Grandparents and Parents

Stories and information from two generations.

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Computers can be a grandparents best friend.

As you have read here I am a very long distance grandma. Dan lives in China with his wife and daughter Anqi.  My husband and I live in Northern Ontario Canada. It is a 14 hour flight from Toronto and then a train ride to get to Nanjing. It is 14 hour drive to get to Toronto. So I would call that long distance.

My other son Raymond lives with his family a 10 hour drive over the trans Canada highway which is good but very crowded during tourist season. During the winter it is not the safest of drives due to the wind and weather which can cause road closures.

Needless to say we do not visit a lot with either of them. That is why I say computers are our best friends.

Now I have always wanted to be a housewife and mother and then I guessed grandma would just follow along the same route. Boy was I wrong. The housewife and mother went well, I was a stay at home mom since my degree of “Mental Retardation Counselor” was not required in any form in the small town we moved to. So I got to stay home with my children keeping house and being mom. We liked being in a small town and Don has a great job working at the gold mine. The boys did not as they became teens like it. There really was not much to do except outdoors type things which we did a lot of but the other teens figured on just leaving town when they were able to do so.

Raymond moved to the city and went to college to become a welder like his dad. He likes the job but unfortunately for us he also found his wife there. It was great for him and they are happy with their 3 children living just outside the city in a small town. The mines here were not and still are not hiring in fact the one Don works at will be closing in 3 years. So needless to say with no jobs that means Raymond will not return. Except for visits. So that means long distance grandparenting.

Dan moved to a different city and went to university. It was closer and we got to see him more as we go there at least once a month in the spring summer and fall and stock up on groceries which are not available in our small town. Also it is a nice trip just to get out of town and see people and stores. 2 grocery stores, Canadian Tire, Home Hardware and 1 small department store gets a bit boring after a while. He then found no jobs and so he decided to try teaching in another country and he chose China. Why he picked China I do not know since we knew virtually nothing about the country. I talk to people all over the world and have friends via the internet in Australia, England, Japan, Scotland and the States. But he chose China.

He is happy there but as a mom I was extremely worried about him. When Raymond moved it was to a city we knew and he had relatives there so he was not really alone plus he spoke the language. Dan didn’t even know how to say hello in Chinese. Guess he overcame the language barrier since he met his wife there and they now have their daughter.

I am happy for both my children but do I ever have a bad case of Empty Nest.

I have always loved being around children, even when I was considered a child myself. I liked the younger ones who I could baby, and teach things to. I was the most popular babysitter in the town and was turning down jobs each weekend. So now that I have no children of my own and my health is not the greatest I miss little ones.

I have RA and some days it is almost impossible to do much of anything. So trying to plan on going to the library to read to them would not be fair to the staff or the children.

I depend on my computer to keep in touch with my long distance family. I have even been able to sing lullabies to Anqi who I call my littlest angel. I talk to the older ones but they are busy with school so not as often. But it helps.

I can hardly wait for visits this summer and we plan things with both families by computer. Sean is 10 and he has his own web site. To me that is amazing since when I was 10 we had dial phones, and TV. antennae on every house in town. We walked if we wanted to talk to a friend a few blocks away, and parents went outside and hollered when it was time to come home for supper.

Now it is cell phones, ipods, books on E readers and hand held games that we used to play on boards. There am I making you feel old now?

Like I said computers can be a grandparent’s best friend with communicating with your family it is less expensive than the phone since Skype is free and you have the web cam so you can see who you are talking to at the time. But if you look terrible with uncombed hair still in your housecoat you can talk without being seen by not turning on the web cam. When I talk on skype I feel like Mrs. Jetson when her friend called looking wonderful with her hair and makeup perfect then she sneezes and the mask is blown off. Funny when I was 8 but not so funny when it happens to be me. So not perfect no camera. That is number 1 rule.

One day I was talking to Ray’s little ones and I got to see Mia dance. She is in dance classes and was getting ready for a concert so she showed me the dance she would be doing. It was wonderful to see and she said she wanted to show me so I would be able to picture her on stage just as if I was there. That was her way of saying she would love me to be there but she knew it wasn’t possible. I am still a part of her life.

