May 22, 2017

5 Skills Every Grandparent Needs: Part One


There are an estimated 70 million Americans who claim the title of "grandparent." For those of us lucky enough to have our lives blessed with grandkids, skills that are needed may seem rather obvious. After all, we raised at least one child to have a grandchild (basic biology). So, what skills might we have missed in the Grandparents Handbook?

It is not so much that certain skills are missing, but how they are used. The way we raised our own kids is not always the best model for dealing with our child's child. I have picked five that have the ability to make this experience a joy instead of a trial. Of course, there are probably another dozen (or more) skills that could be added to the list, but I had to draw the line somewhere!

This is part one of the "skills" post. To keep things from getting too long-winded, here are the first two skills. I believe these to be the most important. In a week I'll round out the project with the final three skills.  

1) You aren't the parent. This is first because it is the most important. Too many times I get emails from grandparents complaining about something they don't like about how a grandchild is being raised. It could be as insignificant as pickiness in food choices, or a preference for a light left on while he or she falls asleep. Maybe the "flaw" is judged to be more important, like the inability to share toys, or a tendency to prefer video games over reading.

Certainly, there should be rules within a grandparent's home. This is one way a child learns to compromise and that the world is more a more complex place. Behavior that damages property or risks injury must be prevented. 

But, it is very important that grandparents don't weaken the parents' authority. If you question some aspect of how the child is being raised, the issue should be discussed with the parent, but not in front of the child. Be prepared for your suggestion to be rejected. If that occurs, you have done your job: mentioned something you think is important or worth nothing.

At that point, your responsibility is complete. Accept what the parent decides and drop it. Forcing the issue any further runs the risk of alienating you from your adult child and the grandkids. 


2. Boundaries work both ways. Being available to help your grown children with their kids is one of the best parts of your new role. It might be babysitting while mom and dad have a night out or attend a meeting of some sort. There may be a time now and then where you can pitch in with some the constant shuttling of kids from one commitment to another.

Boundaries are important to keep one side of the equation from feeling taken advantage of. If there is  single parent situation you may have more requests for help. Even so, unless you are comfortable with taking on a bigger part of the load, it may be too easy for the parent to take advantage of your generosity. Too many requests for help or too many days spent babysitting may be too many. You have a life to lead that doesn't always involve a grandchild. Saying no becomes vital to your health and happiness.

Likewise, your daughter or son may not be overjoyed that you drop over, unannounced, time and time again, to offer help or advice. Even worse, if you have a key to their house and simply let yourself in, you are crossing a boundary that can cause real tensions and discord.


Agree or disagree with these first two points? I'd love your thoughts. 


28 comments:

  1. "1) You aren't the parent."

    Were it only so.......sigh

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    1. One of the toughest "rules" to follow, isn't it. Sometimes you bite your tongue enough to leave marks.

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    2. Roberta, you have taken on the role of parent, haven't you? As a public health nurse for >30 years, I saw grandparents take on the role of caregiver to their grandchildren. I believe you deserve a medal.

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    3. Mona, I think you are correct: Roberta is a "a parent" to her grandkids. A medal and a day off every now and then!

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    4. Yes. I am the parenting grandparent of a now 17 year old. I do deserve a medal don't I? My husband as well.....lol

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  2. Thanks for the advice, and I'm looking forward to more, since we just had our first grandchild and so are new to the game.

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    1. It is quite different from raising your own children. In many ways, it is more of a joy since the heavy lifting is down by others.

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  3. Not much to disagree with there. We have a great relationship with our daughter and grandchildren. Our daughter and husband do a great job and while there are some things we might do differently we keep our mouths shut. Not our house, not our kids, not our family. One thing for sure is that there's a lot less pressure being a grandparent than a parent as we aren't "responsible" for the grandchildren, we just enjoy them as they are.

    - David

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    1. Play with them, love them, help them grow up to be mature,and responsible adults, and then send them home or get into your car...what could be better!

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  4. Can't wait for the other three because the first two are spot on!! When my daughter got pregnant a little younger than planned (!), I made it very clear that I would do everything to help her be a good parent but that I was NOT the parent of her child. And while I have occasionally said too much in terms of "advice" I try to stick to that.

    And boundaries--yes! I am not a drop in babysitter, or even a regular gig babysitter. I know some grandparents are and that's fine. There is a range of healthy boundaries, but your point is well taken that there should be boundaries and those boundaries should be respected. I do have a key to my daughter's home, but that is just for the occasional necessity. I would never use it without her permission. And I never drop by unannounced. And when I am invited over, I ring the doorbell instead of using the key. Again, there is a wide range--I'm not saying my boundaries should be everyone's. But I know that having boundaries makes for a healthy relationship all the way around.

    Looking forward to the next skills post!

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    1. The key/knocking example is an important one. Both we and our daughter/son-in-law follow the rule of calling first and being granted permission to enter. It is just good manners and helps the grandkids learn respect for others early on.

      Part two will be posted in a week!

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  5. I overstepped boundaries in the beginning and 9 years later, I've learned my place, as with so many things in life. And right now I'm staying with those delicious granddaughters while their father is working. It's not that I have to, it's that I get to. It's been a w/e of sleeping in, building a fairy garden, scooter-ing (?) at the lake with cousins, games, scrapbooking, cuddling during movie time, cooking and just fun. I often think I will get some chore done after they go to bed but soon realize that tomorrow is another day and grandma better get some rest!

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    1. Sometimes we have the three kids over for 4-5 days - I am exhausted at the end! Their energy is non-stop and their curiosity contagious.

