The role of grandparent comes in all shapes and sizes. Grandparents can be fountainheads of wisdom or wellsprings of irritation to parents. Whether you are helpful or critical depends on how you view your own children in their roles as parents today, and on the role you establish for yourself.
There's no doubt that you as a grandparent can be an invaluable resource! The key is to find your place in the family. A satisfying role means you must fit into the family culture, rather than challenging it. And that means grandparents must take a back seat when it comes to parental decision-making.
This doesn't always come naturally. Times have changed, and families must adapt to far different situations than we may have coped with as parents. More is known today, too, about child development. Such changes in culture can create differences in childrearing approaches that may be misunderstood.
For example, more than half of children today have two parents working outside the home. This statistic alone changes the way the family operates. In turn, grandparents may observe changes in the manner in which children are raised. Small children may attend preschool, stay up later to be with their parents, appear at late-night hours in restaurants, use computers ... the list goes on. And if that isn't enough, discipline may appear to evaporate; the old adage "Children should be seen and not heard" has definitely gone out the window. Our own children are more concerned about empowering their young than we may have been.
As grandparents we want to offer our knowledge, but when the situations in which we see our grandchildren are foreign to us, we may find ourselves critical instead of supportive. We may also feel hurt at the implication that our own children believe the way we raised them was not the right way after all.
To be a great grandparent means we must allow and forgive our own mistakes and be open to learning from our children. It also means that we accept that our adult children will also make their own mistakes. It is vital that we adopt a nonjudgmental approach to the parents of our grandchildren when we see them doing things we would not have done. It is wise to find out why they do things differently than we did, rather than feel defensive about our past decisions as parents or critical about their different practices. After all, we had our turn, and now it is their time to be in charge! And what can we really say about how we would raise our own children today? We are not experiencing the same pressures that our children experience as adults and parents. Each generation has its own unique challenges. Work toward understanding the differences when they come up, rather than simply reacting to them.
You can be a positive force in your grandchild's life by fitting into the family culture, rather than bucking it. Following are some "do's and don'ts" to help you accomplish this.
Parenting can be hard, so let the parents of your grandchildren know when they are doing a great job and what you admire about their parenting style. But above all else, enjoy your grandchildren! The grandparent role is one to relish, not to sweat over. Leave the parenting to the parents.
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. She is a clinical member of The Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a Diplomate with the National Association of Social Work. She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.