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.

Grandma Nests

You’re going to be a grandmother! You could have received the news in one of many ways. Maybe an adoption finally came through. Perhaps your son emailed an ultrasound image (good luck finding the fetus). Your child might tell you the old fashioned way: “Mom, I’m pregnant.” Or, your daughter could marry someone who has children. However it happens, your life is about to change.

I was elated at my daughters’ pregnancy announcements. A new person would be in my life. Growing up as an only child, with no dad, grandparents, or first cousins, I longed for a larger family. I’d thought I could make up for my early lean family by having a slew of my own kids. But for various reasons, my husband and I stopped at two children. Now, with each new grandchild, my tribe expands.

Seeing my daughters become mothers filled me with joy and pride, mixed with the hope that all would go well. I’d loved caring for children, and was happy to see my girls choose to have their own children.

Mothers build nests, from finding a mate to picking the perfect paint color for baby’s new room (as if the baby will actually sleep in that room rather than beside mom and dad’s bed, or in someone’s walking arms, or in a sling). Two days before I delivered my first daughter, my kitchen cupboards begged me to empty, clean, and tidy them and all their contents. I’m not the cupboard-cleaning type—I believe that closets, drawers, and cupboards close in order to hide the disasters within. My cabinet cleaning was misplaced nesting, as if the baby were going to sleep there.

I was surprised when I began to grandma-nest. I don’t know if this behavior has been observed in other species. I just know that I loved helping my daughters prepare for their little ones. Once the mom developed her baby wish list, I made liberal use of my Amazon 1-click (such a powerful feeling), and the brown delivery boxes piled up. All three grandchildren have arrived in the world replete with onesies, diapers, toys, and everything else they could possibly need. I even made baby bottom wipes from old flannel sheets (sewing the equivalent of toilet paper is a labor of love).

What I failed to plan for was the one thing women usually think of first for any event: what to wear. This is not a trivial matter. One hour with a newborn can ruin a business suit. Those favorite jeans, the ones that don’t make you look fat, will probably be too stiff for getting up and down from the floor several times in a fifteen minute period. Grandmas need grandma clothes. Some requirements:

Washable: In the space of a few babysitting hours, you’ll be peed on, spit up on, and maybe pooped on. And that’s on one of the good days. One grandson has drenched me in vomit several times. It’s good to have a full change of clothes with you, either in your car or in the baby’s house.

Comfortable: By this I don’t mean the kind of psychological comfort you feel when an outfit drapes just the right way to hide your flaws. I mean clothes that bend with you as you stoop and pick up babies, kids, and toys. I mean pants that allow you to kneel on food-covered floors, grass, dirt, and sand, and shirts that don’t bind as you desperately hold onto your two-year-old grandson’s tricycle as it’s about to careen down a hill.

Forgiving of stains: If you love your summer pastels, you might need to rethink your fashion choice. Or, you could embrace the artistic look of white pants smeared with jam handprints, marker stains, and the aforementioned poop.

Temperature adjustable: If you’re postmenopausal, you may experience the occasional hot flash. Or, if you’re like me, you have three temperature settings: hot, boiling hot, and freezing. Holding hot babies can set up and prolong a hot flash. I’ve found that layering with sweat-wicking clothes helps.

So, my Grandma outfit is pretty much the same as my work-out ensemble:

Sleeveless athletic shirt (sweat dries quickly)

Quarter-zip light athletic long-sleeve shirt (a small hot flash can be averted just with opening the zipper, and babies love to practice pulling the zipper up and down)

Hooded fleece cardigan jacket (great for wet, cold days)

Black yoga pants with pockets for tissues, snacks, little toys, baby socks, and your smart phone to text Mom and Dad things like: Is it really okay if your four year old granddaughter has five teaspoons of honey?

Walking shoes, preferably waterproof (toddlers aim toward puddles like magnetic attraction—nice to keep your own feet dry even if you can’t protect theirs)

Finally, grandma nesting includes setting up your own home for visiting grandkids, with things like childproofing, plastic dishes free of nasty chemicals, booster seats, and port-a-cribs. On one visit, my granddaughter pointed out the most critical thing for a grandma nest: “Grandma, you need more toys here.” Back to Amazon 1-click.