My mother lives in a gated condominium building in southern Florida. She loves it when my husband and our three children, ages four, seven and ten, and I come to visit. Her apartment is large enough that we can all comfortably live together. We’ve done this for years and we have always enjoyed these visits.
The problem is that some of the other residents make it very clear that they don’t appreciate our children being around. They show their disapproval with stony looks and meant-to-be overheard comments, e.g., “Must be school vacation week. That takes care of our peace and quiet.” The other visiting parents I see are always shooshing their kids as well. We stand guard and make sure our kids are whispering in the pool; they are scared to move, splash, or smile.
My husband and I are thinking about staying somewhere else, such as a family-friendly hotel in the area, and having my mom come visit us. I know this would upset my mother as she loves having the kids around and fussing over them, but we’re not sure what else to do.
According to the 2010 US Census, in the county where your mom has her condo, the 65+ population comprises 20%. This statistic can work to your advantage because it means there are lots of other grandparents around who share your mom’s desire to have their grandchildren visit on a regular basis. These similarly-minded grandparents are your best allies in condo living, the ones you and your mom want to get to know. You can easily identify them because you see them with their grandchildren during most, if not all, holidays and school vacations. Yes, make sure you and your mom chat with them, learn the names of their grandchildren and arrange for your kids to play with them.
Then there are the grandparent whose children and grandchildren make rare appearances, if any at all. This may be due to a variety of reasons: the grandparents like their privacy and don’t want the noise and inevitable disruptions to their schedules when the grandchildren stay with them; they feel they don’t have room for them; geography and finances preclude visits; or sadly, these grandparents may have limited, strained or non-existent relationships with their grandchildren. And, the fact is that some grandparents and other seniors just don’t like having children around. Alas, these are the ones who can make life unpleasant for you and your family when you’re using common areas such as the pool, shuffle board and game room. And sometimes it takes only one person to cause problems by constantly complaining.
My advice is to do a couple of proactive things. First, if there is a group of people in the pool taking a water aerobics class or just “bobbing” together, you or your mom can approach them and let them know your kids would like to use the other end of the pool and you just want to make sure they won’t be bothering them. Typically, someone will say something like, “Oh, I have grandchildren! Don’t worry about it. They’ll be fine.” Then every now and then, circle back to them to make sure your kids aren’t disturbing them. This show of respect for them can go a long way, especially when one of the “grumpy ones,” as I call them, begins to complain about your kids.
One or more of your allies may tell the Grumpy One that the kids are fine and to lighten up. And by the way, I think it is okay to tell your kids that certain people in the condo don’t like kids and may even be rude to them. Ask your kids not to be rude to them, but urge the kids not to let the Grumpy Ones ruin things for them, either. Since your kids are young, you or your mother would always be around to run interference with the Grumpy Ones, if need be. And at those times your kids are noisy or a bit unruly, as most kids are at one time or another, you make and/or have your kids make the appropriate apologies, even to the Grumpy Ones.
If it is someone on the staff who is admonishing your kids’ behavior, you are perfectly justified in telling that person that he/she is to talk only to you if he/she has something to say about your kids’ behavior: “We will take care of disciplining our children. Bring all your issues to us. Please do not discuss them with our children.” A steely voice and cold stare are appropriate to reinforce your message of Stay Away From My Children/Grandchildren.
In defense of some condo dwellers who resent the young ones, in many cases they are perfectly justified. It is disruptive and annoying when kids are running around the lobby, pool and other common areas yelling and being wild. When the parents and/or grandparents make obvious attempts to correct these behaviors, other people can sympathize as the caretakers try to do the right thing. However, when the caretakers don’t try to curb the loud and unacceptable public behavior, they deserve the scorn and anger of those around them.
So I hope you will take my advice for you and your mom to seek out other grandparents with visiting grandchildren. Stick together, form an alliance. Stay with your mom. Don’t let the Grumpy Ones drive you out! Shoosh your kids when they need it, but don’t shoosh them in anticipation of upsetting a Grumpy One, who is going to be upset by the kids’ mere presence, anyway.
As one condo building manager said when a grandmother asked him what to do about a Grumpy One constantly complaining about her grandchildren, “Ignore her. Go and enjoy your family.”
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every Thursday.
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