Can You Parent as a Grandparent?

by Kevin Leman

Can you parent as a grandparent? Here are the thoughts of Dr. Kevin Leman from his podcast on the subject with Andrea and Doug:

“Doug: Some day, we’ll all likely be grandparents. What do you do if your kids start dropping your kids off more and more and asking you to be their parent? Can you parent as a grandparent? Well, we need to know if you end up having to parent as a grandparent. That’s the question we get to ask Dr. Leman today.

Doug: Well, Dr. Leman, you just told us a really interesting story about someone who emailed you a question from a grandparent. It got me thinking. I think there’s probably more people that listen to this that either are having to parent as a grandparents, or someday were going to do it. What do we need to know if we get in this situation?

Dr. Leman: Well, I’ll tell you, I think there’s an awful lot of grandparents out there, number one, who are rearing their grandchildren. There’s a lot of grandparents out there whose adult children are using their parents, the child’s grandparents, in a negative way, in a way that they expect the grandparents to drop everything they’re doing and to give safe harbor to their grandchildren. Now, we have four grandchildren. Quite frankly, we go to great lengths to be with them. Two of them live in Chicago, which is not exactly next door to Tucson, Arizona.

Dr. Leman: In fact, my dear wife is flying up there in a week or so to be with our daughter, Hannah, and her husband, and those two little twins because both of them work and they’re like a lot of couples. We want to be helpful parents. Let’s face it, grandparents, you are mature. You’ve gone through life. You know a few things. By the time we get to the grandparent stage, we’re pretty steady and predictable, and again, a safe harbor.

Dr. Leman: As I was telling you the other day, I got a question from a woman and I really felt so sad because the parent comes and drops off her daughter and leaves her there. I mean, leaves her there. She leaves her there. She doesn’t say, “I’ll be back tomorrow night.” She just leaves them and takes off. Grandparents never know when she’s going to come back. It can be two weeks later. It can be a week later. It could be three days later. Here’s a daughter who has absolutely no respect for her parents, and she uses those grandparents, their good will, good nature, and their love for their grandchild. You tell me, what would you do? I know what I told her to do, but I’d love to know what you guys would do if you’re the grandparents and you have a daughter, doesn’t have a husband, is single mom and she brings by this little granddaughter, drops her off and you never know when she’s going to come back. What would you do?

Andrea: Oh, I’d be taking care of that grand baby, loving on it and just treating it like, “Well, you’re here now and as long as you’re here I’m mom, I guess.”

Dr. Leman: Well, yeah. I think that’s how most people would respond, that, “This is my granddaughter and I love her and I want what’s best for her. Yes, we’ll take her to school. Yes, we’ll pack her lunches. Yes, we’ll give her money if she needs it,” and all those kind of things.

Andrea: I’d probably even be considering adopting her.

Dr. Leman: Well, I tell you, here’s what I shot back to grandma. I said, “You know what? This is a situation that doesn’t have a happy ending. The best thing you can possibly do is to start refusing taking your granddaughter until you reach an agreement with your daughter that you have guardianship of that nine year old.” This daughter is … God only knows what she’s doing. What she’s doing is not good. I can tell you that from the kind of things that the grandmother had shared with me. Again, parents, it’s a catch 22. You want to help your grandchild, but you best help your grandchild by getting guardianship of that nine year old. Now, that costs money. You have to have cooperation with your daughter. Whether your daughter caves in and gives it to you is up for grabs, but you can’t go through life just having somebody drop a youngster, someone you love, off at your house and not knowing where she is and when she’s going to be back.

Dr. Leman: What if you guys have plans to go someplace and maybe see one of your other children, or one of you is still employed and have employment responsibilities. It’s a no win. As tough as that advice is for people, the best solution is to try to get guardianship. Once you have guardianship, then you can go ahead and you can really rear that nine year old as the parent. Then, mom has visiting rights, so to speak, for lack of a better term. She sees the kid’s mother, but you can imagine this child is just nine years old. What is she going to be like at 14? She needs somebody that’s going to really model stability and currently mom is just all over the place. Again, I’m very suspect that she’s a druggie and doing a lot of things that she shouldn’t be doing.

Doug: If the grandparents refuse the daughter unless they get guardianship and the daughter refuses, what’s going to happen to that … my grandchild?

