Let me begin by stating that I absolutely adore my husband’s parents. They are wonderful people and this is by no means a commentary on their character or my love for them.
These people who I and my son and my husband so love have a bouncy castle in their basement — a full-size bouncy castle complete with towering yellow turrets and red walls and oodles of balls covering the squishy, bouncy floor. I went in there once to get my son out and ended up staying for twenty minutes. (In case you’re wondering, you’re never too old to play in a bouncy castle.)
My in-laws also feed my son cupcakes and chicken nuggets and cotton candy and probably hotdogs made out of chicken tails and gerbil feet.
There are no less than three swingsets and jungle gym climbers in their backyard, along with pedal cars, tricycles, bicycles, and scooters. And the inside of their home looks as if they bought out the toy departments of four Costcos and a Walmart.
I’m thrilled that they love him that much. I’m ecstatic that he loves it so. But how the heck are we supposed to compete with that kind of kid heaven?
I know. I know. Grandparents are supposed to spoil their grandchildren. It’s the way of the universe. But what happens when it’s so over the top that you start to wonder if you should just pack up and move to Disney World because that is the only place that could possibly compete with Grandma and Grandpa’s house?
A moderate complex. That’s what.
So here’s what I’m telling myself to maintain my sense of worth as a parent.
I’m the teacher
It is mine and my husband’s job to teach our son. It’s not that we’re raising him on crusts of bread and giving him nothing but sticks and a bit of yarn to play with. But we have limits. For one thing, our house is roughly the size of an airplane bathroom, so there’s that.
And my husband and I have purposefully taught him the value of imagination. He doesn’t need oodles of toys to have a good time. I’ve found him playing with plates and pretending they’re pancakes and more than once caught him pretending to sail a truck-boat fashioned from a cardboard box across the living room.
I’m the constant
Kids need consistency. So, he goes off to Grandma and Grandpa’s Casa de Kid Fantasy once a week but comes home to routine and structure. He eats his veggies. (Most of the time.) He takes baths. He goes to bed on time.
There’s nothing wrong with indulgence so long as indulgence itself doesn’t become the status quo.
I’m still fun
I’ve talked to many parents who feel like they need to be their kids’ friend instead of their parent. You can be both. I love to play silly games with my son, but when it’s time for discipline, I deal it out. By no means am I claiming to be perfect, and it takes time and energy to get the balance right. I definitely have days when I’m much more disciplinarian than playmate, but he knows that silly Mommy is still in there, loving him and waiting for him to do what’s right.
After the bouncy castle, he comes home
I appreciate time with my son so much more after a break. I know there are parents out there who don’t have grandparents or family or even good friends nearby with whom to entrust their children for a few precious hours each week. And I certainly feel fortunate that my son’s grandparents live so close.
After the great big fun at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, though, he always comes home. And home is always there waiting for him — even if there’s no bouncy castle in the basement.