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  6. We're within 2-3 hours from both our sons and their sons. There are quite a few differences in how each family handles their kids. Neither of which would have flown in our house but, it's now not up to us to decide how they're raised. We do have rules in our house and when they're here they abide by them. I think the difference, in many cases, is not having the stamina and patience at our age that we had when we were raising our own. I never suffered empty nest syndrome because I welcomes it. I feel sad for some of my friends who seem to center their lives around their grandkids. My feelings on this matter relate quite a bit to the fact that I raised my brothers starting at age 12, for the most part, and when my own were grown I was ready to celebrate my life without the responsibility of children.

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    1. Because our family is so physically close to each other, empty nest never became an issue for either Betty or me. As I noted above, stamina is certainly not what it was when we raised our own. I could do it again if I had to, but am glad that is not our present reality.

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  7. We have one granddaughter who lives in Japan so even with frequent video calls we for sure are not the parents. But I think your advice in these two cases is spot on. I have read too many advice column entries about "helicopter grandparents" that show it is a problem when grandparents do not follow these rules/boundaries.

    However I would add that the "grandparent rules" need to start prior to the time their children even get pregnant. It is none of your business if or when your children will start a family or how many or how close together. It is not the job of your children to produce grandchildren for you. We have watched several friends almost loose contact with their children over these issues.

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    1. Good points, Bob. The stereotypical "when are you going to give us grandkids?" is very counterproductive as is the hovering "helicopter" approach.

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  8. In regards to #1, an important skill to learn is when to bite your tongue and not say what you may be thinking! I made this decision before my grandchildren were born and thankfully our adult kids have been excellent parents. Still there are times that I have been tempted to say something. Anytime I feel very strongly about something I will do as you said and speak to my adult kids away from the grandchildren and usually say something like "When you were a child I had good luck handling this situation like this..." That way I am offering suggestions and not being bossy.

    I agree completely with you on this point - we are not the parents and we should never undermine the parents authority.

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    1. Not acting like the parents is the best course to prevent problems all the way around, but it is tough sometimes. We so much want to help both the grandchild and the parents.

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  9. #1 You are not the parent. Agreed.
    When your children choose to raise the children in a different religion/politics (or no religion/politics), different types of foods or meals, transport them in a tank with bubble wrap, won't send them outside because they are afraid of the neighbors or let them "free walk", there is a whole lot to keep silent about --- or talk about it in a different setting.
    BUT when things are going very wrong- strong spanking, verbal abuse, 1940's style parenting- then it is up to someone to step in for the child. A friend's daughter married a very, very bright young man who came from a pretty rough household. He had very few "good" parenting skills. She offered to send him to classes, but that was refused. She totally supports their marriage, her daughter loves him and he loves her, but, she has stepped in to protect the child. She knows that she took the chance of ruining her relationship with the son in law, but she was willing to take that chance. She has always offered her help so that her daughter and son in law can have time and never talked poorly about the dad around the kids. After ten years, and three children, her son in law is growing into his role as dad. He is a good learner. She has backed out a great deal and their relationship thrives. You gotta know when to hold them and when to fold them!
    Personally, I do love to center our lives around the grands---and am not ashamed of it. The only people who will remember me 20 years after I have gone to the next life are my children, grands and great grands. All I have, that they desire, is theirs- my skills, my books, my stories. We did move across country to be close to them. I don't see a problem with that (but we do have #2 the good neighbor policy of planned visits :) )

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    1. You raise a very important exception to the idea of not interfering: if there is actual abuse, either mental or physical, then your responsibility is to step in. The child's safety must come before hurt feelings or alienation from the parents. Just be very, very sure what is going on isn't a different style of parenting, but actually something illegal and immoral.

      Thanks, Janette. This is a clarification that needs to be made.

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  10. I strongly agree with both points! It is hard, but it is how I live my life.

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    1. Thanks, Polly. Responsible behavior is hard, but what we are called to do.

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  11. The grandparents had their chance to do it the way they wanted;let your children have their say. The world is a different place each generation.(e.g. we walked to school even two miles, without supervision.) But I wouldn't do that now! And requesting that you can visit is a GIVEN! Incidentally I am 80 years old, have had many foster children, raised 4 successful children with ones of their own.

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    1. I walked three miles to school through the snow, uphill both ways....the old joke certainly doesn't work today. I am sure you remember the days when kids were sent outside to play with no supervision, except to be home by dinner time. Today, that type of supervision could end up with the parents in trouble for "neglect." It is a very different world.

      Thanks for sharing your lifetime of experience in this regard.

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  12. I have really struggled with sitting back and not intervening. One of my grandchildren is very bright but willful, and there are daily battles around mealtimes, bedtimes, and sugar. Although I have tried to say nothing, I feel frustrated to see him eat not one bite of his healthy delicious meal, and then a little later be given a sugary treat. Although I have forced myself to say nothing, I suspect that I am not successful in hiding my disapproving body language!

    I recently realized that in recent years, I have almost always seen my grandchildren at unusual, extra-exciting times, like Christmas, Easter, and birthdays, as these are the times that we have tried to travel there for visits. As I remember from my parenting years, kids do not exhibit their typical behaviours on these special holidays. They are likely to stay up too late, eat too many treats, and be extra emotional because of guests, presents, and special events. When I stayed with my grandchildren for a week recently to look after them, I saw almost none of the poor behaviour that had frustrated me so much. It was a big mental shift for me -- my perceptions had been based on atypical holiday behaviour, not their usual daily behaviour. So I was glad that I had bit my tongue!

    Jude

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    1. Wow...what an important discovery! If you experience your grandkids in extraordinary circumstances then their behavior cannot be projected to the rest of the year. Thank you, Jude. That is an important insight for all of us to learn from.

      It points to another trait for grandparents that is important: patience!

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    2. Sadly, I am not known for my patience 😛

      Jude

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