Dr. Leman: See, this is where a situation like this we feel like we’re over the barrel. It’s just like the parent that writes in and says, “My son refuses to take his medication. It’s really important he takes his medication.” Well, the kid’s got you over the barrel. Kids and adults know when they have you over the barrel. They’ll work you. People aren’t for using. I know that. Is this easy to pull off? No. It’s not easy at all. Is it simple? No. It’s not simple either, Leman. This is difficult stuff, but you have to have a heart to heart with daughter. I mean, I’m suspect that the grandparents are also helping the daughter financially. They help her financially and she takes off on a two week binge someplace, hit and miss at work and all that. It’s a crisis in the making. I’ve awfully said, “I’d rather force a blowout than watch it slow leak itself to death.” These are tough questions. Most of your parents who are listening are saying, “Oh my goodness. I’m glad that’s not our situation.” It’s tough.

Andrea: Is there any hope that by the grandparents standing up and saying to the daughter, “Well, you need to give us guardianship if we’re going to keep doing this,” that she might actually recognize what she’s doing and she just is waiting for somebody to hold her accountable and she might-

Dr. Leman: She might.

Andrea: Come out of this-

Dr. Leman: She might.

Andrea: Behavior?

Dr. Leman: Again, permissiveness reigns in our society, and caving in and giving in. Very few people draw lines and says, “This is no longer manageable for us.” Imagine, grandparents living life and all of a sudden, without notice, there’s no phone call or anything, she just drops her off at the house and leaves. I mean just totally non-responsible behavior. You get the authorities involved, then there’s more problems down the line. I think this is something you want to try to solve as grandparents and cut a deal with your daughter for one specific reason, and that is you want to give that granddaughter, in this case, the best predictable, safe environment where she’s going to feel loved and she has some stability. Nine year olds need that, believe me.

Doug: You know what I really appreciate about this example is, for me, you have used this phrase before, “I prefer a blowout than a slow leak, and people are not to be taken advantage of.” It’s like, “Yeah, I get it now.” If I’m ever being taken advantage of, I should force the issue instead of just limping along like this. In all of life, whether you’re a grandparent or not, that’s great.

Doug: Well, before we finish, ’cause I have another question for grandparents here, I want to take this moment for all our podcast listeners, again, to tell you about the eBook special, thank from Baker Books, for you and you alone, a book by Dr. Leman called Born to Win for $1.99, June four to ten of 2019. Dr. Leman, I’m embarrassed to say so, I haven’t read Born to Win. I don’t know if I’ve even heard about it, which [crosstalk 00:08:37]-

Andrea: I don’t know if I’ve heard of it either.

Dr. Leman: Well-

Doug: What is this one about?

Dr. Leman: Who do you suppose is born to win? Take a guess.

Doug: Andrea-

Andrea: The baby-

Doug: ‘Cause she’s sweet.

Dr. Leman: Nope.

Doug: The middle child, ’cause we’re both middle children.

Dr. Leman: No.

Andrea: The only child.

Doug: No, no, ’cause we’re middle children. No?

Dr. Leman: The firstborn.

Doug: Ah.

Andrea: We’re all born to win.

Dr. Leman: The firstborn. They are born to win.

Andrea: Yeah.

Dr. Leman: It’s all about firstborn children. If you’re a firstborn-

Doug: So this is-

Dr. Leman: Or if you have a firstborn, you might really enjoy reading Born to Win.

Doug: It does help to get behind their eyeballs and understand it, doesn’t it? Born to Win, $1.99 June four to ten of 2019. Now, favorite part of the segment, Straight Talk with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: You know, you don’t have to walk very far to find a smart mouthed kid these days. You’ll find them in schools. You’ll find them on a playground. This is so difficult to say to you parents. You may even find them in your home. You know, kids today view themselves as social equals. They don’t really see authority in a proper manner. Parents, quite frankly, don’t act in authority. They tend to be permissive and then they swing to authoritarian. We’ll discuss that one at another time, but the point is is that these kids know where you are, how you operate. I’ll tell you, they can pull your chain. The question is, when your child is really smart mouth to you, ask yourself this question. What was the purpose of nature of that? Was it to show you that he or she is the boss, that they want to simply just dis your authority?

