Oma’s Rules: 5 Parenting Lessons from Grandma

by christiantoto

Grandparents are contractually obligated to spoil their grandchildren. Don’t take my word for it. It’s in the fine print.

But a recent visit from my mother, who prefers “Oma” over “Grandma” or “Grammy,” taught me something about parenting above and beyond the power of a well-timed lollipop. Old-school parenting works, give or take a few miscues. My parents’ generation didn’t insist on bicycle helmets, and I don’t think they strictly enforced those one-hour screen time rules.

Would you like me to recite that “Brady Bunch” episode with guest star Davy Jones as proof?

Still, most of us turned out just fine.

Oma just wrapped a six-day visit with our clan, leaving behind a cleaner house, two very chipper kids and the sense we could learn a thing or two from her. Oma lives in a different city, so we only see her about three times a year. Skype chats bridge the gap, but there’s nothing like the real thing to remind us what matters in parenting.

  1. Not everything your kid does is incredible.
    If there’s one phrase you’ll hear repeatedly around modern parents is “good job!” Lil’ Timmy hung from the monkey bars for all of three seconds? Good job! Mary Sue successfully navigated a slide every other kid at the park managed minutes earlier? Good job! “Enough is enough,” says Oma. “When you go through life nobody says, ‘Good job.’”
  2. The old “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine works.
    Oma is as kind as any grandmother… to a point. She laid down the law to my boys on a few occasions, and they mostly snapped to attention. All that sweetness and light isn’t valued unless children know you mean business. Even grandparents can over-spoil a child.
  3. Singing a little song can sooth the savage child.
    Few children can stay mad while you’re singing them a goofy song. Oma sings about as well as her son, meaning we couldn’t crack the first phase of those early “American Idol” auditions. Still, she’ll break out in song if it means snapping one of my boys out of a cranky mood. More often than not, it works.
  4. Trust your instincts (like people used to do before the Internet). Oma didn’t have Facebook friends to guide her parenting. She couldn’t Google a rash or bug bite to make sure it wasn’t life-threatening. Modern technology is mostly a blessing, but at times it’s just a digital burden. Relax. Trust your instincts. Not every moment of parenting requires a double or triple check. “Today’s parents are so focused on doing the right thing, by the book, it’s hard to know what to do,” says Oma.
  5. Stop giving your kids so many choices.
    What do you want to wear? What would you like for dinner? Where do you want to go? Oma says children aren’t equipped for all these decisions. If you’re going to make them decide, don’t point to their closet and tell them to “pick something to wear.” Pull two outfits out and let them choose between the two.

Photo by Christian Toto