It's said that the reason grandparents and grandchildren get on so well is that they share a common enemy. This isn't always true, but sometimes grandparents and grandchildren get a great kick out of breaking the rules and having fun together in a way that the children never normally have with their parents. That special grandparent's role is, surely, to provide love, treats, trips to the funfair, chocolates and at least half an hour extra staying up time after bedtime.
My grandmother and I used to go on wild trips to Littlehampton when I was young and spend what seemed like vast sums of money at the local Butlin's funfair every night, going on every ride imaginable, from the dodgems to the Big Dipper. For lunch we had plums and ices on the beach, donkey rides galore, jaunts on a miniature railway, games on the miniature golf ending up with a late and "grown-up" walk along the front looking at the winking lights before having a story before going to bed. It was wonderful, and taught me more about how an adult can enter a child's world than any number of odd concessions allowed by my parents.
Sandra's natural granny instincts have been hampered, however, by someone who sounds more like a concentration camp warder than a mother. And anyway, how dare this woman impose her rules on her mother-in-law's house?
Sandra could sail close to the wind. She could take the children swimming once a day to avoid the second bath; she could get videos out to watch on television or take them to the cinema; she could give them ices instead of sweets. And certainly she could refuse to carry out a punishment meted out by the boy's mother. Or she could secretly flout all the rules and swear the children to secrecy. I think a child could cope with this without being damaged too much. "This is our little secret," she could say as she takes them, and the television, up to bed at midnight.
I think it would be better, however, to wring her hands and say to her daughter in-law, as if apologising for being clean out of sugar: "I'm terribly sorry but we don't have any rules in this house except the few that I impose. Would you not trust me to look after the children in my own way? I assure you I will see they are safe and happy. And I'm sure it would do the children good if they were to learn that in other people's houses they have to obey other people's rules and go along with their way of life." If she really wants to lay the manipulative emotional blackmail on thick she could add, slyly: "I think it would be a useful learning process for them."
She could argue that few of us carry our own ways of life into other people's houses like snails. Instead of slopping around in our dressing gowns over supper, picking at yesterday's old pasta with our fingers as we watch the telly, and mooching off to bed at ten o'clock in a sulk, we put on our best face, get dressed up, eat with knives and forks; we allow ourselves to have a good time - to eat and drink far more than we would at home. She could even imply that her set of rules are far more stringent than her daughter-in-law's, only different, and there just wouldn't be room for two sets.
And keep quiet about the fact that one of her prime rules is that every child in her house has a thoroughly enjoyable, exciting and relaxing time.
what readers say
Don't detract from the enjoyment of the visit
I think grandparents should have some sort of idea as to how their grandchildren are being disciplined and try to keep some sort of continuity when they come to stay. At the same time "going to stay with grandma" can be a lovely experience simply because of certain treats or "being allowed to stay up"etc.
As a parent I think I was quite severe but, ye gods, Sandra's daughter- in-law sounds a positive dragon. If her regime is followed to the letter, the children will never be able to enjoy being with grandma as they should. So, as for sweets, television, computer and baths, just smile at daughter and murmur some sort of non-committal agreement, then do what you feel is right after she's gone - one bath a day would seem a reasonable compromise for a start!
However, as for carrying on with Mummy's punishment for the boy, I would draw the line and say quietly and firmly, "No, absolutely not". Whether the punishment fits the crime is neither here nor there but, under no circumstances should you be expected to administer it. I would brook no argument on the matter, let daughter-in-law carry out her own punishments in her own house.
Ted Hooton, Chearsley, Bucks
When in grandma's house, do as she says...
Your reader should make it plain to her daughter-in-law that these are her children, her rules and gran respects them but it is gran's time and gran's house and, in this space and time, gran's rules apply. Tell her that children need to become accustomed to changing sets of rules eg at home and in school and that your rules will not differ so very much from hers. Once over this hurdle try to see what her problem really is and whether she can get help!
Relax: this is a holiday for the children too
If Sandra's daughter-in-law is to have a break why not let the children have one too?
She will relax far more with the knowledge that her children are being spoilt and treated as she can't possibly allow in her own routines.
By all means hand them over with one or two dietary "suggestions", but no more! Why put her loving parents-in-law in straitjackets with the children, when the alternative is to relax knowing they too will enjoy something different?
Sandra, tell her there's no deal if the list comes too!
Mrs Frances Smith
You can bend the rules without flouting them
Stick to her rules - it can be so tricky for parents otherwise - but be imaginative! No sweets? - let them help you cook scrummy cakes, puddings and biscuits using quality ingredients. If "no sweets" means no sugar at all, raid your cookery books for fun savouries. Restricted TV and computer? Take your grandchildren to the cinema and buy mega cartons of popcorn or crisps. Two baths? Take them swimming. But don't agree to the punishment: that's your daughter-in-law's job - the transgression happened in her home.
Next week's dilemma
I have had recurrent back pain for the last 10 years, which means I have had to give up my job. I'm in daily pain and my life has become very restricted. I cannot walk far or drive far or sit for long periods. I have had every kind of conventional and alternative therapy so I don't want to know of any new cures - I've even been on a Pain Management course at my local hospital. And most of the time I can cope.
But what I'm finding most difficult and hurtful is that a couple of friends have told me that other friends think I'm malingering, and that if I really wanted to I could do more - such as participate in social activities and so on. What do I say so that they take my problem more seriously? How do I convince them that this isn't "just backache" and that I'm doing what I can? I don't want pity; just understanding. Christine
Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182) by Tuesday morning. And if you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.