Dr. Leman: It could be, but the point is, words hurt and you don’t have to just come back immediately. If you do, you engage in fighting. Remember, fighting is an act of what? Cooperation. After the hurtful words, go about your business. I’m telling you, I don’t care if your kid is six or 16, it’s going to be a very short period of time when they come to you and say, “Mommy, would you get me this?” Or, “Mom, can I go over to John’s house?” Maybe they’re driving the car. “Hey dad, can I take the car?” Well, a simply dosage of vitamin N will get your son or daughter’s attention. What does that mean? A simple, “No. I don’t feel like getting you anything right now.” “Honey, no, you can’t take the car.” Turn your back. Walk away.

Dr. Leman: Now, again, do not engage in battle. You have gold in your back pocket, parents, okay? I call this parental poker. You have four aces in your back pocket as well. You don’t have to always play those cards, you just have to have the assurance that those cards are there. Quite frankly, your kid wouldn’t have underwear on right now if you didn’t buy it for him. Who’s kidding who? You are in full authority over your children.

Dr. Leman: Now, here’s the fun part, I think. They’re going to dig. They’re going to say, “Mom, what’s wrong with you? You always let me go to John’s house. You always let me do this.” Let them really squirm and figure out that maybe what they said an hour and a half earlier was very inappropriate. Don’t tell them right off the bat. Again, let them sort of guess and figure it out. Finally, he or she will figure it out. “Oh, I’m sorry about what I said this morning.” “Well, honey, I’m glad you could say you’re sorry. That’s really important.” “Well, can I take the car now?” “No, but we’ll revisit that another day.” That’s Straight Talk from the good old Dr. Leman. I’m telling you, this stuff works.

Doug: Okay, Dr. Leman. Here’s my question. For the grandparents that are not in that dire of a situation but we do have the classic, “Truly the parents are super permissive and when they come over to my house, my grandparents just are out of control. I don’t agree with their parenting style. What do I do when I have them in my house for five hours or maybe overnight? What do I do with their unruly behavior?”

Dr. Leman: Well the simple sentence is, “Honey, in our home we don’t do that,” works, whether it’s putting your feet on the furniture or whatever. Here’s the interesting thing that I’ve observed over the years, Doug and Andrea, that kids can go from one environment to another with a completely different set of rules and they adjust to it. Grandparents, don’t lower your expectations for your grandchildren. I would tell you, when the grandchildren come over, okay, have fun. Do a little thought about, “Hey, what could we do with … grandkids are coming over.” Maybe your kids have said, “Hey, we want to take off for a weekend. Would you take the kids for a weekend?” “Okay, we’d be glad to.”

Dr. Leman: Well, rather than just sit around grandma and grandpa’s house, which a lot of grandparents are very comfortable in doing, plan a couple things. In fact, asking your grandchild’s opinion of, “Honey, would each of you give grandma and grandpa one idea of things you think might be fun for all of us to do this coming weekend? I know you’re coming over Friday night and you’re going to be here til Saturday late, so come up with a couple things and grandma … grandpa and I will talk about it and we’ll figure something out,” so that time with your grandchildren is meaningful and you can have a fun time together.

Doug: The recommendation is make it fun when they do come over and keep your standards going, that they will adjust to being at your house with whatever standards-

Dr. Leman: They will.

Doug: You have.

Dr. Leman: They will adjust to whatever your expectations are.

Doug: When I think about when we have some of our nieces and nephews come over, they do adapt to our behavior.

Andrea: Yeah.

Doug: It is interesting. You’re right. Well, thank you, Dr. Leman. You might hear a frog in our background. We have a frog in our garage that we cannot find. If you hear something croaking-

Dr. Leman: I love it.

Doug: If you hear something croaking, it’s not Andrea.

Andrea: No, it’s not.

Doug: It’s actually a frog.

Dr. Leman: Okay, people, Doug and Andrea are hillbillies. You remember the old hillbillies? The Beverly Hillbillies-

Doug: Oh, come on-

Dr. Leman: These are Oregon hillbillies.

Doug: Come on.

Dr. Leman: They got a frog in there.

Doug: We can’t find it. We’ve been looking for like a week.

Dr. Leman: You know why-

Doug: It tells you how cluttered our garage is.

Dr. Leman: You know what the frog said? He said, “Pardon me, I have a man in my throat.” Used by permission.

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