Stories and information from two generations.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
In my last post I talked about how Anqi loved playing with a helium balloon.
Well I was starting to get jealous of all the attention the balloon was getting. I’d be reading to her, dancing with her or tickling her feet and if the balloon was in the room her eyes would inevitably be drawn to it.
Since I’ve spent the last week looking for a new job as my old one is coming to an end soon, I haven’t been able to spend that much time with her. Having her so focused on the balloon was rather discouraging.
It’s not a nice feeling knowing I was getting upstaged by a balloon.
However all of that changed yesterday. I came home from work and I was tired. Instead of taking a well deserved rest Anqi needed some attention, and I hadn’t seen her all day. So I put Anqi on the bed, put the balloon on her foot and laid down beside her to relax.
At this point the balloon had barely enough helium left to float, so when Anqi kicked her feet, it went in some really weird patterns. She loved it.
I joined in occasionally by pulling the string really hard, making it come down to brush against her face. That made her giggle in delight. This was very encouraging as she only started giggling in the last day or two and I’d never heard her do it.
After about 10 minutes of playing like that I stopped and just watched her. But than something interesting happened. Anqi jerked the balloon a few times and then stop to look at me. She just watched me, ignoring the balloon completely.
So I gave her a kiss on the forehead.
She jerked the balloon a few more times and stopped, looking at me again. I kissed her again.
She repeated this pattern for about 2 minutes. I then realized that while the balloon was an extremely fun toy for her, she really wanted me to be there and play with her.
So to all the other daddy’s out there who want to bond with their baby, even if a new toy seems to be upstaging you, don’t get discouraged. Play with your baby on the floor, bed or wherever and join in the fun. They may not be able to say they want you there, but if you give them the chance they’ll let you know. Even if they’re only three months old.
P.S. I will try to get into a regular posting schedule, but I recently found out that come July I’ll be leaving my school. So I’ve been busy trying to find a new job. However I will post at least once a week.
Working as an English teacher in China lets me spend a lot of time at home with my daughter, Anqi, which is really nice for helping me bond with her. Unfortunately, as a part time writer I’m often busy trying to write an article while my daughter is awake and wants to play, and my wife is not available.
In an attempt to balance being a father and writer I’ve tried to come up with different things to keep Anqi happy and distracted while I work. At three months old this can be difficult as she doesn’t pick anything up and will drop baby toys after a few seconds or minutes. Fortunately I have found a solution.
My wife and I bought Anqi two colourful balloons earlier this week and when she’s awake we simply put one of them around her ankle. She will give a powerful kick to watch it move and smile as it bounces. Since the balloon moves in different ways and will move if there is a light breeze its fascinating for the baby to watch.
This improvised baby toy will keep Anqi playing by herself for several hours, working out her legs and even her arms as she tries to get the balloon moving in different ways. My wife and I can then get some work done, in the same room, in peace and quiet. Once we’re done working we can sit down beside her and give the balloon a big tug, which invariably brings a smile to Anqi’s face.
Helium balloons are best as there is almost no chance it will become a choking hazard, as it floats in the air the baby can’t reach it. A regular air filled balloon could fall on the baby’s face and she could possibly swallow the string, or pop the balloon. But it is still important to be in the same room when a balloon is being played with, as things could go wrong.
Once Anqi starts grabbing things and moving around more, we’ll have to be more careful with the balloon as she could wrap the string around her neck or pop it by grabbing it. But for now its an awesome baby toy for her and a time saver for us.