Grandparenting in the 21st century

I know these electronic toys help keep the peace during all the transporting that needs to be done, but grandmother needs a technical consultant.

Gracia Lam

There are soothing sound machines in the bedrooms. There are video cameras trained on the crib. Technology has come to grandparenting, and I find myself lacking. My daughter and daughter-in-law hand me battery-powered monitors as they head out the door. They think I know what I am doing — I don’t.

Between organic produce and cage-free chickens and the timeout chairs, a person could think she was in an alternate universe. I have learned that newborns are stimulated by black and white objects, not colorful ones, that a house is not a home without Baby Einstein learning tools, and that choosing not to breast-feed will earn you a scarlet letter and scornful looks from all the mothers in the Gymboree class.

I understand that things change and we must all adapt. And I applaud these young mothers for wanting to do all that can be done for their offspring. But would someone please tell me how to install the car seat? It took a trip to my local police station to get it right. Could I get an assistant to show me how to collapse the carriage and get it into the trunk? Now that the car seat also becomes part of the carriage, I’m in way over my head. I’m also clueless as to how to operate the iPads that travel with my grandchildren. I know these electronic toys help keep the peace during all the transporting that needs to be done, but grandmother needs a technical consultant.


Whatever happened to crayons and construction paper? Whatever happened toSesame Street? Who knew children’s brains would rot if they watched TV before their second birthday? Or that they would not thrive unless you blend their vegetables in a juicer and avoid processed baby foods like the plague? This is all too much for me — and frankly it seems a bit like reinventing the wheel.

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Children thrive with love and order and meals produced at regular intervals. They thrive with grown-ups who care enough to discipline them when they are obnoxious and put them to bed when they are tired. I feel comfortable with the fact that when my children cried, I went to them. I didn’t need a video prompt. I guess I lived in a much smaller house. Are all these things better for parents — or just more expensive?

I believe a lot of today’s popular technology has its basis in parents’ need to control their offspring’s safety and happiness. If everyone is as safe as possible, if everyone is pesticide-free, then everything will turn out well. If parents take the necessary precautions, then bad things will not happen to their kids.

I think they’re dead wrong about that. Life is a crapshoot. Some parents are super vigilant and do all they can to protect and nurture their offspring, and bad things still happen. Some parents are laid-back and laissez faire, and nothing bad ever happens to their kids. We cannot control life — we cannot control good and bad. Advanced technology and safety devices are no guarantee of a happy outcome. They are no match for the randomness of fate and the fickleness of life. Age has taught me that.

I am a grandmother — happy to be included in the saga of raising these fabulous children in a new generation, and I do my best to be supportive and to keep up. But I do wish someone would show me how to manage the volume on the baby monitors; all I seem to pick up is the sound of crashing waves at the beach — directly from the nurseries’ sound machines.

Nancy Schneider is a writer in Needham. Send comments to


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