The word “spoil” typically has negative connotations associated with ruin and destruction — with possibly one notable exception: When used to describe the treatment of grandchildren, it’s imbued with the notion of loving indulgence, a treat that grandparents are entitled to in their relationships with their kids’ kids.
Grandparents have long adored the privilege of spoiling their grandchildren, treating them to experiences large and small as a token of their love and affection. And the grandparents in Philadelphia’s Jewish community are no exception.
“Being with my grandchildren is the best way I can spend my time and I’d rather be with them than travel,” said Rita Rosen Poley, curator at Temple Judea Museum in Elkins Park.
Poley has a total of 10 grandchildren and step-grandchildren, and cherishes the opportunity to cook with them, take them to concerts and plays, travel with them and just browse at the mall. “It’s a different quality of time I have with them than I had with my own children,” she reflected. “It’s all the pleasure and none of the pain of being a parent, and I feel very lucky that my kids are happy to include me in the lives of my grandchildren.”
That said, she is very respectful of her children’s rules for their own children. “My children are always right, and whatever they say, that’s right,” she said without a hint of sarcasm. “I’m very careful about staying within the broad boundaries set by their parents. If they ask me to do something that I know their parents wouldn’t like, I tell them I’d get ‘bad bubba points’ from their parents for doing that.”
It’s important to Poley that her grandchildren learn to cook traditional Jewish food, and for the sake of continuity, she loves to teach them those skills. “We make cakes, cookies and brownies, but I want them to know how to roast a chicken,” she said. “They’ve been cooking dinners with me since they were very, very young.”
Some of her grandchildren are grown up and living independent lives, which creates an entirely different dynamic for a grandparent. “I’m really grateful that they choose to spend time with me and that I’m still a part of their lives,” she said. “It’s very gratifying.”
Ask most grandparents about their grandchildren and they need little encouragement to start singing their praises. “We’re very proud of our two granddaughters,” said Frank Brodsky, senior vice president of investment at Wells Fargo Advisors in Philadelphia. The two women, ages 16 and 20, live in Vermont, some 280 miles from their grandparents, and the families are united four times a year. “We visit and take them out to dinner, talk and find out what they’re doing in their” lives, he said.
“They’re very active young ladies and have tremendous accomplishments, so we always want to hear about the things they’re doing. We also try to educate them in areas where we think they can grow.”
To that end, Brodsky took his entire family on a trip to Israel six years ago, in honor of his oldest granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah. “My granddaughters had never been to Israel before and it was an incredible trip, worth every penny we spent,” he reflected. “It was amazing to hear them tell my wife and I how much they appreciated seeing how beautiful the country was. My oldest granddaughter wrote us a thank-you note in which she said we made her proud to be Jewish. It was just an exceptional, exceptional time.”
Allan Domb, owner of Allan Domb Real Estate in Philadelphia, is looking forward to taking his two young grandchildren with him on work appointments in the next couple of years. “I believe in teaching young children what work’s about, and about work ethic,” he said. “I took their father with me on work appointments when he was 4 and we cut a deal: I showed the apartments and he had to turn on and off the lights.
“If the apartments rented, he got $5, if they bought, he got $10. With my grandchildren, I might have to adjust for inflation.”
For now, Domb enjoys spending time with his grandkids —both of them Bostonians under age 3 — on the New Jersey shore, where they go biking, swimming and boating. The work experiences will come soon, and he has no intention of asking his son’s permission before introducing the grandkids into the working world.
There’s a very special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. So says Louis W. Fryman, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer for the past 52 years, describing his four grandchildren. “The loving relationship is unconditional because you’re not in the position to discipline or criticize their lives or activities, you’re always accepting of the choices they make,” said this partner at Conrad O’Brien PC.
Fryman has found it prudent to voice disapproval to his kids rather than his grandkids, if there’s something he feels strongly about. “Really, it’s your grandkids’ mom and dad, not the grandparents, that make the determination as to their children’s decisions, and you have to support your children in how they’re guiding and rearing your grandchildren,” he asserted.
When the grandkids were young, the Frymans delighted in babysitting and sleepovers. Later, on the occasion of their Bnai Mitzvah, he and his wife, Rhoda, took each of them on a special trip — to Alaska, London or on a cruise. “It was a wonderful experience that the three of us could share just among ourselves,” he recalled.
In more recent years, when two granddaughters had summer jobs in Philadelphia, they stayed at the Fryman home while they worked. “We had the joy of being able to pack special lunches for them during the week,” he said. “The delight in spoiling your grandchildren is that you hope that the same attitude will come back and spoil you.”
That may be highly accurate according to an August 2013 study by the American Sociological Association, which found that grandparents and grandchildren have real, measurable effects on each other’s psychological well-being, long into grandchildren’s adulthood.
“An emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations,” said Sara M. Moorman, assistant professor in the department of sociology at Boston College. “The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health.”
Grandparents who both gave and received tangible support experienced the fewest symptoms of depression over time. “Encouraging more grandparents and adult grandchildren to engage in this type of exchange” she suggested, “may be a fruitful way to reduce depression in older adults.”
South African native Lauren Kramer is a writer based in Western Canada. This article originally appeared in the special section, "The Good Life."