I’ve always had a good relationship with my 7-year-old grandson. Along with his other grandparents, I’ve played an integral role in his life from the day he was born. But I’ve noted a definite shift in our relationship this past summer. He’s entered what I call the “You’re not the boss of me” stage. Whereas he once used to be compliant when it came to suggestions and direction, he will now sometimes put up resistance and even the occasional outright challenge. So a spur-of-the moment change of plans might now be met with—“I don’t like your ideas, Nonna.” Or reminding him to get dressed in the morning might prompt the complaint, “You’re bossy.” And announcing bedtime might result in the classic, “You’re not my mommy!”
This isn’t at all unexpected; after all, this isn’t my first rodeo, so I certainly don’t take it to heart. But my approach in dealing with this stage is very different with my grandson than it was with his father (my son). As a parent, I took a much harder line—“As a matter of fact, I AM the boss of you and you’ll do as I say.” I soon discovered, however, that that approach didn’t always work well when it came to a willful child. I was often met with responses from my son ranging from, “Well, I want a different mommy” to “I’m going to trade you in for a new mommy,”, or even the ultimate heart-breaker—“I wish I had so-and-so’s mommy.”
As a grandparent, I am much more open to reasoning with my grandson as I have the luxury of having the patience and the energy reserves to do so. As a parent, I had too much on the go to sit down and explain myself to a 7-year-old—there were lunches to make, laundry to do, homework to check, baths to supervise, and a host of other chores that all had to be done before I was able to sit down for a few minutes of peace at the end of an evening. As a grandparent, I am well-rested and prepared to devote all of my energy to my grandson each time I see him.
I must admit though that my first attempt to talk with my grandson about expectations and boundaries fell flat—“If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t be bossy.” This explanation only elicited a blank stare from him at first, followed swiftly by narrowed eyes as he contemplated whether I was trying to pull a fast one on him or not. I quickly realized it was the double-negative that threw him, so I tried to put it in simpler terms—“I’m ‘bossy’ because I care about you. I care if you’re dressed warmly enough. I care if you’re clean. I care if you get to practice on time.” I could see the little wheels in his head turning for an appropriate response to such logic, but ultimately he couldn’t come up with one, so he simply shrugged his shoulders with a rather dramatic, exasperated sigh and then wandered off.
Well, I’ve won this round…for now. But I know as he enters the dreaded pre-teen years, there will be more challenges ahead and eliciting his cooperation will be key. I don’t want his obedience, however, to be based on fear of punishment but rather on respect. And one way to foster such respect is to help him understand that we all have expectations placed upon us, at any stage in life. After all, I have to show up for work Monday through Friday and I am accountable to a boss. That’s just a simple fact of life.
Helping our children and grandchildren understand this is crucial. I remember a comment my mother used to make all the time during my childhood—“I’m here to tell you that the world does not revolve around insert full name (including all middle names).” How true. Setting clear expectations and boundaries with our children and grandchildren is the best way to teach them about accountability. Holding them to those is another matter as this may feel like a tall order when treading water most days as parents, but investing the time when children are young will ultimately pay off.
So the next time your child or grandchild informs you that “You’re not the boss of me,” take a deep breath and tell them you set expectations and boundaries because you love them. And hopefully, you won’t receive the retort my son once gave me—“Well then…don’t love me so much!”