Times move fast. While gender-reveal parties were an absolute rage 10 years ago, we’ve calmed down with the shower games. We give our boys a shot at dance class and get tattoos for motherhood and let our teens get tattooed at age 18. Yet even the most progressive grandparents may want to shop for pink or blue bodysuits and are unprepared for their grandchild’s graduation gift to be a nose ring. So, naturally, they are a little WTF about everything happening in parenting these days.
Honoring their confusion, even if it makes you tired, is the best way to ride out the generation gap. I can name at least eight things off the top of my head that are likely to freak out the grandparents, though I am sure the actual list is practically endless.
You prefer not to learn the baby’s sex.
I think grandparents get more on board with this if you spin it as “we want to be surprised,” which may be the honest truth. If you are, in fact, not learning the sex because you’re leery of gendered parenting and tired of the old gems like “girls are so moody” and “a boy loves his mama” and all of that, maybe fib and tell the grandparents you want to be surprised.
You heard me: I am suggesting you lie rather than try to explain to older people that ideas about gender are evolving. They grew up believing girls are one way and boys are another, and biology rules all. If you’re pregnant and just trying to get to the birth without high blood pressure, let them think you want a surprise and leave it at that for now.
You know the gender but are keeping things gender-neutral.
All right, you’ll have to explain this a million times — but people still won’t listen to you, sorry to say. Someone is going to give you a pink tutu or a “tough guy” T-shirt. And the grandparents? They are going to ask why your lovely gender-neutral nursery has to be all greens or grays or teals or whatever color you chose that is not pink or blue. They will say something like, “Does this mean I can’t buy a __” (fill in the blank).
My advice? Tell them they can buy whatever they want, because they will anyway, but that you prefer to keep your baby’s world more free. Let them grouse behind your back.
You’re shooting for the two-year mark with nursing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it. While nursing works for some parents and nursing is a disaster for others, everyone agrees that it’s important your loved ones support your choice — and that can make a grandparent’s reaction to a long-term nursing goal tough. You rarely get a fist bump. More likely, you get a stunned, “WHY?” Or they recount their own formula use, defensively pointing out that their children grew up just fine.
My advice, as someone who breastfed two kids for two years each, is to stick to some version of “it’s something I’d like to try” and then tune out any negativity that comes out of other people, knowing they just remember their own experiences. Also, if they don’t want to hear the possible benefits to the baby, not to mention your wallet during a formula shortage, say, “I’m trying it for me,” and maybe they’ll stop arguing.
The preschooler is going to a forest school.
“A what?!” I can hear the grandparents saying. They do not know from forest school. Nor do they know what 3K or 4K means. By the same token, we don’t seem to call it “nursery school” anymore. But it all comes down to being preschool, just in different forms. If the grandparents give you flack because you pay for your child to have supervised play outside all day, tell them it’s basically ’70s preschool with a new name.
You’re not sending your preschooler to dance/soccer/whatever your parents put you through before you were ready.
Thirteen years ago, I felt totally pressured to send my 4-year-old son to soccer. (No one had ever suggested that my daughter play soccer, incidentally.) My son didn’t ask to play, and it quickly became apparent that he hated sports. These days, I am so happy to see my friends with preschoolers resisting the urge to sign them up for this, that, and the other before first grade.
So what if your own parents started you in gymnastics or karate as a tot? Save your money for when your kid asks to try the guitar instead of trying to force a prodigy. If the grandparents want to know what your 4-year-old is into, be brutally honest: the playground, YouTube videos, and pretending to be a kitty cat. That last one will flip them out for sure.
The kid wants to change their name.
In the grandparents’ day, there was such a thing as nicknames. Someone hated their name and so went by initials, like DJ or JR, or used their middle name, or turned Elizabeth into Betsy. People accepted the fact that a kid might hate their name. But now that nonbinary and trans kids are changing their names to match their gender identity, the older generation is like, “You have to be kidding me.”
This is a talk that you, the parent, can’t get out of; as your child’s advocate, you have to announce your support of their new name and get the grandparents to respect it. It’s another case of letting the oldest generation grouse and roll their eyes to their friends. Try explaining that the whole thing is stressful enough; you don’t need to listen to their snide comments when it’s already a process to get the teachers to switch to a preferred name.
You’ve got the whole pronoun thing.
Oh, how the older generation hates pronoun-switching. Admittedly, getting my child’s they/them pronouns down took a lot of practice on my part. Mostly, my husband and I practiced with each other until it became second nature. Getting my mom to use they/them has not been seamless, but I tell her, hey, let’s keep doing our best.
And now, I will confess to not even trying to explain the whole thing to my father (my parents are divorced). He’s the oldest in our fam, and… I just can’t even imagine where to start. I refer to my firstborn as “they” when I talk to him on the phone each week, but I do not correct him when he uses “she.” It’s shitty of me, but sometimes I think you just have to let the grandparents be the exception. My opinion on this one is evolving, and I know I may have to have the talk with him eventually.
It’s time for a piercing or a tattoo.
I’m going to guess that most of us sport one or both of these things, which the grandparents have had to accept. But the grandchildren are still babies in their eyes, and you, apparently, are a bad parent for letting them make their own decisions on things like getting their ears double-pierced.
The grandparents will also have things to say about nose rings, ink, and other displays of independence. (My fave: “Now they can never get a job.”) Even if they have already seen their grandkid go through hair-color phases, tattoos and piercings are more permanent. What can you say except, “It’s their choice” and “I don’t control their body.” Hopefully, by the time you reach this milestone, you’ve had some 18 years of grandparents flipping out and have learned how to hum quietly to yourself and smile.