Good Enough Grandma

My daughter recently shared an article on parenting called, “The Gift of the Good Enough Mother.” ( The theory isn’t new—decades ago an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst developed the notion of the best mother as being a real one who helps the child grow to independence. While the mother tends to the newborn’s every needs as much as possible, over time she gradually reduces her level of responsiveness, and even makes mistakes now and then. The child learns to adapt to a world where her every whim isn’t answered, where she has to share, where she has to wait for mom or dad’s attention. This teaches her how to cope with an imperfect world.

I love this concept because it takes some pressure off parents. Of course, you can’t slack when it comes to safety. It’s not okay to say that getting the kid into the car, but without a child restraint, was just being a “good enough parent.” And if you never pay attention to your child, and never listen to what he wants, he may grow up distrusting people. But there’s a lot of wiggle room between striving for perfection and neglecting your child. Your house doesn’t have to be spotless, you don’t need to host elaborate dinners, and you don’t need to volunteer for every school committee. You just need to figure out what works for you, your family, and your child.

In fact I like this idea so much that I think it should be extended to “Good Enough Grandparent.” I’ve come up with some examples.

A “Good Enough Grandma:”

Does a lot of babysitting, in part because she wants to help her own children, but mostly because she wants to be close to her grandchildren.

Helps out financially when she can, but enjoys seeing her children being careful about money.

Doesn’t bake cookies, for the simple reason that she can’t eat them and doesn’t want the temptation. She knows she’ll lose points for this when the grandchildren realize that grandmothers are supposed to make them treats.

Begs the parents for a set of rules (naptime, bottle, feeding, schedules, anything), and then texts the parents repeatedly for clarification.

Agrees to a babysitting schedule that works for her, and rearranges her other activities only for babysitting emergencies.

Learns and re-learns lullabies and toddler songs, but doesn’t worry about her off-key renditions.

Wriggles around the “no food in the living room” regulation. Who says the kids can’t eat right at the border between the dining room and living room, on a towel spread out to mimic a picnic?

Neglects to have the kids use the potty as often as she should, then shrugs her shoulders as she tells Mom that the toddler had a little accident that day.

Sometimes forgets to implement the behavioral techniques Mom and Dad use. So instead of asking a shrieking kid if he’s upset, telling him to take a few breaths to calm down, and asking if he want a hug, Grandma says, “Don’t yell at me, you’re hurting my ears.”

Says “no” to finger painting when Mom or Dad will be home soon, because she doesn’t feel like cleaning up a huge mess when she’s about to go off duty.

Says “yes” to blowing bubbles even though she knows she and the kids will be completely covered with slimy, liquid soap and there isn’t enough time for a bath before dinner.

Doesn’t learn to knit just to prove she’s a caring grandmother. This is similar to the cookie issue above. While there’s no health reason to prevent her from knitting, the talent and patience needed are beyond her abilities.

Doesn’t let sneezing, coughing kids share drinks and food with her. This probably has no effect on transmission of viruses, because she’s getting super-exposed from wiping their noses and breathing the air they just coughed into. But it makes her feel better.

When you think of it, being a “Good Enough Grandma” is beneficial for the grandchildren’s parents. While they know you made mistakes in parenting them (and only their therapists understand the magnitude of damage), they probably don’t realize how you screwed up in their toddler years. Now they can see it first-hand, and can rest assured that their parenting abilities are so much better.

The New Art of Diapering

Remember when diapers were just diapers? When my daughters were babies, in the late 70s to early 80s, there were cloth diapers (most people bought the more expensive “prefolds”), and two brands of disposable diapers—Pampers and Huggies. We primarily used cloth diapers. We used disposable diapers occasionally when traveling, and they always leaked. My husband and I had done some babysitting for our nieces and nephew, and I’d babysat a little as a teenager. So we knew how to fasten cloth diapers, preferably without causing lasting injury from a diaper pin.

On top of the cloth diapers we put plastic covers that did a lovely job keeping the wet and mess contained rather than spilling onto our laps, the furniture, or the carpets. What we didn’t know beforehand was that our babies would have sensitive skin and frequent diaper rashes. When they had flare-ups, we had to leave off the plastic cover. This required either changing diapers several times an hour, or wallowing in the mess that otherwise resulted. So we changed and we changed and we changed.

Fast forward to today, when a diaper is not just a diaper. Now we have a System. There are one-size diapers that, contrary to their name, adjust to your baby’s size as she grows from birth to potty training. They can fasten with either Velcro or snaps. There are all-in-one, pocket, and hybrid systems. Materials can include cotton, hemp, cotton fleece, cotton terry or bamboo. The challenge is that each system has different components that are assembled differently. My daughters seemed to like the pocket variety.

One day when my husband and I were sitting, and the baby was taking a nice long nap, we noticed a pile of clean diapers in a basket on the dining room table. Thinking we could be Helpful Grandparents, we emptied the basket and began the task of choosing which pad goes into which diaper and how. No problem, I thought, I’d watched my daughter do this a dozen times. I’d even “helped” a little by stuffing when she said to stuff.

But left on our own, we were quickly overwhelmed. Was that pad with a snap supposed to be snapped before inserting? Does the resulting fold go toward baby’s butt or away? What were these little fabric squares for? And there were clearly more insert pads than diapers. Were some supposed to have two? We struggled through a dozen diapers. When our daughter came home from work, she thanked us for our efforts. But after this, she laid all the items out in a row, with inserts next to the right diapers. Seeing how we were supposed to fold and stuff, I doubt we got any of the diapers correctly assembled.

Then, there are the tricks for applying the System to the target, that is, the baby. Luckily, the old tricks of distracting a baby and toddler so you can diaper them still work. Things like singing baby songs and handing them a book or toy to distract them. (Grandparents – never give a child your smartphone when you diaper. First of all, the parents may frown upon or forbid such access. But even more critical, you’ll never be able to diaper again without that smartphone drug.) But think of it from the baby’s perspective. When a grandparent is diapering, the babe is not looking up at his beautiful mom or handsome dad. From his viewpoint, he sees chicken necks, sagging jowls, and a scowl as grandma struggles to understand The System.

The System has to go on the baby in a certain way in order to reduce the chance of leakage. Even with much study, reinforcement, re-learning, and hands-on training, I got leakage. It didn’t really faze me so much—all the modern diapers leak so much less than the ones I used on my babies. But I didn’t want to disappoint the mom. If she comes home from work, she wants to sweep the babe into her arms, and it would be nice if that hug didn’t come with urine soaking onto her good work clothes. Plus modern parents who can afford The System are used to diapers working so well that they usually don’t have to wash ten baby outfits a day and a few of their own. They’re spoiled with perfection.

Now the burning question is – when it’s time for grandma or grandpa to wear diapers, will there be a System?