As a grandparent, your values matter more than you know

As a grandparent, do you have any say in how your grandchildren are expected to behave and the way in which they are made to conform? I ask because when I’m faced with the task of correcting my youngest kids’ behaviour I find myself asking, “What would Marian have done?”

Marian, my mother-in-law, died 10 years ago so she was still around when I had my first two children, but she didn’t get to see the youngest two arrive.

When I first became a parent in the 90s I used to think that Marian’s advice was dated and old fashioned, after all she was telling me how things were done in the 60s when my husband was born.

My husband described her parenting skills as firm to strict but always scrupulously fair. He and his brother weren’t allowed to get away with anything, but she parented both brothers with the same firm approach.

Marian would be out of favour with parenting experts today. She smacked them if they were naughty. Not for minor infringements, but certainly for being cheeky or disrespectful, or if they broke a safety rule.

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As a new mum I thought her ways were harsh. My husband is such a well-mannered, articulate, gentleman I couldn’t understand why she smacked him. Why didn’t she sit down and discuss his misdemeanours with him? At dinner times, Marian didn’t allow any messing about. There would be one meal served. Freshly cooked meat and veg was brought to the table and there would be no substitutes served to the boys if they didn’t like the fare that was on offer. If you didn’t eat your veg (which were not disguised in any way) there would be no pudding or treats that day. If my husband or his brother chose not to eat their meal, there would be no attempt to cater for them. They could choose not to eat, but there would be no food offered until the next mealtime and the dog would profit from their loss.

Marian gave praise as if it were a rare commodity, harder to come by than hummingbird tears. If her boys didn’t come home with ‘A’s they knew not to expect any fanfares. A ‘B’ was greeted with a faint smile and her truth, “If you try a bit harder you could do better”.

When the boys played sport they were expected to do well, it didn’t matter if they lacked any natural talent in the sport they were playing, the basic level of involvement acceptable to her, was that they should try, try hard and even though they may have little ability, the least they could do was be enthusiastic, play by the rules and accept defeat with dignity.

When our first son was born (he’s now 25, one of four), I held my new baby in my arms and thought Marian was wrong. I looked at her parenting methods and judged her. I thought she was too strict, harsh even. She could have been kinder about her sons’ achievements at school. Did it really matter if they ate their vegetables (most kids seem to grow up in spite of hating veggies) and isn’t ‘B’ a grade to be proud of?

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I was reluctant to take her advice. I felt it was old fashioned and had been superseded by a new softer approach to mothering, a more nurturing, loving way of raising kids.

With the wisdom of 25 years as a parent and having 4 children I now think about her often, and my thoughts about her way of bringing up children have completely reversed. She is the reason my husband and his brother are lovely, successful, reasonable men who are great husbands and brilliant fathers. Marian cared enough about her boys not to court popularity with them. She loved them enough to instilled values in them, values that are unshakable, and attractive to other people. She taught them the need for education, manners and sportsmanship and she did it by being their mother not their mate.

Now every time I have a parenting decision to make I raise my eyes to the heavens and think, “What would Marian do?” The truth is that you will have more of an influence in the way your grandchildren are raised and disciplined than you ever dreamed.


Do you feel as if you’re experience as a parent is valued now you’re a grandparent? Should there be a return to old-fashioned parenting and firmer discipline?