Setting boundaries is one of the most difficult things that people do in relationships. One of the most difficult relationships that most people will navigate in their lives is the one they have with their parents.
The birth of a grandchild is usually a much-celebrated event in families, but it can cause unforeseen relationship issues.
You and your children may have differing views in terms of how often you should see your grandchildren, but a number of experts say that grandparents who find themselves asking this question may have stopped listening to the needs of their adult children.
In this article we will break down the best ways to foster a healthy relationship with your grandchildren while not being overbearing to your children.
How to Build the Grandchild-Grandparent Relationship
Though cultivating a relationship with your own child is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy relationship with your grandkids, if you’ve already got a strong bond with your child, you can build a good relationship with your grandchild through some of the following:
1) Shared Activities
One of the best ways to build a good grandchild-grandparent relationship is through shared activities. Chances are that both you and your grandchild each have some favorite activities, and sharing these activities with each other can be a great way to build a relationship.
For example, cooking, watching ball games or other sports, and even just walking through nature are all examples of activities that could be shared with a grandchild! Ask your grandchild to share some of their favorite pastimes with you too. Asking questions and showing a genuine interest in their interests and hobbies will help build the relationship, and as a bonus, you might get to learn something new too!
2) Passing on Family Traditions
Grandparents tend to be the source of some of the richest family traditions. As a grandparent, you have knowledge of the traditions that have been passed down for generations in the family and can share these traditions with the youngest members of the family: the grandchildren! Often, grandchildren have an avid interest in family traditions and it can be entertaining for everyone to learn more about these things.
If you decorate the Christmas tree with a specific set of ornaments, have a yearly habit of going golfing with all the men in the family, or enjoy baking sugar cookies every Halloween, invite your grandchildren to be a part of things! Involvement in family traditions is crucial to a feeling of belonging in a family, and so by involving your grandchildren in these activities, you’ll be building a relationship with them as well as helping them find their special place in the family.
Sharing stories from when you were the same age as your grandchild is a great place to start when it comes to storytelling. Kids love stories! And there’s nothing better than a true story about a real-life family member from the recent or distant past. Telling stories about yourself when you were younger or about other family members intrigues kids of all ages, and it’s a good way to find similarities between yourself and your grandchild that neither one of you may have thought of before!
Kids love stories about family and their ancestors because it gives them an opportunity to understand themselves better, too. If you start by telling stories about yourself when you were your grandchildren’s age(s), you’ll certainly start to also remember more stories that your grandchildren would enjoy from other times in your life or about other family members and friends.
4) Enhance Your Relationship With Your Child
Although it might seem like you should try to directly connect with your grandchild, it can actually have a greater and more positive impact to first try and enhance and improve your relationship with your child. Children watch their parents’ behavior carefully to decide how to behave and what to do, and if your relationship with your child is tense and fraught with difficulty, your grandchild is sure to notice and respond accordingly to you. If your relationship with your child is strained, your relationship with your grandchildren will also be strained.
Simultaneously working on your relationship with both your child and your grandchild can be a very positive experience. It’s important to still pay attention to your child, even now that they’re adults. The relationship may have changed, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone! When your children feel loved and taken care of by you (even as adults), this is more likely to translate into a better and healthier relationship with your grandchildren, too.
What grandparents should not do?
While there are a lot of things that grandparents can do to improve their relationship with their children and grandchildren, there are also some key things that grandparents should not do. Here are some of the things that grandparents should avoid doing if they want to maintain a good relationship with both their own kids as well as their grandkids:
· As a grandparent, you should NOT let other people watch/hold a grandchild when you are supposed to be watching them.
If your children expect you to be watching the grandchild, you need to be watching them. It might not seem like a big deal to you to leave your grandchild in the care of a trusted friend for a moment or two, or to hand your grandchild off to be held for a minute, but it can be a huge betrayal of trust for the parents.
· You should NOT disregard your children’s rules regarding how to care for the grandchild(ren).
Bed times, dietary requirements, disciplinary strategies, and other care practices that your children use with their kids may be different than what you did with your kids when they were growing up, but it’s essential to respect your child’s rules for their children if you want to stay in good standing with your kids and grandchildren.
· Do NOT give your grandchildren a lot of sweets and sugary treats.
Lots of grandparents love to lavish their grandchildren with candies and pastries, but unless it’s sanctioned by the parents (and it usually isn’t), this should not be done. Sending the grandkids home with their parents when they’re “high” on sugar can be a nightmare for your adult children who are left to deal with the clean-up, and if you do this regularly, it can make your kids feel less inclined to bring the grandkids over for visits.
· Do NOT make comparisons between your children and your grandchildren.
Even though you may love your grandchildren dearly, remember that you love your own children too and that although the two have similarities and differences, they are both near and dear to your heart. Making comparisons that make your kids or your grandkids seem better or worse than the other will only create distance and discomfort for everyone involved.
· Do NOT expect your grandchildren to partake in certain activities.
Even if you or your grandchild’s parents loved to play music, bake, or read a certain book series, that doesn’t mean that your grandchild will like the same activities. Encouraging your grandchildren to try new things that you think they might enjoy is one thing, but forcing them into activities they don’t like because you like them is something different.
· Do NOT play favorites with your grandchildren.
Avoid playing favorites with your grandchildren, since this can create a painful dynamic between the grandchildren and can also be painful for their parents. Even if you have a favorite grandchild, it’s important to treat each grandchild equally with love.
