Sometimes I watch my parents with my children, and I wonder who are these people and what happened to the people who raised me? Something changed in my parents when they became grandparents, I think.
It’s like life offered them a second opportunity at getting it right. A second chance at being good parents to small children. And they jumped at that opportunity like into a refreshing pool on a hot, sticky, humid day, reemerging from its depth brand new, shiny people. Suddenly, things that were egregious for them when my brother and I were children don’t matter anymore.
Whenever we reprimand our own children or are strict with them, our parents see themselves in us because they raised us . . . and a bit of guilt settles in.
And something clicks inside of them.
They see that spilled milk all over the kitchen floor, and they no longer focus on the mess.
Their eyes go to the small child who is genuinely sorry and on the verge of tears. They make a beeline to that child and scoop them up, shielding them from the angry parent. They see the mistake they once made by focusing on the wrong thing. The error their own child is mimicking, so they intervene and try to rectify the situation.
They don’t mean to meddle, but they do because we, as parents, in the chaos of raising small children, sometimes fail to see what’s important when our children misbehave. It’s not the spilled milk nor the mess we have to clean up. It’s the child.
The rest doesn’t matter.
Why are you yelling at the children? No need to get angry with them! Why is the child crying? The children never cry with us! You’re too strict with them!
There is a reason why our children love their grandparents.
They are the kinder version of their own parents. The version that always has treats. The version that lets them run amok in their house. The version that laughs more, plays more, and has interminable time to dedicate to them. The more patient, wiser version. And in some respects, the better version.
As parents, all we want is to see our children happy. But we must create a balance where that happiness is confined within the rules and regulations of our house. My parents don’t have to worry about such restrictions. For our children, their grandparents’ house is the place of fun and laughter. It’s where their mom and dad’s rules go to die. It’s a marvelous place where they can do no wrong. It’s almost magical. It’s Peter Pan’s Neverland, and we’re Captain Hook who comes to spoil the enjoyment.
My children have every reason to feel this way. Their grandparents are more understanding. They’ve been here before. There isn’t anything my kids can throw at them that they haven’t already seen. There isn’t anything they can’t handle. They’re prepared, and they’ve gained precious experience by raising us.
And they know now, and they’re trying to tell us—there is no need to cry over spilled milk because time chases after us all, and these wondrous years will be gone in the snap of a finger.
So, how do we want to be remembered as parents?
They recall how they once were as young parents. They worry that our childhood memories might have been tainted by their reprimands, punishments, strict house rules, and mishandling of certain situations. And they’re trying to guard us against such worries. They’re trying to make sure our children have only happy memories because, in the end, that’s all we’re left with.
So no, the people my children have grown to love so deeply are not the same people who raised me. These people are better, wiser, and kinder than those I grew up with.
These people are the stuff of fairytales now.
And every day, I give thanks my children got to meet them.