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Bridging a Family Generation Gap : Pediatrician Offers Advice to a New Age of Grandparents

June 16, 1989|MARY JO KOCHAKIAN | The Hartford Courant

T. Berry Brazelton wishes all young families could have a Bommer nearby.

Bommer, the name of a young boy's grandmother in Brazelton's new book, "Families: Crisis and Caring" (Addison-Wesley, $17.95), personifies an antidote to the troubles dogging many of today's families, the pediatrician says.

Bommer has an almost magical relationship with her young grandson, giving him things his parents never would be able to, enjoying a freedom the parents can only envy.

She's a typical grandmother, Brazelton says.

"I just long for it for young families today--to have that kind of cushion when things go wrong or you're under stress," Brazelton said recently. "To have somebody step in when the mother is sick, or the child is sick, or there are any of the kinds of stress you can run into is such a balance to your life, particularly if you're very busy and working."

Grandparents typically give a child unconditional love. "Grandparents treat children with so little criticism--that's the wonderful thing," he says. And they "show children the mountaintops, while parents must teach the drudgeries of how to get there."

But there is a price to parents. When grandparents are around, "they tell you what to do, or even if they don't tell you what to do, you feel like they're telling you what to do." And the better the grandparents are at handling the children, the worse it is.

Brazelton counsels parents to try to "just shut out that side. I don't think it's easy at all, but that's the job. Because having them around is such a cushion. And, from the child's point of view, having grandparents around is really a plus."

Just as parents are jealous of the grandparents' proficiency, so they are incensed by grandparents' license to indulge children. Back off, Brazelton advises. "It doesn't hurt to be spoiled from time to time."

So important is this relationship between young and old that Brazelton recommends it become a family custom. Among the advice he gives to grandparents in "Families: Crisis and Caring":

-- Ritualize meetings with your grandchildren. "Take them an age-appropriate toy as a present, even if it's not Christmas or a birthday. Take them on an outing . . . then be sure you have time alone with each grandchild when you can talk or just be together."

-- Don't tell the parents what to do, especially in front of the grandchildren. "The biggest danger is that you'll feel so strongly about your grandchildren that you'll feel you need to protect them. Undermining their parents in front of them is never good for children."

-- Offer to baby-sit regularly, at a time when you're needed.

-- Provide the focus and the means for holiday reunions.

-- Offer both generations emotional stability. "That means you have to keep your mouth shut even when it looks as if you could offer a simple solution. Grandparents no longer need to be parents, nor are they teachers. That's the lovely freedom of the role. Just sit and rock in the midst of chaos. Let them come to you."

-- Don't rush up to small children, or they will withdraw. "Looking small babies or children in the face when you first meet them is like an assault, and they will be bound to overreact."

-- Keep involved when away. Suggestions: Send postcards and pictures suited to the grandchild's age; send a copy of a photo of the child's parent at the same age. Have frequent telephone chats. Make regular visits, but keep them short.

-- Stick up for your role as grandparent. "If you can make your role one of approval, of loving delight in the child, and of reliable support for the parents, you will become important to both generations."

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