- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

Kathleen, 3, and Andrew, 17 months, have the best baby sitters in the world, says their mommy, Eve Geyer. Their “Nana” and “Baba” come to their Germantown home at least two days a week when Mommy and Daddy are at work.

Mrs. Geyer works part time, while Dennis Geyer works up to 80 hours a week as a neurosurgery resident.

“There’s an automatic trust — I don’t have to worry about what they’re being taught, how they’re being disciplined, what they eat,” Mrs. Geyer says. “And my parents don’t have to grow to love my children.”

Mrs. Geyer’s parents, Helene “Nana” and Richard “Baba” Manzke, who also live in Germantown, are pleased with the arrangement, as well.

“The kids are the best company we could have,” Mr. Manzke says. “They’re the joy of our life,” Mrs. Manzke offers.

Though the “granny-as-nanny” arrangement has been ideal for the Geyer family, it isn’t always a conflict-free deal, says Amy Goyer, coordinator for AARP’s Grandparent Information Center.

“It’s important for parents and grandparents to sit down and have a purposeful discussion, ideally before the baby arrives,” Ms. Goyer says. “They should discuss boundaries on both sides.”

One of those boundaries involves the grandparents’ time commitment, says Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, author of “The Grandparent Solution: How Parents Can Build a Family Team for Practical, Emotional and Financial Success.”

“Today’s grandparents are very active. They might tell the parents, ‘I can do 10 hours, but that’s it. My volunteer work is important to me too.’ And parents should respect that,” says Dr. Kornhaber, a child and family psychiatrist.

Grandparents, on the other hand, should respect the parents’ child-rearing techniques and not constantly try to correct and improve, he says.

“A new parent doesn’t want to be treated as a child. … Sometimes, grandparents just have to bite their tongue,” he says.

Another sticking point can be that parents get jealous of the amount of time, care and love the grandchildren receive from the grandparents, he says.

“It can be hard for a parent to see their now-mellowed father rolling on the floor with a grandchild,” he says. “That same father might not have been around much when the parent was a child.”

Mr. Manzke, who was a pilot in the Army, fits this description.

“I wasn’t around much when Eve was little — so, I’m making up for it now,” he says.

Dr. Kornhaber says these types of feelings are normal and grandparents should not forget to tend to their duties as parents, too, such as giving their children an occasional pat on the back for a parenting job well done.

Some grandparents — and this can come as a surprise to new parents — want very limited involvement, says Don Schmitz, author of “The New Face of Grandparenting.”

“There’s a group of grandparents — the ‘been there, done that grandparents’ — who had large families and simply want a break,” Mr. Schmitz says.

“You might see these grandparents at Christmas, if you’re lucky,” he says.

Rules, respect and humor

For grandparents who want to take an active part in the upbringing of grandchildren, there are a few rules to discuss once the basic boundary issues are covered, Ms. Goyer says.

“Of particular importance are rules about TV, food, sleep, purchases and discipline,” she explains.

Because the ultimate responsibility for the child’s well-being lies with the parents, the parents must be the ones setting the rules, and the grandparents have to respect those rules even if they disagree, she says.

“If the parents say ‘no spanking,’ that means no spanking,” she says.

Mrs. Geyer says she and her parents are on the same page when it comes to discipline.

“First of all, we’re Christian-based, so we discipline the action, not the person,” she says. “We don’t punish. I use timeouts, and my mother …”

Mrs. Manzke picks up where her daughter leaves off: “If they do something dangerous, I keep telling them not to do it — I insist and distract,” she says. “When they are this young, it’s not so much a matter of disciplining them as it is about guarding them.”

Mrs. Geyer and her parents also agree on what’s appropriate as far as sleep, television and food.

In fact, when it comes to getting Kathleen to nap, Nana is the most skilled, Mrs. Geyer admits.

“I guess it would be different if I wasn’t fond of how my parents raised me. … But I totally trust them,” she adds.

Sometimes, however, she disagrees with her parents’ decisions on small matters, such as the occasional cookie or piece of candy.

“But I figure it’s not all that harmful. And who cares in the big scheme of things?” she says.

Ms. Goyer says it’s also important for grandparents to discuss the type of items they want to buy for their grandchildren because some parents want to monitor all purchases.

“I would say, when in doubt, wait,” she says.

Though she doesn’t think it’s necessary to have a contract between grandparents and parents on child rearing, Ms. Goyer says that writing down the rules can be helpful.

