A grandparent’s role is to be a loving, supportive presence to their grandchildren. What this looks like will vary, depending upon the needs of their grandchildren’s parents.
Negotiating boundaries is a priority for parents and grandparents, and will become an integral part of their ongoing relationship, as grandchildren get older. A healthy, functional relationship between parents and grandparents is one where there is open, respectful and clear conversation. Where there is a failure to discuss boundaries, it is very likely that the relationship will suffer due to boundary violations.
To help us understand this principle, imagine someone moving next door to your property. The driveway of the adjoining property is attached to your own. There is no fence to mark the boundary between the two properties. Your new neighbours choose to park one of their vehicles part way over your driveway without any thought to speak to you about this infringement. They have made the assumption that you will not mind them using part of your property. How would you feel? Would you be annoyed, resentful — possibly angry?
When we make ‘assumptions’ based upon our own experiences and needs rather than basing our behaviour upon a grounded conversation, resentment grows, creating a distance between parents and grandparents.
What we ‘imagine’ it will be like to be a grandparent verses the reality is likely to be very different. Generationally, parenting in 2019 looks very different to parenting in the 1990’s. The role that our own grandparent had in our life as a child will not follow the same template when it is our turn to be a grandparent. Ultimately it is not the grandparent’s job to parent their grandchildren. Nor is it the grandparent’s role to tell the parent how to do their job (even if you don’t agree). A wise grandparent will let the parent know that they are loved, supported and respected as the parents of their grandchildren.
To this end a grandparent might initiate the conversation about boundaries by asking the parents what they imagine the role of grandparent would like. Would they like you to support them by doing something on a regular basis with your grandchildren such as taking them to a play group? As your grandchildren grow, would it be helpful if you picked your grandchildren up from school and took care of them until their parents come home from work? You could offer to take care of your grandchildren so that their parents could spend some quality time together.
As parents it is important that we make a conscious act of ‘letting go’ of our adult children by talking openly about how our relationship is changing. Letting them know that they can always count on your loving support is an absolute. I have particularly admired some close friends who made a point of letting their adult children know that they would respect their privacy by allowing them to initiate the interaction between the two parties. Over time, this has mutual respect for the other has allowed the parent/grandparent relationship to thrive. This assumes that the relationship between the parents and grandparent has been built upon open, honest respectful communication in the past. Where this has not been the case, it is never to late to apologize and start building a different kind of relationship.
What do the new grandparents need to be aware of?
Where grandparents seek me out as a counsellor, it is likely that they are feeling shut out and hurt by the parent’s lack of communication and the absence of their grandchildren. Frequently grandparents in my office will say, ‘I have a right to see my grandchildren’, believing that access to their grandchildren is a non-negotiable. Ideally, a grandparent will have opportunity to see their grandchild regularly however where the relationship with the parent experiences difficulties a grandparent may not have as much access to their grandchildren. If this is the case, a grandparent needs to work at healing and building the relationship with the parent. It is not appropriate nor respectful seek out time with your grandchild without the approval of their parent.
I believe that being a grandparent is a privilege. Whilst by definition you become a grandparent when your adult child produces offspring, this in itself does not ‘entitle’ you to interact with the grandchild as you choose. To do so, is likely to be intrusive and disrespectful to the parents. By regarding your role to be a privilege a grandparent will communicate their caring support and availability however will wait for the invitation.
Do you struggle to connect with your grandchildren? Are you about to become a grandparent? Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how we can best help you or book online now.