Individuals of all ages and at all stages of life visit my consultation room. Most of them have the best of intentions often coupled with confusion regarding how to interact most effectively with significant others in their lives. I talk to children and teens, parents and grandparents. I hear stories about wonderful grandparents who are nurturing to their grandchildren while at the same time being supportive to their adult children. I also,of course, hear stories that are rife with disappointment and frustration. Mothers ask "How come my mother continues to undermine me with my own kids?" A frustrated son-in-law asks why his in-laws are so emotionally unavailable to his kids?" The children and teens tell me endearing and heartwarming stories of grandparents with whom they have incredible bonds. Yet other kids complain that their grandparents are deeply critical of them and their parents. Yep, there are many ways to be a grandparent just as there are many ways to parent. None of our roles in life are clearly defined and grandparents have an especially difficult set of roles trying to both bond with their grandchildren in a manner that is satisfying and at the same time trying not to step on the sensitive toes of their adult children. And, let me tell you that those can be some very sensitive sets of toes. Walking on pins and needles takes on a special meaning when a grandparent is dealing with their children's children. Many of you out there have been in all 3 roles-a grandparent, a parent and a child. Others have been in 2 of these roles. And, then there are the majority of grandparents who would like a bit of an instruction guide on how to handle this grand-parenting role. That's why I am here today-to help you negotiate this role. Stay with me as I offer up ten tips to becoming a more effective grandparent while at the same time not compromising your relationships with your own kids.
Well here goes:
1. Never ever disagree with your adult children about their parenting styles in front of their children. If you disagree with them and you feel that it is important enough to discuss then do it when you are alone with your children. Grandchildren do not benefit or thrive from observing friction. No one does,right?
2. Do not undermine your kids by undoing their rules when you are alone with your grandchildren. If mom and dad don't allow specific activities, video games, foods etc. then don't make these available. You don't create harmonious relationships by incurring favor in this way.
3. Do tell your grandchildren fun stories about your own life and life with their parents as little kids. Show them lots of photos. The goal is to enrich their lives, give them history and for them to hear fun (not embarrassing) stories about their parents. This humanizes their parents and what child doesn't enjoy stories?
4. Show respect and love for your children and their spouses to the best of your ability in front of your grandchildren. This gives them a wonderful message and a great dose of role modeling. You are showing them the importance of showing love and respect.
5. Please don't be too over-indulging with your grandchildren. Certainly, you will want to be a bit indulgent if you have the resources because grandparents and grandchildren love this but everything in moderation please. And, please consider the importance of experiences in addition to or instead of purchasing gifts.
6. Stay involved. Listen if your kids or grandchildren are having issues. Spend a lot of time listening and perhaps even commiserating before you offer up advice. And, before you offer advice ask if advice is wanted or if they simply want to be listened to or a shoulder to cry on.
7. Make your home a comfortable spot for your grandchildren to come stay. Most kids love the opportunity to get away from home for a few days. This has the additional benefit of allowing the parents to have some alone time.
8. Use the wisdom of your years to teach your grandchildren gentle life lessons. At some point in their lives they will thank you for this. They may at times listen to you while tuning out their own parents.
9. Play with your grandchildren. Teach them about the importance of play. Show them that growing older doesn't mean that life becomes all about being serious. I can't tell you how many kids think this.
10. Please try not to play favorites. Of course, you may find some of your grandchildren easier to relate to then others but surely they all have redeeming qualities. It is important for all of your grandchildren to feel that they have a special place in your hearts.
I am, of course, aware that there are plenty of complicated grand-parenting issues that haven't been addressed here. Please write in and I will help you to address them.