My children, Solomon and Celia, are fortunate to have two loving grandparents who are both wonderful cooks.  But unfortunately, with one in New York and the other in California, neither of their grandmothers lives close enough to our house in Maryland dash over for dinner (or with dinner) or help out when Andrew or I are traveling and the other parent needs to be in two places at once.

How Can Grandparents Help Parents Get Dinner on the Table?

In some families, the grandparents are an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to picking up the kids after school or making dinner for the family when the parents work long hours. In other families, however, the adult relationships are too fraught with tension to make this type of cooperation possible, or the parents don’t know how to ask the grandparents for help or the grandparents don’t know how or what to offer.

A few months ago I met Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, a grandmother of seven, mother of four, university professor and author of two books on strengthening relationships between adult children and their parents or in-laws, Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008), and Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, September 2012).

From her research and her own experience, Dr. Nemzoff shared some valuable advice on how grandparents can help with dinner or other aspects of family life, even when they live far away:

Q: How can grandparents help at dinner (or other) time even if they don’t live in the same city?

“Parents can enlist grandparents to interact with the children by Skype or “Facetime” at suppertime. When the kids are toddlers, the grandparent can sing songs, play games, read stories, and be a “personal Sesame Street”, anything to occupy and engage the child. The parent or caregiver would need to be in the room to ensure safety, of course, but not having to amuse a toddler can make it easier to focus on the many 6:00 tasks. As the child gets older, grandparents can help with homework or supervise musical instrument practice.”

Q: How can grandparents be helpful if they live nearby?

“Caveats first: For some parents, especially those who like routines and strict systems, having another person in the house at chaotic times just adds more stress. I don’t suggest these people invite grandparents over at this hour. Others find that having another adult at home is useful. They might ask the grandparent to amuse the children while the parent cooks or vice versa.  The grandparents might run a carpool or pick up a child at a neighbors’ house. Important:  know yourself and your needs first before you ask grandparents to participate.”

Q: What are ways that parents can solicit help from grandparents and ensure this process goes smoothly?

“Parents might want to have a conversation with the grandparents about the stresses they feel at dinnertime (believe me, most grandparents have their own memories of this meltdown time of day!)  Include in this discussion a desire to have the grandparents be part of the children’s lives. Invite the grandparents to suggest ways that they coped when they had young children.  Everybody likes to pass on what they have learned. Remember, just because grandparents make suggestions, doesn’t mean you need to follow them, but you might learn something useful.  Asking for memories and ideas is always a nice way to further a relationship. However, you have to be sure that you don’t take every comment as a criticism. Grandparents tell me that their comments are often taken that way.

If you want help, ask if grandparents are interested in joining the family one or more days a week. Grandparents have their own lives and commitments and may not be interested in being present at this hour.  On the other hand some grandparents might welcome the opportunity to help out. If so, the parents should ask the grandparent what s/he might like to do. In any event, the grandparent should not be treated like a slave. Families often make the mistake of not appreciating each other’s efforts.”

Q: Does it have to be a regular commitment?

“Absolutely not, in fact, parents might want to try one of these tasks a few times before they make any official requests. Perhaps call for help on a day when you or one of the kids is under the weather. Having grandparents willing and able to fill in at times of crisis is a huge safety net.”

Q: Where have you seen this process go awry?

“If you like complete control, do not ask the grandparents for help. As with any helper, you have to give them some latitude in carrying out the tasks in their own way. If you can’t do that don’t ask for help.”

Q: What are some other ways you’ve seen grandparents help parents get dinner on the table?

“Some grandparents prepare extra portions when they are cooking and freeze the meals. Others give these dinners for gifts on special occasions. Some grandparents of means pay for a cook or treat the family to dinners out, but mostly they help out in a crunch when you have two kids going in different directions or kids with disparate needs.”

This dish, invented by my mother-in-law Barbara Goldfarb, brings a lot of reward for very little effort.  For a sweeter taste, use teriyaki sauce instead of the soy sauce.  Serve it with steamed brown or white rice with fresh parsley and wilted spinach.

Recipe: Broiled Salmon with Mustard-Soy Crust

  • Total Time: 15 min(s)
  • Servings: 4
  • Ingredients

      • 1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillet, preferably wild salmon
      • 1/4 cup grainy Dijon mustard
      • 1 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy or teriyaki sauce (use wheat/gluten-free if needed)

    Instructions

      Preheat the broiler and move the shelf so that the heat source is approximately 4 inches away.

      Place the salmon, skin side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Brush the top of the fish with the mustard.  Sprinkle the soy or teriyaki sauce on top.

      Broil the fish for 10-12 minutes, until the topping is browned and the salmon flakes easily and is opaque throughout.  Serve immediately.

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