However, though the rules are good guidelines, they’re just that, guidelines, Dr. Kornhaber says.

“The rules should be set with love, respect and lightheartedness. The wiggle room should be 100 percent,” he says. “Let the child be the barometer of what’s going on. The proof is in the pudding — if the child is fine, everything is OK. If not, let’s talk.”

Mr. Schmitz says he hopes that parents — along with discussing boundaries and rules — will remember to thank the grandparents for their help and involvement.

“It’s easy to start taking grandparents for granted. … There’s something to the saying, ‘Anything you get for free, you don’t appreciate,’ ” Mr. Schmitz says. “Grandparents need to be thanked. And remind the children to say thank you, too — thank Grandma for taking them to the movies, thank Grandpa for taking them fishing — it means a lot.”

Mrs. Geyer treats the gift of grandparenting the same as she would any gift.

“She sends us thank-you notes,” Mrs. Manzke says. “It’s very sweet.”

Grandparent magic

Once the rules and boundaries are settled and the parents finally can leave the grandchildren and grandparents alone, the fun begins, Dr. Kornhaber says. This is when grandparents and grandchildren will form their own unique, “magical” bond, he says.

“The child doesn’t see the grandparent the way the rest of the world views the grandparent. They’re immortal to the child,” he says. “[Children] will look at a wrinkle and want to hear the story that goes with it,” he says.

Though the benefits of a deep bond between grandparents and grandchildren “eludes scientific study,” they are clear to anyone who has that bond, Dr. Kornhaber says.

“A grandparent is a spiritual guide, a living ancestor, a nurturer,” he says.

The connection also benefits the parent, Mr. Schmitz says.

“One of the things you can benefit from by having the grandparents involved is their perspective,” Mr. Schmitz says.

They know not to sweat the small stuff and that rules are not absolute, he says.

“I don’t see having grandparents involved as a frill, but as a necessity,” he says.

Mrs. Geyer agrees.

“What do you do if you don’t have family?” she wonders aloud.

She worked full time the two years after Kathleen was born, and Nana and Baba spent 12 or 13 hours a day at the Geyers’ house. Mrs. Geyer says all the one-on-one time between her mother and Kathleen left its mark.

“Kathleen notices all kinds of things that I’m too busy to pay attention to,” she says. “She talks about flowers and trees and notices clouds and the moon.”

Dr. Kornhaber says this ability to give undivided attention is extremely valuable to both grandchildren and grandparents.

“It’s the secret to love and long-term commitment,” he says.

The Manzkes agree.

“It’s wonderful taking care of the children. You become young again,” Mrs. Manzke says.

“I think life would be boring without the grandkids,” Mr. Manzke adds.

More info:

Books —

• “The Grandparent Solution: How Parents Can Build a Family Team for Practical, Emotional and Financial Success,” by Arthur Kornhaber, John Wiley & Sons, 2004. This book provides tools on how to build a family team in which grandparents play an important role in providing emotional and practical support to parents and grandchildren.

• “The New Face of Grandparenting … Why Parents Need Their Own Parents,” by Don Schmitz, Grandkids-andme, 2003. This book aims to show what a great resource and touchstone grandparents can be and to help define the healthy and helpful roles grandparents can fill in the lives of both grandchildren and parents.

• “The Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting,” by Allan and Kathryn Zullo, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2004. This book covers topics such as how grandparents can work in harmony with parents, particularly in-laws, grandparenting in a single-parent household and the latest trends in child care.

m “The Twelve Rules of Grandparenting: A New Look at Traditional Roles and How to Break Them,” by Susan Kettman, Checkmark Books, 1999. This book covers topics such as grandparents’ role in baby-sitting, spoiling grandchildren, scolding or disciplining, and differing parenting styles between generations.

Associations —

• AARP, 601 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20049. Phone: 888/687-2277. Web site: www.aarp.org. This nonprofit membership organization for people ages 50 and older has 35 million members and offers a wide range of information for seniors. It also has resources and tips to help seniors in their roles as grandparents. Information and articles are available at www.aarp.org/ life/grandparents.

• Foundation for Grandparenting, 108 Farnham Road, Ojai, CA, 93203. Web site: www.grandparenting.org. This nonprofit organization, whose aim it is to promote the importance of grandparenting and highlight its benefit to all family members, offers tips for grandparents. Its founder is Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, author of various grandparenting books.

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