Grandparents can be some of the most important people in your children's lives, even if they live a distance away. I have many fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Niantic, Connecticut. The drive there was fun, and their home was magical. I remember vividly playing underneath their grand piano with my brother and cousins. I also remember the front porch and the hydrangea bush at the corner. I have very few memories from my childhood, but I remember every detail about their house and yard. We used to dig in the dirt under the hydrangea bush and find old marbles, and after my grandmother told me about the tooth fairy taking our teeth and turning them into pearls, I would lift the edge of the carpet at the bottom of the stairs and often find little pearls or other beads that had dropped off of the fairy's necklace. Every morning, we would have soft boiled eggs in an egg cup. After my brother and I had eaten ours, we would turn the shell upside down and present it to our grandfather asking, "Do you want another one, Grandpa?" He always did and was fooled every time, laughing at the great joke on him. These visits were my favorite times as a child. We were loved and adored in a way that parents can't possibly maintain.
However, grandparents can also be annoying know-it-alls. I have fallen into that trap myself sometimes with my own family and had to learn from those mistakes. Ultimately, parents know their children best and, although they will make mistakes, they are their own mistakes to make. We grandparents have already made ours, and it's time to pass on the baton. We are well-meaning and have learned a lot over the years and are often trying to prevent those same mistakes from happening again. But, it can be hard on new parents. How do we find a balance between sharing knowledge and being overbearing? I often try to ask the parents for their permission before putting in my two cents. I also ask if I'm overstepping my bounds and hope they will be honest with me. It's very important for grandparents to remember not to override a parent. They need our support, not our competition. Our job is to be an ally to both the parent and the child. That is not always an easy thing to do. It's a tightrope that we have to walk, and parents don't often recognize that struggle. The fact that we raised our children, and they are still our children even when they are adults but are no longer children, presents its own dilemma. So, what can we do to smooth things out?
Parents, please be compassionate with your parents. Understand that they are only trying to help. Ask for their opinions and for help solving problems. It's hard to feel left out. Don't only ask for their help with babysitting. Have fun time, too. Yes, you need a break, but grandparents raised children for a long time and also need a break - a long term one. Some grandparents thrive on babysitting, and that's great, but some don't. They may have a hard time saying no and may end up feeling resentful. Be sure that they have time with their grandchildren without you around so they can develop their own unique relationship, and try not to be jealous of that relationship. It is going to be very different from their relationship with you. We don't choose our families, but there are often certain family members that we really click with, people that we would befriend out in the world. It's important to acknowledge that and encourage the closeness that blooms from that. It enriches everyone's lives.
Grandparents, try to be sensitive to the needs of your children to have autonomy as parents. Don't criticize, and try to ask permission before giving helpful suggestions. Don't undermine their authority, whether verbally or through body language. Children see those eye rolls and hear those sighs. Keep things personal and reflecting your own experiences. Preface your suggestions with language such as, "I remember when you ... then I decided to ..." Or, "When I was a young parent, ______ told me ... and it was so helpful." Also, share your mistakes and failures as well as your successes. Remember how difficult parenting can be and let them know that you remember. You don't want to appear perfect. It gives your children an impossible standard to live up to and sets them up to feel like failures. And most importantly, praise their efforts often. Tell them what good parents they are. We all need to hear that.
The most important thing to remember is that we are all human, all doing the best we can under the circumstances, and we need to be compassionate with each other. We all love these young children and can learn to be a team.
Please send me your comments and suggestions for future topics. This blog is for you.