Our grandchildren are wild. Is it time to employ old-school discipline?

DAVID EDDIE writes this article that I think many grand-parent thinks about.

The question

The parents (now separated) of our grandchildren have been liberal and loving with their two children, aged 4 and 9. But I would say that the discipline part of love has not been employed consistently or with enough follow-through, even before the separation. The children do not understand boundaries and often display unfortunate behaviour: poor manners, screaming and defiance. This then resorts to either more shouting from the father or giving in by the mother. How do we, as parents and grandparents, discipline the children at this stage and undo the past, when they do not have a pattern of past discipline? I see the future teenage years as big trouble for everyone.

The answer

Let me begin by saying I’ve been around long enough that my kids are teenagers now, and it’s interesting (to me, anyway) that they all, on lengthy reflection, have come to express gratitude about things they used to bridle against and squawk about when they were younger.

For example, I used to harp on them about looking both ways before crossing the street. I was pretty intense on this topic, maybe even a bit of an unhinged, Full Metal Jacket-esque drill sergeant about it.

I watched them like a hawk every time they stepped off the curb, and every time they failed to look both ways, gave them a dressing-down.

I got a lot of push-back. “Dad, why are you such a freak about this?” “Dad, will you relax?” etc.

(Not to mention push-back from my wife, who seconded the motion I “relax.”)

I didn’t care: “I know I make you guys nuts with this, but that doesn’t matter to me. See, what matters to me is your safety. All it takes is one time you forget – and boom, you’re dead. That’s why it’s so serious to me. I refuse to lose any of you like that. It’s just not going to happen.”

More squawking, objection, eye-rolling, etc. But then, as I write this, I got a birthday card from my youngest that said, in part: “I wanted to say thank you for always keeping me safe, even when I didn’t want you to. I never saw how much you cared about me in the moments when you told me ‘look both ways’ or ‘flatten.’”

(Forgot about that last one: I would bark “Flatten,” as in against the garage, when we played hockey in the alley and a car came. They didn’t like my tone on those occasions, either.)

Vindication! The operative words in that card were “cared about me.” I cared more about him, and them, than I cared what they thought of me, or even – and this was tough – how they might remember me. As in “My father was a hard, stern man. ‘Flatten!’ he would bark at us during ball-hockey games, and if we didn’t snap to it, by God, there’d be hell to pay. He was obsessed with traffic,” etc.

My point? I think that’s where most of my generation has gone wrong: We’re too soft on the kids. Wanting to be their “pals” too much. From what I’ve read about the new book The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups, by Dr. Leonard Sax, I couldn’t agree more. We’re doing our children a terrible disservice, turning them into tantrum-tossing Caligulas of entitlement and egotism – ironically by being too nice to them.

And I feel like it must be tough for grandparents of your generation just to sit by and observe.

It’s a ticklish transaction. Say anything to either of the parents, and you risk pushing the Bad Dad or Bad Mom button, resulting in a mushroom cloud of friction and bad feelings.

You could even be denied access to the little monsters – oops, I mean, darlings – if it got too out of hand, and you know you don’t want that. That’s no good for anyone.

What I’d do in your shoes, honestly? Babysit. As much as you can. And when you do: Lead by example. Get old-school on their derrieres.

My parents and in-laws bite their lips when it comes to our parenting – and there’s plenty they could say – but when my kids come back from their houses, they file out of the kitchen with side-parted hair, clothes neat, seen not heard, more respectful and polite than when they left.

And I’m grateful. Be a grandpa and grandma of action, not words, I’m saying, and maybe in the long run – the run that counts – not only your grandchildren, but their parents, will come to be grateful for the ways you cared enough to be strict with them.