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Published July 17 2011

Swift: Understanding the grandparent clause

Maybe that’s what they mean by a grandfather clause.

It’s the phenomenon that happens when a former drill-sergeant dad suddenly turns into Squishy McCuddlypants with his children’s kids.

His grown offspring will look on in disbelief as their once-tough, undemonstrative parent showers their grandchildren with candy, hugs and trips to Disney World.

Of course, it all makes sense, if you think about it. Parenting is exhausting work. Parents are too busy worrying about whether Junior will contract dysentery from licking the playground slide to lovingly tousle his hair and give him a puppy.

But most grandparents are in a better position to play “good cop” to Mom and Dad’s “bad cop.” They have more time and resources. They’re better rested. Their hearing isn’t as good, so they can’t tell when their precious grandchild is pureeing his Legos in the blender.

Most importantly, they are able to send the little darlings home when they become too whiny or bratty.

Mom and Dad Swift are a perfect illustration of this. As parents, they weren’t tyrants, but they were strict.

From the age of 8 or 9, we were expected to help with housework. We weren't allowed to curse or even say “shut up” to each other. We were expected to get certain grades.

Compliments were dispensed sparingly, for fear parental gushing would give us a big head. I once asked my mom if I was pretty. She replied: “Your face has character.” For years afterward, I was convinced I looked like Jamie Farr.

But all this has changed with my nieces and nephews. My parents talk constantly about how brilliant, attractive and gifted they are. They attend most of the grandkids’ concerts or sporting events. They shower the kids with presents.

This is especially true with sister Verbena’s youngest daughter, “Chloe.” I can scarcely talk to my mom on the phone without hearing her rave about the young girl.

“We watched her play basketball last night,” my mom will say. “She is such a neat little player. She’s the best one on that whole team.”

Or: “Chloe has the best math scores in her class. That kid is good at everything.”

Most recently, I learned Chloe was mowing the lawn and doing other odd jobs for Mom this summer. My jaw just about hit the floor when I heard what Mom was paying her: $15 an hour.

Heck, forget “grandfather clause.”

Mom has become Santa Claus.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525