Spring Break With Extended Family and a Generation Gap

Dad wouldn't let a younger me have a 1980s hairdo. He's more okay these days with my son's hairstyle.

My parents were in town for Spring Break this year.

When the grandparents came to visit in my childhood – once or twice a year – it was an occasion. Normal work and social life ceased, and everything was centered around them. It was usually over a weekend or a holiday, so there was no school for us and no work for my dad.

When my parents come to town, it's usually the middle of a work/school week. They crash at my sister's house, since my mother-in-law lives with us, and shift back and forth between sets of grandkids throughout their stay, subject, of course, to the kids' activities and our work schedules.

My sister and I coordinate throughout each day on our cellphones to ensure adequate grandparent exposure for each kid, and we balance parent bonding time with the demands of regular life.

My mother usually pinch hits with child transportation and errands when they're in town. My dad has less day-to-day practical value unless the kids are out of school. That's when he swings into action, taking his "posse" of the four oldest grandkids on day trips to historical sites and museums in a semi-annual ritual we call Grumpy-Palooza.

This year's Grumpy-Palooza sites included the B&O Railroad Museum, the Monastery of the Holy Land, the National Firearms Museum, and Mt. Vernon.

This was our first Grumpy-Palooza since my oldest son turned into a full-fledged teenager.

My dad has mellowed out a lot since my siblings and I were kids. He didn't blink when the teen opted out of the railroad museum and Mt. Vernon. He cringed only slightly at the boy's musical choices, his desire to spend time at the mall, his super-skinny jeans. The haircut was what finally almost did my dad in. Specifically, my oldest son has bangs that cover his eyes.

(I am still bitter about the cool assymetric '80's 'do I was not allowed to sport when I was 16, so I am the chief defender of my son's freak flag.)

As my oldest turns into a teen, I find myself negotiating new parenting tactics and boundaries – with the kid himself and with my husband and mother-in-law, about how much freedom we should allow him.

It's been working my nerves lately, to tell you the truth. Having my dad get into the act did not soothe my nerves.

On the other hand, it's a testimony to the relationship we built over years of fighting as parent and child (well, really, parent and 18- to 25-year-old) that my dad and I can talk about these questions now parent-to-parent.

It certainly gives me a timely perspective on the role of conflict in raising my teenage kid (and his future teen siblings) to be adult men and women.


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