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GRANDPARENTS, KNOW THY PLACE INDULGE THE GRANDKIDS, BUT DON'T INTERFERE

Grandparents, listen up.
You are older, you are wiser, you have experience.
But when it comes to disciplining the little darlings, remember this: You are grand, not parent.

It's parents who are squarely in charge.

And parents: When grandparents interfere, speak up!

It's the only way to keep the home fires cozy and not burning out of control.

Take the oh-so-common cookie battle. Mom wants to restrict sweets and Grandma wants to hand out Oreos.

Parents have to decide ahead of time how much leeway there is for special treats and let their parents know. And they also have to set boundaries on what they firmly forbid.

In one family, a daughter told her mother that she understood that two cookies wouldn't "kill" her son.

"But I don't want him to have chocolate before going to bed, so why is it so important to you that he does?" she asked her mother.

Good question. And that's exactly the kind of dialogue that experts advise.

Parents may let the cookie issue slide, but they'll put their foot down when Grandma smokes in the car when the children are along. Or Grandpa wants to let his young grandson steer the riding lawn mower.

Molly Clauss, mother of three and a pre-primary teacher at Elmwood Franklin School, said she feels lucky because all six adults involved with her children are "on the same page morally and ethically."

"When there are small differences of opinion, like how far to indulge or how strict to be, I tend to step back and take it in for a day," she said. "I defer to their wisdom, because they've had so much experience compared to my eight years.

"And I can see the love behind their reactions."

Generational differences are to be expected, said Arthur Kornhaber, president of the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Grandparent Foundation.

He recounts how one mother became frustrated because her Chinese mother-in-law told her young daughter that "it was important to cook well in order to please her husband."

The child resolved the issue by saying that she enjoyed hearing her grandmother's stories. "Besides, I hate to cook," she said. "My husband will have to cook his own food."

With the the number of grandparents in this country expected to reach nearly 90 million in the next few years, families are in for a surprise.

A lot of grandparents say that they've done this before, and "what's the big deal?" said Leslie Linsley, author of the soon-to-be-published "Totally Cool Grandparenting."

But they find out quickly that more has changed than the method of changing a diaper.

In the old days, an occasional smack on the behind was acceptable. Today's parents prefer "time out."

Where once it was OK to raise your voice, now parents engage in dialogue.

And "Because I said so" was common, but now the child gets options.

This divergence is confusing to both generations, but Kornhaber offers advice to grandparents: "Remember, you don't have to be the police force."

Amen, says Carol Woodard, grandmother to two and Buffalo State College professor emeritus in early childhood studies.

"Children don't need two sets of voices to raise them," said Mrs. Woodard, who has a weekly ritual of visiting with Jordan, 10, and Mackenzie, 5.

So what's a parent to do when his way diverges from his parents'?

"Parents have the last rule. Period," said Mrs. Woodard.

Creative compromise can smooth over any rough patches.

In the Clauss household, the children are given traditional toys that include blocks, small figures, Legos and books.

"Sometimes their grandparents like to indulge them with lots of different kinds of toys, so what we've done is allowed them to keep those toys at the grandparent's house," said Mrs. Clauss.

If parents have strong opinions on suitable gifts, they should tell their parents so there aren't any surprises, experts say. It might be helpful for them to make a list of toys and games that promote the values they want to encourage.

And grandparents can do the same when it comes to something they feel strongly about.

When one local grandmother was visiting out-of-town grandchildren, two of her young granddaughters pushed her limits by playing under the table in a restaurant.

"Now I refuse to eat out with them," she said.

Another thing she has done is to establish rules for her house.

"My grandchildren all know that there's one way to behave in my house," she said. "I don't step on their toes, but I am firm."

The experts applaud that strategy.

After all, there are some things that can't be tolerated, whether it's misbehaving at the dinner table or eating in front of the TV.

"With my own grandsons, my wife will remind them to sit up straight and to put their napkins in their laps at the dinner table," said Kornhaber.

Leslie Linsley said it may be helpful for the older generation to remember that it's harder to be a parent today, and that adult children need support and encouragement.

"You certainly have to be more aware of safety when you take a child to a mall or a playground," she said. "And you have to have the politically correct car seat and make sure the child is in the back seat."

What about all the pent-up knowledge that grandparents want to share?

If parents ask, and they are likely to in the beginning, it's fine to offer opinions, the experts say. Otherwise, tread gingerly. And that includes clipping and sending newspaper and magazine articles to bolster your point of view.

What it comes down to is that parents and their adult children probably will always have somewhat different perspectives on how to raise children.

"We all subscribe to the idea, 'When in Rome do as the Romans do,' " Mrs. Clauss said.

"There can be rules for each house," she says. "What's permitted at one may not be in the other. That's the way life is, and it's not a bad lesson to learn."

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