For many people it is a joy to become a grandparent and they look forward to it one day. I know that I look forward to grandparenting, but not for MANY, MANY years. While I have small children at the age of 44, I do have friends my age who are grandparents already. Grandparents are such a blessing, on the most part, and our children definitely need them.
Just like there are many different names for grandmother or grandfather – Mimi, Pops, Nanna, Papa, Granny, Grandad, Oma, Opa – there are different grandparenting styles: formal, fun-seeking, distant, surrogate parent, or the holder of family wisdom.
CHALLENGES GRANDPARENTS FACE
- Generational differences
- Different parenting styles
- Can you discipline and how?
- Parental boundaries (what parents want vs what grandparents want to do)
I think one of the main differences is how much society and technology has changed over the years. I remember my grandmother having a horrible experience with a microwave when my little brother was born. It impacted her so much she never would use a microwave again! And think how car seats have changed. When my grandparents were parents they didn’t use car seats and strollers/prams were easier. Now you almost need an engineering degree to be able to set up and use them!
Different Parenting Styles
I know that how I parent is different from my parents raised me. It can create some challenges, and that’s ok. It is a matter of communicating expectations, and perhaps even the WHY. Don’t let it cause a rift.
This is a big one. Can a grandparent discipline? And if so, how? Conversations need to be happening, especially if grandparents are going to be watching your children. The last thing you need is majorly different discipline techniques that can confuse your children.
This is probably one of the trickier challenges. I do believe that parental boundaries need to be respected. And I know that it can be tough, especially in light of generational and discipline differences. My husband and I have boundaries for our girls and we would like them to be respected, no matter who is watching them, even with grandparents (when the girls get to see them). It all comes down to communication and talking through everything. There needs to be respect of the parental boundaries, and also of the grandparents.
“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”Rudolph Giuliani
A toxic grandparent is someone with an over-inflated ego and a lack of empathy for other people’s feelings. That includes people closest to them — their family. Their actions and behaviors cause difficulties in the relationship.
No one wants to think that they will ever be a toxic grandparent or have one in their life. But sadly it does happen. What are some signs that your child’s grandparent is toxic?
- They undermine you as a parent
- They feel entitled to access to your children (I always say “being a grandparent is not a right, it’s a privilege”.)
- Lots of gift giving, usually to buy love and affection and bribe the children
- Meddling in how you parent, challenging your decisions
- Playing favorites
- Being critical, judgemental and manipulative of your children
What can we do about toxic grandparents?
Sometimes the best way, and probably the most painful, is to limit contact with the toxic grandparent. This could mean only supervised visits or completely cutting them off. It is not going to be easy and your children could resent you (for a time) but you have to do what is best for you in the long run.
There are 2 types of absent grandparents – those who remain absent by choice, and those, like ours, who are overseas because we have chosen to live in a different country. Those usually, when we refer to absent grandparents, we are talking about those who are usually absent by choice. What can we do in those situations? It is best to talk to your children, in an age appropriate way, about how they have made these choices, and to listen to your children about their feelings on the matter. Be as honest as possible but your children knowing all the details is not important. They don’t need to know. Don’t trash talk their grandparents either. Be above the pettiness you might, and could very well rightfully be feeling.
If you live away from grandparents and seeing them is not an often occurrence, use things like video chats and Marco Polo. Because we live far away from our parents (as in other countries), we have made grandparenting hard for them. They don’t get the day to day, or regular interaction. It generally needs to be planned, and visits are on average every 2-3 years. My girls love to video chat with their grandparents (well, put on shows for them) and will try to take my phone so they can send Marco Polos. We try to incorporate as much day to day stuff as might not be boring. We don’t want it to be only special occasion videos.
Do you have grandparents around for your children? It is a blessing if you can. I understand that, in that we don’t have grandparents close by for regular interaction. Grandparenting has, I think, always been fraught with challenges, but I can only truly acknowledge the ones I see my parents face as they embrace being grandparents to their grandchildren – both local and internationally.