I am thinking about reading books with her as she gets older. Maybe I will introduce her to Anne of Green Gables and the Bobbsey Twins. I know I loved them both and maybe she will enjoy us reading them together by computer.

Cam likes to tell me about the toys and trucks he has and what he does with them. He especially likes the two we got for him that talk. It is so much fun to be part of that part of his life.

So yes computers are wonderful learning tools but they are a far cry from hands on grandparenting but it certainly helps fill in the gaps of love that distance makes.


It is almost here!!

Every parent dreads the summer holidays from school because of the dreaded “I am bored” days.

What do you do when you hear those words?  You know they have every electronic gadget ever  invented in their rooms. They have books galore and the weather is beautiful so they should be outside playing with their friends. But that whiney voice that says “I am bored” strikes fear in our hearts brains and ears.

This happens at grandparents houses while visiting for more than a week and what do we do when it happens.

My grandmothers solution as well as my mothers was to answer. “If you have nothing to do you can go weed the garden, or clean out the bedroom you are in. The dishes need to be put away and the laundry has to come in off the line and be folded.”

We always seemed to find something to do with those choices given as an option. You would be surprised the number of things we came up with to do and how fast we left the presence of our mother and grandmother.

I am not saying that was the right or wrong way to deal with the problem but it worked well for my family. We lived in a small town and times were different than they are now. We could watch the news and not hear about gun fights or children going missing.  In the town everyone knew who’s child you were.

I was a wanderer from a very early age and I would end up down at the Agriculural College looking at the gardens full of flowers. My mother would get a call at least once a week with someone saying  “Faye she is here again.”  My mother would get into the car and go and pick me up. I started this at age of 4.

My one set of grandparents lived in a small town and I would stay with them for 2 weeks every summer. There was a supervised swimming area in the river across the road so I spent a lot of time at the beach, but grandma always had things for me to do if I asked her for an idea. I was sent to the store for a loaf of bread or a quart of milk each day. There was a large baseball park next door and at night we would sit outside watching baseball games and watch the people lawn bowling in the next field.  Grandma would take me for walks around town looking at the flower gardens everyone had. These were things I didn’t do at home so they were like an adventure for a young child. I still love looking at gardens and flowers.

At my other grandparents who lived on a farm I learned how to snap beans, shell peas, and play with the calves and help do the chores. Still can’t milk a cow though. But being from a town I was always amazed at the things other children living in that area thought of as work could be so much fun.

Now when I hear other grandparents talking about visits from their grandchildren they all talk about how expensive it is to have them visit. When I ask why they say they have to buy a new toy or treat every day or the children get bored and cranky. Why is a visit about gadgets and money and treats?  Shouldn’t the visit be the treat?

I am not saying don’t buy them things I am saying keep it reasonable. One year my grandson came and I knew there were no children for him to play with so we bought him a bike so he could explore the town. He loved it and was gone for at least an hour every day. We sent him home with the bike since it probably would not fit him the next year. When they visit we let them have all the Canadian Tire money that we have saved over the year and they are allowed to spend it on what ever they want.  Usually out door toys since grandma and grandpa don’t keep up on what children like to play with. We also don’t know their interests so this way they get things they will play with and we don’t have a box of things that stay in the box.

We do keep leggos, mega building blocks, Barbie dolls and clothes, squirt guns, dinky cars, finger paints and beach toys and these are all big hits. Books are also a good collection. We have picture books, story books for all ages and our grandchildren love to sort through them and read to themselves or bring me a book at bedtime so I can read to them. They like the stories I write for them some of which are on this site in the stories section. I sometimes start a story and ask them to help me come up with things to add to them. Then they give the title and we can add to it every time they come for a visit.

Bad weather days are the days we go for groceries and they are allowed to pick out one thing they would really like. That is their treat but they have to share. It is amazing the things they pick. One time it was a pineapple because they liked the way it looked. The other one picked out a package of spare ribs which he told me how to cook. He was 8 and he loved spare ribs and wanted to show grandma how good they were the way his dad cooked them. Did not tell him that I had taught his dad how to cook so he was showing me my own recipe.