Understanding Boundaries as a Grandparent
According to experts on the American family, Lynne M. Casper and Suzanne, M. Bianchi, the ability for grandparents to be tightly knit into the family depends on geographical distance (or lack of it) along with family structure. These two things work together or against each other to create a dynamic that either fosters a strong relationship or creates obstacles to it.
Grandparenting styles will depend on the number of things grandparents have in common with their grandchildren and how often they’re able to see each other. If grandparents live a long distance from their grandchildren and they have a poor relationship with their adult children, this will create inevitable challenges in the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren.
Physical distance is a natural boundary that can get in the way of close relationships, but not always. Video and phone communication can sometimes bridge boundaries created by physical distance, but very young children won’t be able to respond to this media to make tight relationships until they’re old enough to have abstract thoughts. So, if your grandchildren are very young, it’s important to realize that the closeness of your relationship with them will be affected to some extent by the physical distance between you and them.
So, if you live on one side of the globe and your children live on the other, how can you maintain a close connection with your grandkids? Many grandparents overlook the fact that the relationship with their children should always come first, before their relationship with their grandchildren. They are parents first and grandparents second.
By creating a strong bond with your child and his or her significant other, you create an important, ongoing position for yourself in the family. If you have a strong bond with them, your adult children will keep the memory and idea of you alive with their children. They’ll tell stories about you and remind your grandkids to think of you. When children are young, they use their parents as role models to understand how to respond to people outside of the nuclear unit, so this is one of the most important ways in which your bond with your grandkids can be maintained.
As the parent of an adult child, you need to acknowledge that your child is an adult and treat them with respect while recognizing the challenges they face at the particular developmental age that they’re at. If your child is in their 20’s, then you would be wise to remember what it was like to be in your twenties, for example.
Young people at this age often struggle with career, finances, the early stages of marriage or even sometimes divorce or separation, and all of the auxiliary issues that go along with these things like finding adequate housing, settling into a work schedule, and balancing the demands of parenthood.
Giving advice is not usually the best way to parent adult children over the age of 20 years unless advice has been specifically requested, but if you want to be welcome at your child’s house to see the grandchildren, then be supportive and suspend your judgment of your child and his or her partner as long as the grandkids are being adequately cared for (fed, sheltered, and kept safe) and loved.
How often should grandparents visit their grandchildren?
The author of Intentional Parenting: A Contemporary Guide, Peggy Edwards, says that the length of grandparent visits depends on the comfort-level of the parents at having visitors in the home. According to her research, grandparents who live at a long distance tend to travel less often to visit and they stay longer, but the average number of visits that long-distance grandparents make each year is two to four times for trips lasting 5 to 10 days each.
But of course, every family is different and just because an expert says that a certain number of days or instances of visits is good does not mean that this will work for your family. One of the issues with following expert advice is that it may or may not take your adult child’s needs into consideration and you still need to be a parent to the adult child first. Show love, respect, and consideration toward your adult child. Ideally, the amount of time you spend with the grandkids should be determined through dialogue with your adult children.
Daycare or grandparents?
Another child-rearing expert, Emily Slone, cites cultural changes in western society and transitions as a cause for many of the family issues that exist today when grandchildren are born into the family. Years ago, grandparents were looked to for advice and assistance with child-rearing, but today, the healthcare system now functions as the “expert”.
Few people realize that when daycare was first proposed, just prior to World War II, studies by Albert Bandera (the developer of Attachment Theory) demonstrated that very young children did poorly in these environments. But during World War II, many women had to go to work anyway, so this research was swept under the rug and children went to daycare anyway. Today, daycare is a fixture in society, but studies still demonstrate that young children (under age 5 years especially), tend to be emotionally much healthier when they are raised by at least one dedicated caregiver who is truly invested in their well-being. At daycare, children never know who their caregiver will be from one day to the next.
As a general rule, daycare is not considered an optimal environment for very young children, but some parents opt for daycare rather than soliciting grandparents for help because grandparents will not obey the parent’s wishes or they impose judgment on their adult children for having a way of life different than their own. Grandparents who wish to function as daycare for their grandchildren need to see the bigger picture and understand that in order for their house to be a better situation than daycare, they must be supportive toward the family unit as a whole and toward their adult children in particular!
What is a toxic grandparent?
A toxic grandparent is someone who loves their grandchildren, but who is critical, judgmental, and manipulative within the family unit. Their behavior creates turmoil that is destructive, rather than supportive toward their children and the family as a whole. Many toxic grandparents view their behaviors as “helpful” in that they think they are contributing toward the betterment of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.
So how do you know if you’re a toxic grandparent or not? If your children have systematically worked to exclude you from their home or their lives, you might be a toxic grandparent. Most children want their parent’s support and they want their children to be loved and supported by their parents as well. So, if your children are trying to exclude you from the family and they are telling you that you are critical or manipulative or toxic, then it may be time to make some big changes if you want to maintain contact with your grandchildren!
If you think you might be a toxic grandparent and you’re afraid of being excluded from your grandchildren’s lives, consider going to a therapist or seeking out change therapies that would help you work on your own issues. Solicit help from trusted therapists or mediators to communicate with your children in ways that are constructive and beneficial for both parties. And keep trying to communicate with your children to let them know that you love them, no strings attached!