Letters from Zibby: Working Backwards What I learned from grandparenting that came too late for my parenting

BMoreParent“Letters from Zibby” is a new blog we’re debuting here on BaltimoresChild.com! Zibby, the longtime head of preschool at Garrison Forest, will be sharing the trials and tribulations that come from parenting, grandparenting and working with little ones. 

I took care of both of my grandchildren for almost two weeks this summer—alone. My 10-year-old grandson then spent two additional weeks living at my house, attending a theater camp. It was wonderful! But the whole system was backwards. I was a pretty good parent, but I’m much better at parenting now that I’m a grandparent. I wish I had realized how many important and precious moments were being wasted on errands and distractions. I wish I could re-apply my parenting skills on my fully-grown children who kindly (and often) tell me when I’m over-stepping or being ridiculous.

The most important thing I’ve learned from grandparenting is to be brave. Say no and hold steady for the initial onslaught, but don’t be afraid that the tirade will last forever. It won’t. It’s primarily for show. (Remember the reference to theater camp?)

I’ve also learned that time does mean something to children. It’s an emotion. It’s an interloper—a rude interrupter—and it thwarts the very goals they’re attempting to accomplish. So don’t give that emotion an outlet if you can possibly help it. In a true emergency, it will work for you, but you’re only allowed a very few of those emergencies. Otherwise, slow down, anticipate the emotion and be kind to it. Twiddle your thumbs or take three deep breaths. There’s never enough time to meditate unless you’re waiting for a four-year-old to get ready to go out the door to camp.

I wish I had really stuck to my mantra, “I’m not the entertainment committee.” In my quest to raise independent, self-fulfilling children, I often spouted my intentions to let them entertain themselves, and just as often gave in, giving suggestions and supplies and sometimes getting much more involved in a cool baking or art project than they did. Children can be as easily bored as adults, but for them, boredom is a mood. They can be thoroughly fascinated by a piece of string when you need them to listen to you. And they can be thoroughly bored by the most interesting story you’re telling them when you have all the time in the world. It depends on their mood. So let them figure out how to get out of the mood and into something they really want to do—by themselves.

I have also learned to respect repetition. Children need repetition because they learn something new from each experience, even from each experience that looks exactly like the last one. They can read the same book, or listen to the same book, twenty times and they can focus on learning something different each time. When adult eyelids get heavier than dead weights on the ninth reading, children are turning the well-worn pages ever so slowly to savor each word—again. As a grandparent, I try to figure out what the fascination could be in this (ninety-ninth) reading. Is it the congruence of the pictures with the words? Is it the novel vocabulary that now sounds comfortable and familiar? Or is it that the old man in the story reminds them of Grandpa and they want to experience him over and over? Probably, most often, it’s a way to recreate the comfort and love of the last ten readings.

If I had been braver in the face of tantrums and tempers and if I had respected time and repetition more, I would have been a better parent. But I must have done something right, because my children are raising great kids—even without my interference!

Sincerely,

Zibby

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