Q: Help! Whenever our two adult children, their spouses, and our four school-age grandchildren (ages 8–12) visit us, chaos reigns. The children are nothing short of wild. They run, jump, and scatter toys and clothing all over the place, all with much yelling and screaming. They act like they’re on vacation at a beach rental, and the parents do little to control the situation. We have tolerated this for some time now because we don’t want to create discomfort for our guests. But we’ve pretty much had it. Do we talk to the parents or should we just discipline when we feel discipline is needed?
A: This can be the stickiest of wickets, one that I’m hearing about from an ever-increasing number of grandparents. Apparently, too many of today’s parents fail to realize that proper parenting is an expression of love and respect for one’s neighbors, including friends and relatives. Lacking such fundamental social awareness, they inflict their little (and sometimes, as in this case, not-so-little) terrors on everyone who is kind enough to let them in the door.
Willie and I laid down the law early on concerning grandchild behavior in our home. We told the kids that two rules prevailed as follows: First, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when the Romans come to you, do as the Romans do. Second, we told the parents that it is our job to spoil, your job to discipline; do not do our job and we won’t have to do yours. That pretty much sums up the grandparent-parent relationship.
Thankfully, our kids were and are still on board with our expectations. We certainly aren’t draconian, but things like running, jumping on furniture, loud noises, and disobedience (in any form) are not allowed. Those clear understandings make for much better visits for adults and children alike.
Were I in your shoes, I would take this issue up with the parents. If you react to the grandchildren’s behavior out of the proverbial blue, and especially given the unfortunate precedents that have been set, you are likely to run afoul of parental protectiveness. Furthermore, you are not and should not be responsible for the discipline of your grandchildren. Their parents are responsible, and they should accept that obligation. Doing so is a matter of respect for you, not to mention good guest etiquette (a word in danger of extinction).
Assuming both of you are on the same page (caution: do not proceed unless that condition is satisfied), talk to the parents. Tell them what bothers you and what your expectations are. There’s no need to be critical. You don’t need to imply that you disapprove of their parenting. Explain that the older one gets, the less tolerant one becomes of child chaos, which is true—unless one is blessed with hearing loss.
The parents, in turn, should convey your expectations in no uncertain terms to the grandchildren before they get in the car to come to your house and again in the driveway before everyone gets out of the car. They should make a further commitment to you that enforcement will not be in your court. And it really doesn’t matter whether or not the parents agree with your expectations; they should back you unconditionally. That’s one way parents teach children respect for adult authority.