Actors: Dad; Grandma; five-year-old Cliff, Grandpa (cameo appearance)
Scene: Grandma’s living room
Time: Sunday afternoon
A grandparent who protects her grandchild from his parent’s proper discipline not only undercuts the parent’s discipline but also hurts the child she means to help.
Dad: Cliff, what did Grandma tell you? She said to quit climbing on the back of her couch. Now get down.
Grandma: He’s OK. He’s just being a little boy. You were a lot more rambunctious when you were his age.
Dr. Ray: Which is it? Does Grandma want Cliff off the couch as she asked? Or is he allowed to climb because Dad was once a little Cliff? Yes, Cliff may be “just a little boy,” but if being a little boy entails being disobedient, then it needs to be curtailed. Most childish misconduct, in fact, could fall under the umbrella of “just being a kid.”
In short, Dad’s level of childhood rambunctiousness is completely irrelevant to whether or not Cliff should be disciplined.
Grandma: He won’t do it again, will you, Cliff?
Dad: Mom, he’s already done it five times while we were sitting here. And you told him every time to get down. He needs to listen.
Grandma: I know, and he will. He’s just full of energy.
Dr. Ray: As Bill Cosby has said, “These are not the same people who raised us. These are older people now trying to get into heaven.”
It seems that even though Grandma wants Cliff to quit foot-mauling her furniture, she doesn’t want anyone to go so far as to do something about it. She’s waiting for Cliff to cooperate because she has asked nicely. Yes, he is full of energy, but it’s energy directed at ignoring her.
Dad: Mom, if you want him to stay off the back of the couch, I’ll make it happen.
Grandma: Cliff, did you hear your dad? He wants you to stay off the back of the couch.
Dr. Ray: In the dialogue of good cop-bad cop, Grandma just can’t bring herself to play the heavy. While Dad and Grandma continue to debate the likelihood of Cliff’s cooperating, he takes advantage of the distraction, hoisting himself up for another leap.
Dad: That’s it. Cliff, you go sit on Grandma’s red chair. And don’t get up until I tell you.
Grandma: Awww. He wasn’t being bad. He’s just having fun.
Dad: Mom, he disobeyed you and me, more than once.
Grandma: He just got carried away a little, didn’t you, Cliff? Come over here and sit on Grandma’s lap.
Dad: Mom, he needs to learn we mean what we say. I told him to sit. Now, Cliff, get on the chair.
Grandma: OK, I’ll sit over there with you, Cliff. We’ll sit together, OK?
Dr. Ray: When a relative wishes to nullify a parent’s discipline, she often directs her comments toward the child. Grandma likely thinks Dad is being “too strict.” In fact, just the opposite is true, as Cliff was warned five times about being a couch diver. Hardly a premature jump toward discipline on Dad’s part.
Dad: Cliff, I said you need to sit by yourself for not listening to me or Grandma.
Cliff: I’m sorry, Grandma. I won’t do it again.
Dr. Ray: This child is a quick study. He senses he has a much better chance of dodging the chair if he keeps the conversation between him and Grandma, leaving Dad to talk to himself. Cliff realizes, at least for the moment, where to throw his allegiance. Grandma is obviously on his side, so he’ll solidify the partnership a little more.
“I’m sorry” is good, but it doesn’t free one from the result of one’s conduct. Try telling an employer, “I’m sorry,” after showing up late five days in a row. See if he or she says, “Oh, that’s OK. You’re just being an employee.”
Cliff is now safely ensconced in Grandma’s arms, looking at Dad as if to say, “I’m sitting, OK?”
Grandma: See, he just needed a little time to settle down. He’ll listen next time, won’t you Cliff?
Dad: Mom, he needs to listen to me this time.
Dr. Ray: Grandma, whether meaning to or not, has effectively thrown Dad under the bus or, if you will, under the couch. She’s sent the message to Cliff that as long as she’s around, he has an ally, and that it’s acceptable to question Dad.
Grandpa (walking in): Well, isn’t this nice? Cliff is sitting on Grandma’s lap. You really love your Grandma, don’t you, Buddy?
In fairness to grandparents everywhere, I hear just as often from the older generation that they wish their kids would better discipline their grandkids. They’d like to enjoy some laid-back grand-parenting, but they feel they can’t, as that would just exacerbate the lax parenting.
Dad has two basic options. Option one: He can pry Cliff from Grandma’s arms and enforce his discipline. Probably, though, that would create a scene nobody wants. And what about the next visit, and the one after that?
Option two: Dad might say something like, “Mom, he needs to learn to listen to me and to you too. If you don’t let me discipline him here, I’ll have to do it at home. And he’ll be in even bigger trouble. So you’ll just make it worse for Cliff by covering for him.”
Dad could also tell Cliff prior to each visit to Grandma’s house, “Cliff, if I tell you to do something at Grandma’s, you’d better listen. If you don’t, when we get home, you’ll go straight to the corner.”
Cliff has shown himself to be a fast learner. It shouldn’t take too many visits before he realizes that, no matter how much Grandma buffers him from Dad at her place, he does have to go home. And Grandma won’t be there to protect him. Unless she follows him home. Which I’m not sure I’d put it past her.
Winning the Discipline Debates Pages 9-12
Copyright © 2013, Dr. Ray Guarendi