if they should fess up to her parents. She shook her head no. “Never a word was spoken,” says Greg. “It sealed a pact between the two of us forever.”
The grandchildren of another pal, Dennis, know that there’s a stash of Hershey Kisses in Dennis’s refrigerator. The kids don’t crave them, however, so it’s not a flashpoint for their parents.
However, the lid comes off over the issue of screen time. Dennis gives them more than they get at home. “We are scolded,” he reports.
Carole, a pal from Pennsylvania, says that her family’s script keeps flipping across generations.
Her children “were raised on a sensible diet and almost totally deprived of junk food.” When her son became a doctor, she expected this approach to continue.
However, “my son the doctor eats as much junk food as possible.” And his kids?
They were “raised on fast food and chips.” However, says Grandma, now that these former kids are adults, they “are more diet conscious.”
Then there’s my friend Roberta. Her daughter announced at age 15 that she would be a vegetarian from that day forward. The daughter is still adhering to that policy 30 years later.
When the daughter brings her all-vegetarian family to visit, Roberta must visit two specialty groceries before the gang arrives.
Lots of tofu and steel-cut oatmeal. Even, by her daughter’s decree, a new frying pan, because the one Roberta has owned and used for 55 years has been used to cook wicked, inorganic eggs.
To say the least, stress is on the menu in this household, just as surely as sprouted wheat toast.
And in the home of the grandfather who’s typing this?
No fast food for the “grands.” No stupid calories. Occasionally, we bake cookies together (a great lesson in math and science).
But in general, no food that doesn’t stick to the ribs or help the babies prosper. We follow their parents’ rules.
OK, all three of our grandkids are south of the age of four. They don’t yet yearn for Kentucky Fried Chicken or McAnything.
If and when they do? Does Grandpa Bob have the fortitude to say no, as our children will surely insist?
I hope I do. But please don’t place any bets.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.