When I was a child I was forced to abide by my parents' strict rules about, well, everything. From TV and desserts to bedtimes and curfews, I was firmly under their thumb. But now that I'm a mom I have a front-row seat to the softening of my strict parents, courtesy of my children. My formerly by-the-book mom and dad are now laid-back, "Why don't you allow your son more screen time?" grandparents, and teenage me is still in shock.
This subtle-yet-undeniable transformation was made obvious when my mother recently asked me why my son isn't granted the option to watch more television. I was instantly transported back to the fifth grade, when my 10-year-old classmates loved watching Home Improvement. I had no idea what that show was. I thought it was like This Old House, the fixer-upper, how-to show my DIY dad sometimes watched on our local PBS station. Why? Because I was only allowed 30 minutes of TV a night, and only if I had finished my homework and other responsibilities, like practicing my french horn.
In other words, most nights I didn't watch TV, either because I didn't finish in time or because by the time I was done there was nothing good (and parent-approved) on television that I could watch before my embarrassingly early bedtime. (And, of course, we only had network TV, not cable.)
As a result, throughout grade school, junior high, and high school, I was left in the dark. I tried to keep up, but I was clueless... with a lower-case "c." (I did finally watch Clueless when it came out on VHS, though.)
There were other rules I hated, too. Bedtime was too early and too strictly enforced. The limits on candy and desserts were unreasonably stringent. Curfew was, duh, too early, and I thought I should get to drive the car more frequently. Family dinners were mandatory, as were family vacations, and the punishments for failing to adhere to the rules (like docking my weekly allowance and banishing me to my room) seemed too harsh. At times I was convinced my parents invented rules so I would have something to complain to my brother about; something to bond us; something that made it easier for us to get along while we "fought the power."
That's not to say I couldn't confide in my parents, because I could. I knew they weren't going to flip out if they found out I'd had sex or drank a bit — they were understanding about the "big things." But I also knew that I'd be in big trouble if I wan't home by midnight. Or by 11:55 p.m., just to make sure I was really on time for my midnight curfew. Because if I got in at 12:01 a.m. I was late, and I'd probably be grounded the following weekend.
So how did my parents go from strict enforcers of a far-too-early curfew and only 30 minutes of TV, to arguing that my son should get more screen time?
For one, it turns out that, as a parent, I've realized that some of my parents' rules made sense. I also limit my son's screen time pretty severely. I don't give him unlimited sugar. I've changed from the "let me stay out all night and drive the family care more frequently and stuff my face with candy" teenager I used to be. Go figure.
My parents show their love in a variety of ways, too, so it's not all about indulgence and spoiling.
But my parents have changed, too. And while my teenage self resents it just a little bit, it's actually pretty fun to see my parents enjoying their new roles as grandparents. They no longer have to be responsible for enforcing the rules. They get to relax. They get to lift up their previously puritanical thumbs.
They get to be softies.
So now my son enjoys most of his screen time with Grampa, watching "how-to" vides on YouTube because, yes, my dad is still a big DIYer and some things never change.
And now my son has a giant bag of candy in a specific kitchen cabinet, courtesy of Gramma. Every time they're at the grocery, she lets him get a lollipop. And if she goes without him, she'll sometimes buy him one anyways. She even once mailed him a big bag of lollipops, just because he asked for them.
And while my father often ignored my pleas for dessert after dinner, he now happily serves up a special treat for my son after his evening meal.
My kids adore my parents, and my parents adore my kids. I know my kids would adore my parents without these treats and lax rules, because my parents are fantastic and loving and super involved in our lives. They show their love in a variety of ways, too, so it's not all about indulgence and spoiling. In fact, they're even capable of setting limits and teaching my kids manners (sometimes better than I do).
But they like being able to hand out treats and make exceptions and facilitate surprises. They like doing just about anything that they know will make my sweet kids smile. They're total softies and helpless suckers for my kids, and I, for one, am totally OK with that.
Even jealous teenage me can get behind it.