Your grown child has just announced that a baby is on the way and you are going to be a GRANDparent! Depending on the life journey that brought you to this point in time, you are excited……… maybe, sort of, or absolutely!
It is much like becoming a parent. First you are consumed with the idea of being a grandparent. You may be asked, “What do you want to be called?” You tell everyone of the upcoming event and proclaim pride and excitement in the knowledge, even if you are not certain that you actually ARE excited.
No matter how you are feeling, becoming a grandparent is absolute evidence that you have entered a new phase of life.
Once again you find you are trying to figure out how you will fulfill a new role – this time as a grandparent. If you had the opportunity to have a close relationship with your own grandparents or watched your parents in that role, you probably have an idea about what you would like your grandparenting style to look like.
Grandparents have the privilege to pass on family traditions such as making Christmas cookies with Great-grandmother’s cookie recipe or to start new traditions.
In any event, being open minded and having a good relationship with the parents of your grandchildren will be important in developing this new and enjoyable role in which there is an opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of your grandchildren.
Suggestions to Guide You in this New Role
- Grandparenting starts with the relationship with the parents of your grandchildren.
Regardless of the circumstances of your child’s relationship with a significant other, providing acceptance and showing love and support are the keys.
Believe it or not, your opportunity to be a grandparent will be anchored in the relationship with the parents. Creating a close relationship with your grandchildren will be easier if you have a positive relationship with the new parents. Building a friendly, happy relationship based in mutual respect is the first step.
- Verbalize your support and desire to be a friend and a resource.
Communication is vital to any good relationship so it is important that grandparents make sure they are very clear that they want only to be supportive and helpful.
- Respect the new parents’ desires.
All parents have their own ideas about parenting their children and showing love to them. It is likely that your child is going to parent the way you parented them, but you must remember that your grandchild’s other parent experienced a different upbringing and will bring different experiences to the family relationship. The family they have formed will be different from yours. Accept and enjoy their uniqueness – you might learn something new.
- Offer suggestions and ideas gently.
Today young parents have a great deal of information easily accessible due to the Internet. Keeping an open line of communication allows for great conversations about the children and related topics such as discipline, meal time and eating habits, to name a few. It is important for grandparents not to be offended if their suggestions are not accepted or incorporated. Sometimes it takes a while for the ideas to take hold, and other times they are simply rejected for another method or concept, which may be the parenting approach du jour.
- Be available and understanding.
As we know, many times new young parents need time away from the children. Actually, all parents need time away from the children. If grandparents live close enough, they can help to make that happen.
Whether in person or over the phone, your support and understanding can make the difference in the parents’ ability to parent effectively. Remember that sometimes others simply need an ear to listen as they vent.
- Be careful of criticism.
Criticism no matter how it is given can often be misunderstood. Grandparents should work to develop a team spirit. As a professional who has worked with parents over the years, it has been my experience that parents often do not want others telling them how to raise their children. However, building a sense of team spirit with parents has resulted in a positive outcome. Simple questions such as – “What would you like for me to do? How can I help? And have you thought of trying _________________?” are greatly appreciated. Encouraging parents to trust their instincts can be very valuable too. New young parents often lack confidence in their ability to be good parents and to make the best decisions for their children.
- Have fun.
Don’t forget to enjoy the development of the children and their parents. Part of the joy in being a grandparent is watching young parents develop parenting skills. Some will be those they experienced growing up as well as developing a style of their own. Young fathers tend to be much more involved with their children than prior generations. This is great for the family as a whole.
Interacting with the Grandchildren
Unconditional love is crucial. The message of “I love you because you are my grandchild” should be consistently expressed. Moms and dads are expected to love their children. Grandparents are an extension of the family and just distant enough to be different. This can be very important in building a child’s self esteem. Developing a positive relationship with your grandchildren can give them another source of support.
Young children see grandparents as other very important playmates – kind of like their parents but different. We know that young children learn through play and that playing with an adult who can allow the child to guide the interactions is invaluable.
Grandparents can provide input by taking time to share thoughts and ideas that mom and dad might not have had time to share. They can also provide support for mom and dad by encouraging children to listen to and follow their parents’ rules by providing reasons for the rules that might not have been shared.
To build a strong relationship:
- Be available to play – this is the beginning of building the relationship with the child.
- Be interested in the child’s interests and activities – if you live close enough to attend ball games, recitals and birthday parties, do it.
- Have conversations with your grandchild. Make sure that you take time to really listen to his thoughts and ideas. Often in this hectic world, busy parents don’t have much time for this. When children get to express themselves, their vocabulary will increase, as do thinking and verbal skills.
- Be positive of the child’s ability to accomplish goals. Praise for children builds self-esteem as long as it is specific. Praise will also encourage determination and confidence.
Just as every person is different, every grandparent is going to be different in his or her relationship with each of the grandchildren. Grandparents’ other responsibilities and their proximity to the family will play a role in the development of the relationship. Open conversations between the parents and the grandparents about the role of grandparents will be valuable to the entire family. As with all relationships, it should be based on respect and unselfishness, which translates to love.
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