In the United States, over 70 million people are grandparents. Grandparents hold a special role in children’s lives. In some cases, they serve as surrogate parents; in most other cases, they are a source of knowledge, adventure, and life skills.
Grandparents got to attain that title by raising at least one child of their own, and they learned important parenting skills along the way. Still, there are several aspects that grandparents bring to the family relationship that differ from traditional parenting. Here, we’ll discuss several key skills that grandparents should master to achieve the proper balance in the family dynamic.
Skill #1: You are the Grandparent, Not the Parent
In some families, the grandparent raises their children’s children in place of the children’s parents. However, in most families, the grandparent plays an entirely different role. This grandparenting skill comes first because it is the most important one: by and large, the grandparent is not the parent.
Grandparents sometimes disagree with their grandkids’ parents; differing ways of raising children lead to friction within the family. Grandparents have their own preferences and biases developed over decades, and it can be hard for them to “let go” and let the children’s parents do what they do best. Grandparents are within their rights to establish rules and expected behaviors in their own homes, but this cannot and must not be allowed to bleed over to the child’s home. Parents have the ultimate authority over their children, and grandparents need to respect that. If a grandparent has issues with the way the child is being raised or disciplined, they should take it up with the parents in a private manner. Stepping in and trying to parent the children leads to tension and can undermine the hard work the parents are doing. It also sends mixed messages to the children, which can create unnecessary confusion. As a grandparent, you have a special role – don’t overstep that boundary and the family will continue to operate more smoothly.
Skill #2: Balancing Boundaries
Grandparents are often asked to assist with the day-to-day activities of the family. This might mean babysitting duty or other tasks. Helping with the children is an important part of the grandparent’s role, but there must be boundaries in place.
Too often, parents take advantage of grandparents. One request for assistance leads to regular requests, and soon the grandparents can become overwhelmed by the new responsibilities they face. Grandparents need to develop skills to establish boundaries and to stick to them. If you feel as if you are being taken advantage of by the parents, discuss some boundaries with them away from the children. Make deals, such as agreeing to watch the kids one or two days a week or every other weekend so the parents can take care of their own duties. It is critical to understand that as a grandparent, you can (and should) say NO on occasion.
Parents have their own boundaries, and those must be respected as well. Dropping by for unannounced visits can disrupt the family dynamic. If you have a key to the children’s home, letting yourself in can create unwanted tension and frustration. Resist the urge to “help yourself” to your grandchildren. Make arrangements with parents and don’t overstep them. Boundaries work both ways, and if parents and grandparents respect those boundaries, the family will continue to flourish.
Skill #3: Create Lasting Memories
It’s a fact of life that grandparents will not be around forever. Grandparents are substantially older than a child’s parents, so there may be less time for grandparents to interact with the grandchildren they love so dearly.
In order to maximize time with your grandchildren, it is critical to create memories they will carry with them long after you are gone. Grandparents have a unique role in that they are able to do things differently than the child’s parents; different interests and different areas of knowledge can lead to new experiences when grandparents and their grandchildren are free to explore. Tell stories about the way things were. Take grandkids on adventures. Spend time with them reading, helping with homework, and other daily chores. Expose them to new things – new foods, new places, new experiences. In these ways, you are creating memories that your grandchildren will cherish for the rest of their lives.
Skill #4: Be a Listener
In many cases, grandchildren may have things they simply do not want to share with their parents. It could be a school bully, a crush on a friend, or an issue that is causing stress. Grandparents should develop their listening skills, providing loving emotional support to help their grandkids get through the tough times they’re dealing with.
When you listen to your grandchildren, it is important to also respect their privacy. They may confide in you secrets they can’t (or won’t) tell their parents. Running off to share those secrets with the parents violates the trust the children have in you. Obviously, if something the grandchildren say is dangerous or needs the attention of the parents, it is wise to share, but in a supportive manner. It can be a fine line between trust and overstepping boundaries, so this skill can be a difficult one to master. Still, listening and providing adult interaction and support is critical to the healthy growth of the child.
Skill #5: Teach Grandchildren Something New
This skill is closely related to skill #3, where you should strive to create lasting memories. Grandparents grew up in a different time than the child and his or her parents. And, grandparents often have different interest than the children’s parents. To maximize your time with grandkids, teach them something new. Perhaps you love to fish or hunt – take the kids with you so they can be exposed to new experiences. Travel is another great way to offer a new perspective on the world. A special trip with the grandkids kills two birds with one stone: giving them new experiences as well as providing an opportunity for fond memories they will carry with them long after you have passed.