Now That You're a Grandparent

March 21st, 2013
Image © by Clover_1 | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Cindy, age 40, is a housewife, mother of three, and grandmother of one. Edward, age 75, is a retired piggyback operator and father of two grown daughters. Sherry, age 38, is a successful career woman who recently married a man with two children and three grandchildren. Paul, age 52, is a prominent church leader and has just learned that his teenage daughter is pregnant.

What do all of these people have in common? They all have entered the wonderful, scary, often challenging, and sometimes perplexing world of grandparenting.

Becoming a grandparent is always a signifi­cant life transition and never a choice of your own. You may be thrilled to know that you are going to be a grandparent. Or you may not be sure you like the idea at all; you may be wondering how being a grandparent is going to affect your current life situation. Whatever your feelings, you are probably asking yourself some important question.

What Does Being a Grandparent Mean?

Becoming a grandparent means that you play an important and significant role in the lives of your children and grandchildren. During this adventurous journey you will encounter many opportunities to have a positive impact on the minds and hearts of your loved ones. If you are clear about who you are, what your needs are, and how to have those needs met appropriately and adequately, you won't make the mistake of investing all of your identity in being a grand­parent. More important, you won't fall prey to the temptations of vicariously achieving your own goals through your grandchildren or directing your children's parenting.

Who Am I as a Grandparent?

Today's grandparents come in all ages, from all walks of life, and with many different life situations. As a connected and interested grandparent, you will want to develop and maintain these skills:

  • Making time for and giving concentrated attention to each grandchild on an individual basis.
  • Learning to listen both to words and to underlying feelings that are being expressed.
  • Playing.
  • Providing family continuity through story­ telling.
  • Offering wise counsel when asked.
  • Providing tolerance and sympathy for struggling teens.

What Happens to My Relationship with My Adult Children?

One of the most helpful gifts you can give as a grandparent is to continue showing love for your own children, who are now the parents of your grandchildren. They still need you as a resource for stability and guidance as they try to do what you have already accom­plished—raise a family. They can use your valuable, practical experience, and they need to know that you are available and willing to help when they are confronted with the diffi­culties and challenges of parenting. Here are some things you can do to keep the relation­ship with your adult children alive and well:

  • Be supportive without interfering.
  • Be helpful without criticizing.
  • Be a loving grandparent, but not overindulgent.
  • Avoid offering instant solutions.
  • Refrain from psychoanalyzing.
  • Never give unsolicited advice.
  • Always ask, "How can I be helpful?"
  • Ask for feedback-what you are doing right and what changes you might need to make.
  • Share openly and honestly with your children when you encounter negative feelings-your own or theirs.

What is Expected of Me?

Be involved in your grandchildren's faith development.

As a grandparent, you are a powerful role model; and you carry enormous influence in your family. Your values, actions, attitudes, words, and lifestyle all send important messages to your children and grandchildren. So, what can you do to ensure that you leave your grandchildren a meaningful spiritual inheritance?

  • Let them hear you pray.
  • Encourage them to form their own prayers at bedtime and mealtime.
  • Make available age-appropriate spiritual materials.
  • Read Bible stories to/with them.
  • Share worship experiences with them when possible.
  • Do service-oriented projects together.
  • Answer all questions honestly.
  • Model unconditional love.
  • Encourage feelings of self-worth.

Be a stabilizing force in the family.

You have been through rough times in your own life, and you have survived. As a result, you are a constant reminder that God is faithful and can be trusted to work things out for the best. Your patience, endurance, and stability—even in the midst of difficult life situations—provide an important grounding for your grandchildren as they struggle to cope in a world of "instant gratification."

Be an active participant in your grandchildren's lives.

To be an effective grandparent, you must be an involved grandparent. Here are some general suggestions that may prove helpful:

  • Stay in touch regularly, even if you live away.
  • Share your interests with your grandchildren, and show interest in theirs.
  • Play and participate in activities with your grandchildren.
  • Know their parents' wishes and preferences regarding food, sleep, discipline, etc.
  • Accept and follow their parents' discipline methods.
  • Be clear about your house rules.
  • Keep your home "child safe."
  • Keep materialistic gifts to a minimum.
  • Don't show favorites.
  • Recognize and reward achievements.
  • Keep practical, age-appropriate items on hand.
  • Always be prepared for emergencies.
  • Obtain and keep in a safe place a signed form giving you permission to seek medical attention for your grandchildren if necessary.

What About Grandparenting from a Distance?

Very often in today's transitional and mobile world, grandparents are not able to close to their grandchildren. If you happen to be one of those grandparents, here are a few suggestions:

  • Learn how to send email, pictures, even videos using online tools to stay in touch frequently.
  • Ask for their favorite cookie/snack recipes and then bake and send a batch to them.
  • Call them, and speak only to them, not just after you talk to your adult child.
  • Don't forget to send birthday, graduation, and special occasion cards.
  • Start a scrapbook of your family history, also send it digitally. Be sure to have it available for them to flip through when they come to visit. Keep pictures in prominent places to remind small children of special memories, teens will appreciate looking at them too!

What Do I Do When I Don't Know What to Do?

Being a grandparent brings a lot of joy, but it also can bring a lot of frustration and feelings of helplessness. For example...

  • What do you do when you see signs that your grandchild may be stressed and no one seems to be noticing?
  • What do you do when your teenage grand­child tells you something you know is poten­tially harmful to them or to others?
  • What can you do when you suspect your grandchild is being abused or neglected?
  • What are your options when parents divorce and you are not allowed to see your grand­children?
  • How can you help your grandchildren cope with the death of loved ones or friends?

There are several good resources, including pastoral counseling centers, that can help you find helpful ways to respond to these questions and others you may have. Never hesitate to seek help when you or your grandchildren need it. This could be the greatest gift of love you ever give.

What Happens to My Relationship with My Grandchildren If Their Parents Divorce?

Unfortunately, this disturbing question is asked by many grandparents today. If you should find yourself in this situation, the good news is that your role will increase rather than decrease in importance. During those troubled and confusing times, a child needs a place of stability and comfort to turn to; and you as a grandparent can provide that haven. You will become an important advocate and resource person for your grandchildren as they struggle to sort out their sense of loyalty to each parent and to deal with their fears about what is going to happen to them. Here are a few helpful hints:

  • Above all, stay calm, keeping your own emotions under control when talking with the parents or your grandchildren.
  • Deal with today, keeping in mind that the past is not always pertinent to the problem today.
  • Listen for the feelings that are being expressed underneath the words, and don't take anything personally.
  • Be open and honest about your own feel­ings without being judgmental.
  • Be available to your grandchildren when they need to talk or have questions.
  • Encourage your grandchildren often and accept all their feelings without judging or trying to change them.
  • Do not verbally attack either parent in front of the grandchildren.
  • Refrain from all preaching and moralizing, practicing understanding and compassion as much as possible.
  • Demonstrate your importance in the family by providing an accepting, warm, supportive atmosphere that will encourage clear thinking and appropriate behaviors.

As a wise, thoughtful, caring grandparent, you will have many opportunities during those difficult days and months of uncertainty to reinforce positive self-concepts and contribute to your grandchildren's total well-being.

The Faith Perspective

As a grandparent, you have an incredible responsibility as well as a powerful opportunity. Not only are you a significant influence in the lives of your children and your children's chil­dren; you actually are setting the course for future generations. (Deut. 4:9) In fact, God has promised to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who are faithful. (Ex. 20:5-6) Just think about it: by striving to be a godly example and a faithful teacher for your children and grandchildren, you could positively impact your family for generations to come. What will your legacy be?

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