We have an outdoor fire pit so on nice nights we get it going and take hot chocolate out along with wieners and roasting forks and marshmallows and we have a great time cooking and talking and laughing a lot. My husband tells great ghost stories and the little ones love to curl up on the swing and listen as the fire crackles and sparks.

One thing to keep in mind is what they like to eat. One week long visit for lunch we had grilled cheese sandwiches. That was all Sean would eat for lunch. Every other meal was different but lunch had to be grilled cheese sandwiches made with cheese slices not cheddar or cheeze whiz.  Mia would not eat vegetables but I had a small garden and had peas and carrots and I sent them out to get some for supper and she ate those because they were not carrots out of a bag. She called them orange things. I didn’t have any left when she went home. She learned to eat something she thought she hated. Now when she comes I buy those peeled carrots in a bag and she likes them. Must remember to plant a few carrots this year.

So visits can be expensive but they don’t have to be. Keep in mind they are only here for a short time so don’t buy so much it is expensive because by the next visit they will have lost interest in the gadgets. Just keep simple basic toys and a lot of imagination and everyone can enjoy the visit.

I Have a Job Again

Sorry for not posting for a while, I’ve been busy job hunting.

A few weeks ago my school told me they weren’t renewing my contract (about 2 days after starting this blog), so I have been busy trying to find a new job. Today I did a demo class at an English training center in Nanjing and they loved it. I also have another demo class at another school and a possible interview at a very good school coming up this week, so whichever one is best I’ll take.

So now that I’m not stressed out about keeping my family fed I’ll be posting more. Expect a couple of posts every 2 or 3 days now ranging from book and product reviews, recall information, child nutrition and daily life.


Hurray! My Daddy can keep feeding me!

Grandparents being the in-laws

I will admit it,  I love being grandma.

I will also admit that I am not so keen on being the mother in law.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter in laws almost as much as I love my sons and their children.

I just do not always get along with them. Being so far away I never get the chance to sit down and get to know them. The same goes for them. How do you get to know someone with the short visits 2 or 3 times a year?

Short answer is you don’t.  You try to be on your best behaviour and you bite your tongue when you see them doing something for  the children that you totally disagree with, but the children seem to be doing well so you don’t say anything. But let’s face it you come away with a sore tongue and some hurt feelings.

What can we do to change this?

Honest answer to that is I don’t know.  I have ideas and I have hopes but since every situation is different I really can’t say what would work for everyone. Heck some of the ideas I have tried have been absolute failures. We all survived them but it sure makes for some uncomfortable times.

Here are a few examples of things I tried being the daughter in law.

One time we were called to visit on a Sunday afternoon. I had a fairly expensive roast thawed ready to cook for supper so I took it with us and told my mother in law that I would cook it for supper there. I had all the fixings so just had to spice the roast and put it in the oven. Simple right!! Wrong.

I was adding spices and mother in law told me that if I put salt on it the roast would be tough and way too salty for anyone to eat it.

So I left the salt off. Later when she was out of the kitchen I added the salt and she was none the wiser. Everyone loved the meal and she kept on about “see, you don’t need salt.”  I just smiled and said I was glad everyone liked the meal.

That attempt worked because I took her feelings into consideration and didn’t argue with her which saved her the embarrassment of either proving me wrong or proving herself right. I didn’t tell her she was wrong I just did what I knew worked without showing her up. 34 years later she can still think she taught me something she figured I should know.

One time the family had gotten together for Thanksgiving dinner. I do not like tense situations or downright fighting at any time and this day it was getting to the arguing about what salt shakers we should use. My husband saw it was getting to me so when mother in law said would someone pick up the turkey and put it in the sink and run water on it, Don looked at me and I nodded. He picked her up put her in the sink and ran water over her feet. Everyone laughed and the mood changed drastically. She was still telling the story years later when ever she had a turkey to cook. One problem was that Don’s youngest sister thought it was a horrible trick and now that she has her mother living with her we have not heard from mother in law for 6 years and have no idea how to get in touch with her. Youngest sister is married now and we were never told her married name.

So that attempt was a success for the time but it had bad effects for later in life.

