Here’s the status of Church Culture today:
Once upon a time, there was a doting grandmother who sincerely loved her toddler grandson. She never missed an opportunity to give him sweets and treats. And, for the most part, this was a perfectly good way for a loving grandmother (like her) to show how much she adored the mischievous 2-year-old.
The only problem was, sometimes Junior was naughty. And when Junior wanted to throw toys or pull the dog’s tail or get down out of the grocery cart and run screaming through the store, Junior’s mommy had to tell him NO.
Perhaps you still don’t see the problem, and so I will continue…
Telling Junior “no” almost always made Junior cry. Yet, Granny’s heart could not stand the sound of that little boy’s pitiful wailing. And therefore, she saved her best, sweetest, and most tempting treats for when it was time to calm Junior down.
Over and over, the scene went like this:
Mommy: “You have to stay in your highchair while you finish your lunch.”
Junior: “I wan git down!”
Mommy: “No, you must eat your vegetables.”
Junior: “NOOOOOO! WAAAAAAAAH!”
Granny: (*intervening) “Here, sweet boy. Do you want a cookie?”
And Junior would take the treat, pacified for a few minutes. (Until the cookie was gone and he would fight to get down again.)
Mommy spent several months trying to figure out how to approach the subject with Granny. She wanted the family to spend as much time together as possible. But, the more time they spent as a group, the more Granny relished the “good cop” role instead of helping Mommy enforce the rules.
Then, one day, Granny went a step even further: she actually undermined and overruled what Mommy had said.
Junior had asked for a cookie, and Mommy said, “No–you’ve had three. So you may not have any more.” As expected, Junior threw a colossal fit. And Granny took him by the hand, leading him toward the back bedroom, presumably to distract him with a toy car or a book or some other reward for his awful behavior.
But it was worse than that, because not five minutes later, Junior toddled past his mother with a cookie in his pudgy hand.
What’s a good Christian to do, readers?
Mommy doesn’t want to hurt Granny’s feelings. But it’s certainly obvious why a dynamic like this can’t go on…
Eventually, Junior figures out that Mommy and Granny don’t treat him the same way, and he likes Granny a whole lot more!
Unfortunately, the foolish grandmother thinks that means she’s doing things correctly.
“Look how good he always behaves for me!” she proclaims triumphantly, sticking a lollipop in Junior’s mouth so he’ll stop screeching “WANT NOW! WANT NOW!” In the ensuing calm, the child and woman smile affectionately at each other, both satisfied with their relationship.
If Mommy tries to reason with Granny, she’ll get a whole host of responses:
“Oh, he’s just so little; he doesn’t understand.”
“Oh, life is hard when you’re a toddler; he needs to know his grandma loves him.”
“Oh, it’s my job to spoil him!”
It does Mommy very little good to point out the flaws in each of these arguments.
At root, Granny does not mean these statements logically; she merely feels them emotionally. And so the family spends several tense years, trying to figure out how to raise little Junior, with their very different Good Cop/Bad Cop parenting styles to balance.
By the time Junior is in highschool, a civil war is ready to break out. Mommy is desperate for some unity among the adults, now that Junior is clearly out-of-control.
But telling Granny “no” is even more difficult than telling Junior, because Granny has some authority and doesn’t appreciate being “treated like a child.”
“He’s staying out late, skipping school, and he has no respect for adults!” Mommy (and Daddy) exclaim. It should be obvious to everyone that there’s a problem here.
But Granny is hurt and embarassed at being confronted. And–tragically–she shouts something in her whirlwind of emotion that no one was expecting:
“He acts that way because his own parents don’t love him!” Grandma accuses. The parents are dumbfounded as Grandma continues:
“Junior feels safe with me, and so I can get him to talk in a way that you can’t. He says he doesn’t feel like you love him, and I think he has a point. Instead of attacking me and making me feel like a Bad Grandma, maybe you could show some humility and learn from my techniques, which seem to be working better than yours! I’m not saying I’m perfect, but Junior and I have a loving understanding. And that’s why he’s still talking to me. It simply breaks my heart that you guys are too stubborn and arrogant to love him, too.”
For further explanation of this parable, please check out the series When Parenting is TOO Hard: