Indeed one of the most fascinating, albeit frustrating, challenges facing any family unit is trying to understand and adjust to changing roles. The constant challenge to the definition of family in today’s changing environment makes that challenge even more difficult.
In a nutshell, let me set the stage for the object of this blog – “the grandparent.” What do we do with them? What does it mean to be without them? Who loses if they are not in our children’s lives?
My children had grandparents during their childhood years, but my parents struggled with that role. They were so careful not to interfere, that they became almost ghost-like; appearing and then almost as fast… disappearing, leaving evidence of their visit in the form of gifts, food, and/or a little chat about “what’s new with the kids?” Or “you are pregnant… again?”
My wife’s mother on the other hand was made to be a grandmother. She loved her grandchildren as much, or more, than her own children… and treated them as such.
So now my wife and I are “the grandparents.” Interesting, isn’t it, how fast time flies? I got to thinking about what makes someone a good grandparent “now that I are one,” with the goal of discovering some qualities that I don’t now possess, and work toward getting better at understanding my role, because I have to admit… I am lost here!
Because I had never been a grandparent before, and even now after 17 years of practice I still consider myself lost when it comes to understanding my role… so I looked into the fountain of all wisdom – the “Internet.”
What I found was like reading a daytime soap opera. Grandparent
estrangement? Narcissism? Increasing divorce rate among grandparents? Grandchildren
being raised by grandparents because the adult parent-child is not responsible enough to care for his/her own children? On and on…
As disturbing as it was, however, to read about this drama enveloping the family unit, it was even more disturbing to learn that the majority of those polled agreed that having grandparents in their children’s lives had benefit, but they didn’t know how to extract it.
So when both sides of the conflict are confused, no wonder we have, as one writer put it, “erosion within the family unit.”
Ok, I’m going to get personal here on the bet that at least a few readers of this UFI blog will relate. I’ve had my hands slapped several times because I overstepped the boundary of my YouAreNotTheParentofMyChildren status. I didn’t even know I had status to begin with, and now what little I had was taken away when my children became parents?
I soon learned that although it is not written in the grandparent’s handbook I received (wait! I didn’t get my copy) there “are” boundaries now. My past role as the leader of the pack, the solution to every problem, the get it done guy… all gone! Instead, I am “bra-man.”
I am here to “support.” Not to lead. No voice! No authority! Actually, that’s ok. I just needed to know that, because it was a change. These new parents… our adult children, are now responsible. So I need to let them be, and accept my new role… to support and to love unconditionally!
So now that we know there are boundaries… let’s set some for the adult children too. We grandparents have a life. Just because it may look like we have nothing to do when you drop in unexpectedly with high hopes for grandma and I to watch the little darling(s) while you go out for a while, it “may” be that we do (or did) but are hesitant to expose that for fear we might never see little precious again. So parents, please heed the wall plaque in our home for all to see: “Grandchildren Welcome Anytime; Parents by Appointment!
Ok, on to the next grandparent boundary… Keep your mouth shut! As Anne Rolphe, shares, as one of the 27 writers in the NYT bestselling Eye of My Heart… “Ah, my poor tongue is sore from being bitten.”
When an adult child decides to move his/her family across the ocean in pursuit of their own dreams, and takes our grandchildren with them, it is very hard not to cry and stamp our feet while yelling, “unfair – unfair!” As hard as it may be to accept, our children deserve to make their own road in life… even if the road they choose isn’t the road “we”
would have taken and it gets bumpy at times. And even if we might have saved them from making a big mistake, had they listened… no one will leave earth life without getting bruised a few times. And they will become all the better for it. So wish them the best and learn how to skype.
“I am Ari’s Grammie. I live in Dallas and he lives in New York. We don’t get to visit in person that much, so we video-chat most days. Thanks to 21st century technology, we are virtual grandparents. We have eaten dinner together, played with toys, and sung. We’ve watched him reach many milestones like walking, thanks to technology. We stay updated, though we wish we lived closer. We cherish the times we actually get to spend with him and hope there will be many more to come.” –Michele Kesner (As quoted in HuffingtonPost.com)
Now let’s talk about a word society seems to have forgotten – Influence. A grandparent is in a wonderful position as support to grandchildren. Without skin in the game, we can observe from the bleachers and cheer and yell encouragement, and then head home before the locker room rant starts.
Yet, the wise adult child will recognize the benefit of having grandparents as an ally and not just as a guest or spectator. But parent and grandparent need to work together… and that is where the rub comes in for most. Grandparents still think they should parent and the adult child wants to show he/she is in charge, and in walks the conflict.
So grandparents, back off and remember your role, bite your tongue, and listen to what your adult children need from you in the way of “influence” over their children.
“I was extremely close to my grandparents and their presence in my life greatly formed my perceptions of food, gardening, my Swedish heritage and the essence of family love generation after generation. I couldn’t be more delighted to see my parents evolve the teachings of their parents as they interact with my 1-yr old daughter, who couldn’t love her “gamma and gampapa” more. The more love the better, and without grandparents, we’d be missing one of the most important relationships in life.” -Jamie Smith (As quoted in HuffingtonPost.com)
My wife loves to “sit and knit,” to the point she has become very proficient in the art. One of our adult children had some concerns over the recent behavior of her soon to be teenage daughter and mentioned it to her grandmother. It so happened that our granddaughter loved “sitting and knitting” with grandmother. They would talk together during these times, and soon grandmother was able to provide some insight into the mother’s concern over the welfare of her daughter. Now that’s working together.
It helps if the adult children speak kindly and generously about the grandparent(s) in front of the children. It is amazing how much they pick up when appearing to not be listening to a word you are saying.
There is certainly more to say on the topic, for both sides to learn. But if you are fortunate enough to have grandchildren to love… and if you, parents, have someone in your life who loves your children as only a grandparent can, please remember this, as quoted in Grandparents.com: “Family – we may not have it all together, but together we have it all.”
- “7 Unbreakable Laws of Grandparenting,” a blog written by Barbara Graham, as
- “Grandparents Play Key Role in the Lives of Grandchildren,” an article written by Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D, in http://www.mindpub.com.
- “8 Things You Should Never Say To A Grandparent,” (photo testimonial)