I have only once gotten upset enough to tell my mother in law off and it was a doozy. She was visiting for a week and things were going well. It was as pleasant a visit as could be. But when she left my youngest son would not enter a room without the light being turned on and going down the hall he would turn on the light get to his room turn that light on then go back and turn off the hall light. He had never done this and at 4 years old I was getting concerned. I asked him why he needed the lights and he asked me “does god watch you even when you are in the bathroom” Now we are not a religious family so I was wondering where this was coming from and leading to. I said I was sure god had better things to do than to watch when he was in the bathroom. I asked him why he was wondering and he admitted that granny told him god watched him every minute of every day. It scared him.

I got on the phone and told granny that if she ever talked to my children about her god without Don or I there and I found out I would pack her bags and put her on the bus and she would never be allowed to see her grandchildren again. She told me that since the devil was around she wanted them to know that there was a good guy there to protect them. I explained that their father and I were their protectors and adding something else just confused them and scared the youngest one.

Maybe I was wrong in my approach but it worked and I was protecting my children. So I am not proud of my method but I am proud of the fact that I did what I had to do. My son remembers that talk with his granny and thanked me for never having to deal with another on that subject.

Granny however still thinks I am a horrible person for not being religious and following the bible and raising our children in the church.  Not sure if that is a keeper or a failure it is a just had to do it.

Here is a definite do not do example.

My husband has a bad reaction whenever he eats pork roasts or pork chops or ground pork. It isn’t processed so it really affects his system. My mother knew this but never believed me about it. One time we were invited out for dinner and she had a ground meat pie. It had bear, venison, beef and pork all mixed together in gravy and a crust. No mention of the pork. It was really good but within 1/2 an hour Don was getting white and sweating and had a killer headache. I asked mom for some aspirin and she got all concerned. She mentioned the pork in the pie. I asked her why she didn’t tell us about it and she said she didn’t believe anyone could be allergic to pork. Don was sick for 2 days but mom learned her lesson.

So please do not try to sneak something through just because you don’t believe in something it could have disastrous side effects.

One final point on this segment.

Do not try to solve the problems while you are still upset. Let a bit of time and distance put a different light on the subject. If you think about what led up to the problem you may find that it is not as serious as you thought it was. Telling you husband or wife while you are upset will just make them as upset and then you have to deal with other people in the mix. So think and then talk works well in many cases.

More in the next post. Takes some time because some situations are embarrassingly funny and some are just embarrassing.


Do Grandparents Make Good Babysitters?

Before I came to China I knew a little bit about the culture, but since moving here, listening to my students and then marrying a wonderful Chinese woman I’ve learned a lot about family life in China. One big aspect of raising children revolves around the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Many families, especially more traditional ones revolve around the grandparents raising the children as parents work, often in other cities. This isn’t just grandparents acting as babysitters, but actually taking care of the child 24/7.

Grandparents and babysitting

A great aunt, great grandmother, and grandmother look at a beautiful baby girl.

With the birth of my daughter, my Chinese in-laws who in some ways are very traditional wanted to help. A lot.

Fortunately, while they’re very traditional in some ways they aren’t as traditional as some other grandparents. So my Mother-in-law did not quit her job as a doctor to live with us. However my wifes’ father, who works from home, has permanently moved into the guest room.

This has given me firsthand experience with the question, can grandparents make good babysitters.

The answer is ‘maybe’.

Since the financial crisis of 2009 there have been several articles related to using grandparents for childcare. Some have looked at it favourably, such as the Wall Street Journal, others have not.

My father-in-law is usually around to help babysit his granddaughter.

As a Canadian raised a 1000km away from his grandparents, I’m used to the thought that parents raise the child and grandparents help out occasionally on holidays. Having a grandparent live in the home and providing child care for much of the time is definitely a strange experience for me.

At first there were some arguments, and I was biting my tongue a lot out of respect for my wife. But once things got settled and my in-laws and I learned what was expected and what wasn’t, it started to come together.

From reading various forums, talking with other parents online and my own personal experience here are some things that I would recommend when asking grandparents to babysit.

Compromise With Grandparents, Up to a Point

The biggest complaint from parents about using grandparents has to do with rules, schedules and instructions. Parents want one thing, grandparents often want another.

