All right! I admit it, I am a natural-born enabler. Oh, not for drugs and alcohol or food, but definitely for laziness and for small infractions of the house rules. At two my grandson Coby needed someone to pour milk into his glass; at four, it was just easier and safer to keep doing it; at nine, it is purely enabling! There he is sitting in front of the TV set while I am here in front of the computer. “Gramma,” he says, “can you get me a glass of milk?” My first instinct is to jump up and start pouring milk. Or, he asks to go to the skate park. There is a bike trail from our street to the park so there is no reason he can’t ride there on his own. So, being parental, I say, ” OK, but you have to get there and home again on your own.”
Do you see it coming? A half hour later the phone rings. “Gramma, I’m thirsty; can you stop by 7-11 and pick up some Peace Tea and bring it to me?” Weelll, it is hot and he should not get dehydrated and I am not really doing anything but washing dishes, so maybe it would be good parenting to see that he has enough to drink. Don’t you think? Never mind that there is a drinking fountain at the skate park; he doesn’t like the taste of that water.
His mother, on her occasional visits, demonstrates clearly how not to give in to a child. Not only does she not pour any milk, she keeps him busy running errands for her. “Hand me this, hand me that. Run out to the car and fetch my book.” How does she do this? He jumps to do her bidding. She tolerates no infractions of her rules, not even a slight bending. This is totally upside down from the way things are between him and me. I have to work in order to get him to work.
I try — I really try to break this circle dance. I have read all the articles on the internet about making lists of chores and setting house rules and sticking to them 100% of the time. But that is not natural to me. I tend to be more situational, relying on what else is going on at the time, which is ironic because I do believe in right and wrong as absolutes without negotiation. The major infractions incur immediate consequences, but the gray area of small infractions causes me to stumble. I believe that children do not need to be disrespectful, spoiled, or lazy. I know they need chores, special times for homework, and boundaries. And I have to take some of the responsibility for his irritating behavior.
There is still a gap between knowing and doing, but I am working on it. I am working on holding my tongue until I am sure that I can and will follow through on what I say. Coby responds positively whenever I manage to improve. He wants and needs the security to offset his inauspicious introduction into this world. I need to bear in mind that my job is not to dispense grandmotherly cookies, but rather to fill in the holes in his life with constancy, love and security.
I will not do that by being manipulated.
Parent Blogger “Gigi” has a PhD in physiology and taught entering nursing students for many years. She is the mother of four and is currently raising her 9-year-old grandson, Coby.