In my last blog I looked at the role of grandparents and substitute grandparents – people outside a nuclear family who offer love and support to the parents and children. It can be tricky. Grandparents are being called on more than ever. House prices are high and normally both mum and dad need to work, which means grandparents are often needed to mind children. A survey by News Corp in 2018 found that eight out of ten grandparents babysit and on average they are doing 20 hours of childminding a week. But sometimes grandparents have misgivings about how children are being raised, and want to have some input with parenting. Again this is very tricky. I had a few helpful hints in my last blog and I want to continue with them today.
1. If possible, wait to be asked for advice
I think the best way to support a young family is by giving practical support – offer to babysit, make a meal, bring in the washing and fold it up. This can improve parenting. For example, you may think your daughter or daughter-in-law is yelling at the children too much. Rather than voicing your concerns, provide some loving practical support such as shopping and childminding. Aim to make her life easier. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mum stops yelling as much and is happier with the children.
2. If you must speak…
If you have a major worry that you feel you must raise, ask permission to speak first and speak to the best person (it might be your own adult child or you might have a better relationship with the in-law). Never speak in front of the children and use tact and timing.
A word of warning, never ever take the side of one parent when a couple is having marital problems. Stay neutral and support and love them. Offer to babysit more so they can have time together and sort out their issues. Suggest counselling, but do not offer marriage advice. It will alienate you from one of them, perhaps both.
3. Remind your spouse to be respectful
Support and guide your spouse when it comes to grandparenting. If your husband or wife is being intrusive or critical or trying to discipline the grandchildren have a heart-to-heart talk with him or her. Do not do this in front of your adult child or the grandchildren or the in-law. Again use tact and timing. Don’t make your spouse feel like they have stuffed up. Start with the positive, tell them all the things they do right, how much the children love them and then go on to where they are going wrong. Remind them their role is to support their parents and not do the parenting. Both of you should decide what the boundaries are for you as grandparents. Clear up issues together first, and then if needed, tell the parents that you will respect their authority and be grandparents not parents.
4. Be realistic about what you can give
Perhaps your own health isn’t perfect, that is okay. Give what you can give and what you want to give. Remember you also need a life. Many young families are struggling financially, support them as best you can but make sure you also have a life. If you have commitments on some days, tell your adult children that you can’t help out on those days. Tell them how important it is that you go to your swimming or writing group. You have worked hard all your life, and now you deserve some time to do what makes you happy.
Be clear, honest and thoughtful about what you will and won’t do as a grandparent. Some grandparents feel they have already brought up their own children and want a break while other grandparents long to be involved in every aspect of their grandchildren’s lives. Know what you are willing to do and make this very clear. Are you willing to be called to pick up or drop off kids, babysit, called at the last minute, watch sports carnivals? Being clear is better for everyone. It is YOUR DUTY to make your life full and exciting. Being a grandparent is not your only role. If you have a full, busy, satisfied life then your children and grandchildren won’t feel that they have to take responsibility for you and your happiness.
Also, check that both parents are happy with how much time you are spending with their family. Your adult daughter might be happy if you often drop in, but your son-in-law might feel you are being intrusive. If you get a sense that the husband and wife feel differently, be sensitive and don’t create marital problems. The role of fathers in a home is very important and you don’t want to step on any toes.
5. Acknowledge underlying tensions
People should not live long-term with underlying issues and frustrations. If a situation with extended family is making you unhappy you are going to need to change it. That will require sensitive, delicate conversations at the right time. If you feel that someone is not speaking to you with respect say so – what they are saying might be reasonable, however if the way they are saying it is hurtful, then guide them and request they be more sensitive and kind.
6. Be flexible and enjoy time with the children
Being a grandparent is a wonderful privilege, and a chance to love your grandchildren and give to them. Your goal is to be supportive, not critical. Aim to let go of expectations of how you think things should be and instead enjoy the moment. Try not to focus on the quantity of time, but the quality of time with the children. Make every moment precious.
Even if you don’t agree with what the parents are doing (as long as there are no health or safety concerns), trust them. Again remember you weren’t the perfect parent and the world has changed.
Love children unconditionally and be helpful and supportive to the parents, not judgemental. At the end of the day remember no one is perfect – not the grandparents, the parents or even the children.
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.