A Glass of Wine for Grandma: Why Giving Babysitting Grandparents a List of Rules is Just… Wrong

Cheers, grandma and grandpa!

Cheers, grandma and grandpa!

Yesterday, I was reading my friend Lenore Skenazy’s blog, Free Range Kids. She posted about a “Dear Amy” advice column that appeared in the paper — the writer of the question, a grandmother, had an interesting problem: She and her husband have been babysitting their grandson, overnight, twice a week, since he was born (right away I’m thinking: give those grandparents a medal, right?!). At that time, their daughter presented them with some rules for caring for the baby, which included a provision that they not drink wine on those days/nights. Um, what?

I was totally, absolutely, and completely expecting Amy to say, “tell your daughter, with all due respect, that you’re in charge when her child is in your care, and that a glass of wine with dinner is not going to make you less able to be a good guardian.”

That’s not what Amy said. She was with the daughter in her zero-tolerance conviction that not a drop of alcohol should pass the grandparents’ lips. I mean, sure, don’t get falling-down drunk, but no wine with dinner? Really?

Lenore’s take is that a glass of wine does not turn responsible adults into raving lunatics who should be nowhere near young children (if so, as she points out, the whole nation of France must be bad parents).

I agree, and my further take is this: If you are asking your parents to care for your children, for free, out of the goodness of their hearts, you get what you pay for.

Harsh? Maybe; but it’s how I feel. I see too many parents who simply assume that their own parents live to care for the grandchildren — and will make all sorts of accommodations to do so: Quit their jobs or change their work schedules; drive miles and miles out of their way; childproof their homes; not go out with their own friends or away for the weekend without checking first if their services are needed, and so on.

And now, not drink any wine.

I feel as though if I hand the grandparents a booklet of rules and instructions, I should also hand them a paycheck. Plus, by setting down rules for my parents, part of what I’m doing is trying to shape their relationship with their grandchildren. I don’t want to do that. I want them to figure out how they get along and what they enjoy doing together, all on their own. That relationship is precious–because let’s face it, who knows how long they’ll have it available to them?

Just last weekend, my sons spent the night with my mom and dad while my husband and I spent a blessedly wonderful evening celebrating our anniversary with dinner, a show, and a hotel room in the city. I’m so gosh-darn grateful to have parents who (a) are alive and healthy; and (b) are willing to take my sons overnight, that I couldn’t imagine giving them instructions, beyond “please make sure they eat and sleep.”

When I was a kid, my sister and my two cousins and I would spend a few days every summer at our grandparents’ house. Neither my parents nor my aunt and uncle made demands or assumptions that I’m aware of; they were probably just glad we were out of their hair for a few days. We hung out in our grandfather’s cluttered garage, looking at all the weird things he collected. We slept, all four of us, cross-wise in our grandparents’ bed. We ate whatever they gave us, went wherever they took us. I can’t remember anything un-sanctioned by parents that we did, but rest assured: our folks had no idea what we were doing.

Which is just how it should be.