Facing the challenges of being a grandparent

Grandparents can be a vital, interesting, part of a family.  They serve in many different capacities from babysitting, to be a friendly guide to new parents.  Grandparents often have a wealth of information to pass down to children that helps continue family traditions, religious observances, and the passing of family facts. 

If everyone in the family is on the same page with values, discipline methods, what types of food children should be eating, and new changes in well-baby techniques, then usually there are very few discrepancies.  However, it’s rare that parents and grandparents will agree on how a child should be raised all of the time.  Because every person develops their own individual parenting style, it’s unreasonable to expect that every family member will agree on every angle of what it means to be a successful parent.  Grandparents play a special role in a child’s life, and should ensure that they remain a positive role model as the child continues to grow.  If there is a safety concern between parents and grandparents, it should be addressed early and clearly, until a resolution is reached.

Since family history is important to a child knowing where he, or she, comes from, grandparents can take an active role in sharing their family’s culture.  Parents may be too young to fully recall the Great Depression, but grandparents, or even yet great-grandparents, can show a child how to plant a victory garden.  Perhaps there is a family recipe that parents, children, and grandparents can prepare together for family gatherings.  These types of activities create lasting memories for years to come. 

Some grandparents are given the opportunity to babysit grandchildren, which allows extended time to be spent forming a bond between the two.  Before agreeing to watch their grandchildren, grandparents should have a clear picture of what is expected from them.  If the child is old enough, a separate conversation should be had that details the child’s expectations, regarding their behavior when they are away from home.  Rules should be kept consistent at both homes to ensure stability, and discourage negative behavior.  Grandparents may wish to use this extended time to take their grandchildren to special places, or events, that they may otherwise not be able to attend.

Occasionally, a grandparent may feel that their grandchild is in need of additional guidance, a new school, better manners, or other noticed behaviors that should be addressed.  These types of observations should be discussed directly with the parent, or parents, and never in front of the child.  The parent then has the responsibility of communicating these concerns with their child at home.  Whenever possible, grandparents should be a force of support and encouragement, both to the parents and the grandchild.  When a grandparent is put into a parental position, it can sometimes deteriorate the more open bond that grandparents have with the children.  This is obviously not the case if the grandparent is the child’s custodian.  In that respect, a grandparent has full parental judgment, and responsibilities, governing all aspects of the child’s best welfare.

Many times challenges arise because parents and grandparents disagree with a technique being used to raise a child.  If a parent grew up in a home that used corporal punishment, but chooses to use a different type of discipline with their own child, a rift can develop between family members.  The best way to approach a controversial subject, such as this, is to calmly, openly discuss each person’s position, and ultimately, respectfully choose to support the parents endeavor to choose the most appropriate technique for their child.  As long as there are no safety concerns, a parent should have authority over how to best judge what a child is exposed to.  If parents have not included grandparents in any part of a child’s life, and the grandparent wishes to change that, there may need to be a discussion between the adults involved.  If no agreement can be reached, a secondary option can be to integrate someone to be a mediator, either personally or professionally.  If at all possible, all family members should have a chance to be involved in a child’s life, as long as there are no immediate concerns.  If there are, the previous measures mentioned should be taken early on to address them individually.  A great book for grandparents to read is “Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children” by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff.

Grandparents can be a true value in the life of a child.  If a child has continuous family support, love, and encouragement, family ties can be strengthened to allow the grandchild to enjoy many future opportunities.  Even in cases of divorce, children are not at fault.  They should they suffer any consequences that might make them feel that they are a source of contention.  Adults should always take the child’s best interest into account, and set personal issues aside in order to meet that interest.  No matter what challenges arise, or the differences of opinions, the child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs should always come first. 

For more information regarding tips on how grandparents can build lasting relationships with their children, and grandchildren, visit grandparents.com.