Since our parents did raise us, or our spouses, we should realize that they have a clue on how to take care of a baby. They may not do everything we like, but as long as it won’t screw up the childs schedule too badly, make a hash out of potty training or hurt the child, its ok. While routine is good, too much of it can be bad. If you feel the need to be this specific, maybe you need to reconsider having your parents babysit.

But there are times when you as a parent should put your foot down, especially if the babysitting is only occasional. There are stories on the net of grandparents ignoring medication, giving children potentially harmful toys, not changing dirty diapers and other things. My own in-laws sometimes forget to change Anqi’s diapers in a timely manner, because she doesn’t cry much unless her diaper is very wet. I’ve told them off for it, and after a few times they’ve really improved.

As long as you explain why you want something done, most reasonable grandparents should be willing to meet you halfway. If they completely ignore you, then its time to find a new babysitter. But you also have to show some leeway yourself, as they’re providing a daycare service that is either free, or much less expensive then the alternatives.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

From reading various forums the largest problem between parents and grandparents isn’t that they’re not willing to compromise, but they’re unwilling to talk. Both sides take it as a given that they’re right and it should be obvious to everyone that they’re right.

I have a serious problem with this one, as my in-laws speak Chinese and very limited English, while I speak English and very limited Chinese. But when there are problems or concerns we still communicate as best we can.

I’m from a cold region, I’m hairy, big and have anti-freeze for blood, so the cold doesn’t affect me. When Anqi was first born I knew she had to stay warm, but didn’t know how warm she should be so I tended to be on the cool side. My in-laws didn’t agree, because Nanjing winters are not very cold but are very damp, and Chinese houses tend to be drafty with no central heating. So they kept bundling her up. By gestures, basic yes and no’s, and by putting on and taking off blankets we managed to get our points across. Anqi would be bundled up, but the blankets or clothes would be kept a little loose, at least in winter.

When asking grandparents for help with babysitting, make sure that everyone is on the same page, or at least the same chapter. And listen to them as well, they may have a good reason for doing what they’re doing.

Show Some Gratitude

Most, not all, but most grandparents are happy to help take care of grandchildren. And many children like it when Grandma and Grandpa come over. However it is still taking time from their lives, and if they’re fairly old, sick or busy it can wear them out. Make sure to let them know how much you appreciate them.

A simple heartfelt thank you is often enough if the babysitting is an occasional thing. If they babysit more frequently and especially if its a regular thing more is required. Consider helping them with chores around the house, buying them groceries for the week, taking them out for a nice dinner, giving them a really nice gift, or paying them money. Even if your mom or dad don’t ask for anything, doing this will help make them feel appreciated. It may also make them more willing to listen to your instructions on dealing with the children.

Use, Don’t Abuse Your Parents

My wife and I went on a day trip Monday (a national holiday in China), leaving Anqi with her mother and father for the day. It was a great trip for us, and we both came back recharged and ready for action. But before we left we made sure that her parents were completely free that day.

Last Friday my wife and I had wanted to go on a trip, but her father wanted to go and meet some of his friends that day. We didn’t beg him to look after Anqi, instead we stayed home and told him to have a relaxing day with his friends.

Your parents have lives of their own, they may be willing to change their plans but forcing them to do it frequently is definitely not a nice thing to do. If its an emergency its understandable and you must do what you have to do, even if it interferes with other people. But remember, if you were constantly having your plans altered with little or no warning, how would you feel?

Now, if there is a planned routine that you have both agreed on, that’s different. If the grandparents look after their grandchild a few days every week, keep doing it. Just remember to ask what their plans are and if they need a break once in a while to recuperate. It will let them know you care.

Come June, my main teaching job will be over, allowing me to spend most of the week at home. Once that happens, I’ll let my father-in-law know that he can do anything he wants, and only call on him occasionally for help. Of course if he wants to help I’m not going to stop him, he and Anqi get along quite well, but I’ll make sure he knows there is an option for him.

Letting grandparents provide childcare can be great, as it lets them interact with the grandchildren, lets parents have a day off, and is cheaper than hiring a babysitter or daycare. Just make sure to compromise, keep the lines of communication open, let them know their helps appreciated and don’t abuse the help. If this is done by everyone, not just parents but grandparents as well, then it will lead to a healthy relationship. If its too one sided, than no one will be very happy and could lead to broken hearts and family feuds.