You will recall many of my readership followers are grandparents who want to stay in the background. So, here, I let them do just that. They can email their questions, or post a comment and ask me to remove it as soon as I read it. And you know what? I'll do that. There are so many fears that come with retread parenting, that I honestly understand why grandparents, and also aunts, uncles and cousins, would want to just have a normal family life as possible, avoiding the Klingon Bird of Prey of the adult child or sibling who created the mess in the first place. It seems these adult children have cloaking devices. Now you see them, now you don't! The good starship family will be able to clean it up later, but it causes massive chaos in the interim.
I personally had an Internet run-in, in passing, with my very own Lulubelle Klingon last week, on the occasion of her brother's birthday. There was apparently high drama on a certain social network regarding the contents of his gifts, which he was silly enough to repeat to his sister. I can't exactly say what was said for sure, as I refuse to read the page of either. To do so, I would either have to unblock them, or in the alternative, create a false identity, which is against Terms of Service (My son encourages me to friend him, but I cannot, as I cannot risk having the children here paraded through the judgment of Ex, his wife, my Lulubelle, and an assortment of people I simply don't know). In any event, I refuse to participate to any great degree in her (and his, to be fair) created drama over nothing. I can't say it didn't hurt, especially hearing about it from other people. I guess things got quite vicious against me. But the protection of the grandchildren here is very much intact, and it gave me more evidence of mental illness against my Lulubelle should I ever need it, as a friend was kind enough to print it all out and store it for me.
So yes, I understand, more than a lot of people think I understand.
That leaves us with a couple of emailed problems. On the surface, these problems might appear weighty. But they are easy fixes.
Kathy's grandkids, ages 3 and 5, will not sleep without the other. She allows they sneak into the other's bed at night, and fall asleep holding hands. They have only been with Kathy a month.
Kathy, after what your grandchildren have experienced, you certainly can understand that they are each other's constant, the main thing that hasn't changed for each other. I see no reason why, even if they are boy and girl, they can't continue to do this for quite awhile. Yes, they need counseling, but not because they are sleeping in the same bed at night, honey. They have taken out of the familiar, as bad as it was, and placed in a new existence.
Two of my grandchildren did this for months. They slept in the double bed in our guest room until we got the time and money to buy them double beds. There were still times when they preferred to sleep with each other. We understood what they experienced: Their mother left them at night, or fell asleep at the keyboard after a big drink of "mouthwash" in the bottle next to her computer, leaving them to their own devices. Their living quarters would have made the list of Extreme Houses of Squalor.
The two therapists who've worked with them on and off for years were not concerned by it. There was nothing sexual about it. It was as if they were each other's teddy bears.
Erica has a different, larger problem. She has just gotten custody of her eleven year old grandson. He is a big boy to begin, having a big father who has a big father. But Erica's Lulubelle did not encourage the kid to get off his duff, or eat well. Dad's in Afghanistan with the military, Mom is in rehab for drugs and may come back/ may not, and Sonny Boy wants to eat, eat, eat, as well as sit on his duff in the living room and play Wii all day, and not the active games. So Sonny is not active, and is starting to look like Jabba the Hut, an unsightly look for any young middle school child. She says Sonny isn't destructive or obnoxious, but whiny and passive, a little manipulative. Grandpa doesn't want to do anything that might hurt Sonny's feelings, and there sits Sonny, day after day, scoring up points on Call of Duty, when he shouldn't even be playing Guitar Hero, munching on Doritos.
Erica, to paraphrase the Great Communicator, tear down that Wii! Stick it in the closet for a few months, at least the summer. You don't have to be mean about it, but you do have to put it away for now. I know Wii has all kinds of cool games such as tennis (my favorite) that encourage activity. Sonny needs to be outside, in the sun. Grandpa can make this little sacrifice for awhile.
If Sonny doesn't have a therapist at this point, get him one, at least a counselor. The therapist or counselor can help you and your husband put together a working set of rules that aren't too strict but are by no means the lifestyle which Sonny has been accustomed to leading during his mother's watch. There should be reasonable consequences for breaking a few good rules. if you live close to a military base, by all means get a therapist there, one who is used to dealing with deployment anxiety. And yes, Grandpa has to quit feeling sorry for Sonny and start helping out with him.
You might find that Sonny has no social skills, and does not know how to go outside and make friends. You might have to include him in your social circle for a bit, when it's appropriate. I've found that children don't learn much from their same-age peers as they do from having a variety of people in their lives. So, take him to the grocery store, insist upon it, and insist that he behave (explain the rules beforehand, and reward him when he does what it required). Take him on your volunteer work if possible. You and Grandpa take him for walks around the neighborhood or complex. Take him to the park and playground. He isn't going to go if you don't go along, so at least one of you, go along. If it's not too late in the season, a Little League team or some such activity or activities where Sonny has to move would be a really good idea.
As for the junk food, you are going to have to get tough and not allow any in your pantry, period. It's summer, and summer means loads of fresh veg and fruit at really good prices all over the US. Yes, it is a little harder to cut up fruit for a snack than it is to open a bag of chips or peel down a Drumstick, but Sonny is eleven. He can be taught how to manage a paring knife and veg peeler.
He could, in fact, learn how to make a meal or two, with your assistance. If his mother decides she likes being Mama after all, she might relapse if she regains custody. It wouldn't hurt Sonny to know how to make such simple dishes as whole grain pasta in sauce, grilled cheese on multigrain bread, a lean burger patty, stir fry veg, fruit salad, and maybe even how to pop popcorn in a pan (I was so surprised kids in my classes didn't know how to do this, that I started teaching them how as a reward for good behavior).
Lean meats, whole grains, veg and fruit, popcorn, exercise and activity: By the time school starts, if his mama doesn't claim him, Sonny should be ready for sixth grade and all that comes with it.
Those solutions may not be as hard as the problem and persons who caused them in the first place, but when a person becomes a retread parent, it can overwhelm him or her. Hopefully, common sense will prevail in a lot of lives, and everyone will be happier for it.