This article first appeared in the September-October 2003 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Jacob, 10, spends weekends at lolo and lola’s house. Right after Sunday service, mom and dad drop him off so they are free to do errands. In lolo and lola’s house, he accompanies lola in the kitchen and lolo in the garden. Lola allows him to eat at anytime, impervious to the rule of no in-between meals. In the garden, lolo allows him a few puffs of his cigarette, or a few swigs of his beer, teaching him “how to not be a sissy.”
Eve, seven, spends time after school in lolo and lola’s house. Lola prepares her merienda and sits with her as she tells her stories of her day in school. Merienda is always special in lola’s house: halo-halo, suman, sandwiches or maiz con yelo. Eve enjoys being here while she waits to be fetched.
Which picture best describes your situation? Is your parent friend or foe?
Parents vs. grandparents In Philippine culture, grandparents have often gotten a bad rep. The stereotype consists of grandparents who have no respect for parental rules. In lolo and lola’s house, anything is allowed. Part of that picture is the scene often found in movies where children run to them when they feel their parents cannot understand them, often setting up a polarized situation. In the mind of grandparents, their own children are too harsh, often forgetting that the rules parents have imposed were rules that were set on them as well. Add to this the complication that many parents are raising their kids in their own parents’ home, raising the probability of conflict.
Maan Nonlerer, mother of three, says it well. “It is mysterious how quickly they have forgotten their own inviolable rules! When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch TV, eat sweets, and make a mess of my room. Now that my kids have those rules, they tell me I’m too hard on them,” she says.
Ann Batalan*, mother of two, seconds the opinion. “The worst part is when the kids see me as the enemy. Suddenly, I’m the one who’s corny. Siyempre, no one wants to be corny or not game. I don’t want to be beaten by my own parents in the gameness of trying new things. But my parents like to do that,” Ann shares.
In his book Childcare, author Brian Ward writes, “It can be difficult to tell a grandparent politely, and without causing offence, that you know best, and that things have to be done the way you want them. Your own parents obviously think they know best, and your patience and tact may be stretched to the utmost if you are to avoid an argument.”
Lets' hear it from Lola What is it about grandchildren that make grandparents want to bend the rules in the first place?
One is the fact that grandparents can. After years of parenting their own kids, grandparents can finally take things lightly. Ellen Bolinao*, grandmother of 12 says, “When my own kids were growing up, I had to be a parent. You know what I mean? It was all about laying the law and checking on infractions. It was all about raising them well.”
Sometimes, grandparents only see their grandkids rarely, underlining the imperative that time spent together be good times. Thus, outings with lolo and lola often mean malling, shopping, eating sweets, and watching movies -— things that in regular homes are privileges gained. Ellen adds, “Now that I’m retired and pretty okay financially, I can now spoil my loved ones. When my apo wants a doll, I am only too happy to give it to her. It’s not that I don’t want to follow the rules or drive my daughter crazy. It’s that I want to be a part of my apo’s life.”
But of course, grandparents rarely see the aftereffects of such outings like hyper-activity and increased irritability.
Unlike Western cultures, grandparents play active roles in the lives of our children. A grandparent’s presence not only teaches a child respect for his elders, it also provides comfort and a sense of history.
Indeed, Ward writes that grandparents can be of tremendous help to parents. “The majority of grandparents gladly tolerate a noisy, boisterous child, and can give you a welcome break which you can use to get on with other things,” he says.
Dino Santos, a father of three, shares his experience of growing up with a complete set of grandparents from both sides. He says, “I loved listening to their stories about the war, about the way things were, about their own experiences. I loved going out with them. My Lolo Pilong would always teach me how to get from place to place. Lola Encia told me birth stories as she was the family OB-gyne. Lola Titang’s house was where we would all hang out after school.”
Dino says his relationship with his grandparents made him appreciate his parents more. They helped him see his parents in a different light. His lola, for instance, told him stories of how his own dad was like when he was a child.
“And somehow, they always seemed so wise. I could always count on them to find my way. Their presence was a safe haven always,” Dino says.
Living in harmony The presence of grandparents can provide a healthy amount of love and contribute to the enrichment of family life. But how can the gap between parents and grand-parents be bridged to achieve harmony?
Let them know what your general rules are, and expect them to respect those rules. Ward says, “It’s better to clear the air and tell them how you want to run things than to seethe with frustration… it is one area where you must stand firm, or you will find your child skillfully playing you off one against the other.”
This is a difficult task no doubt but one that grandparents can follow if they know their children are serious about it. The trick is to find which rules your grandparents can break.
For example, when Giselle Elgincolin leaves her kids with her own mother, she reminds her kids of the rules in front of her mother pointedly, but also mentions what they can do in lola’s house. She would say, “No TV all afternoon in Lola’s house, Teodoro, but you can watch the video you brought after dinner with Lola.”
It is also more empowering to provide your kids with choices rather than ironclad rules, for both of them.
Make your own parents feel special and important -— as if the very rules cannot be followed except when Lolo issues the command. Say, “Ikaw na bahala, ‘Pa. Sa ’yo lang naman sumusunod ‘yan.” This will certainly go down better than a stern warning to your own parents to be good!
Or let them find their own way. When my children are with their grandparents, I set no rules. I want them to set their own parameters with each other. In a sense, I’d like them to create their own relationship without me. I already know I am daughter and mother. As my parents know they can no longer be parents, so my kids know their grandparents aren’t parents either. What can they be to each other then? They can shape it as they please.
In the beginning, it was difficult. The kids would manipulate them and my parents sensed that they were not getting as much as they could either because the kids were too busy bossing them around. So, they began setting rules, and in the process began appreciating me as well.
When I look at them together now, I am amazed at the language they have created for themselves. They have activities with each other I know nothing of. They have secrets, plans and schemes. In short, they are friends. And because they are friends, they can fight, too. That is something they have to figure out how to solve as well.
Ric Bolipata, my own father and grandfather to Teej, Marty and Ani, says it best: “In the beginning, maybe this was what the relationship was about: me buying them what they want. But as they grew older, it became about being able to run to me. After a while it was about trusting me. And now, it’s about wanting to be with me.”