My wife and I are in our second year as grandparents to two lovely girls, ages 15 and 17 months. Our daughters announced to my wife when they were teenagers that they were both going to have children at the same time and lo and behold they both became pregnant within two months of each other!
Everything that anyone tells you about the wonders of having grandchildren are all true. In fact, I told Diane that we shouldn't have waited so long to have them! We just spent a week on Cape Cod with both of our daughters, one son-in-law in tow, and both of our granddaughters, now toddlers. It was a delightful week, but also full of new learnings.
When I was in third grade, my grandmother moved in with us. My mother lost her Mom when she was 18, and my Dad’s mother became her adopted parent. They had a close relationship. It was a great arrangement for everyone. My mother worked, and so my grandmother was there when I came home from school. I played cards with her and like all grandparents, she spoiled me. At night, if I was scared, I would go into her room and sleep on the floor next to her bed. When she died suddenly of a heart attack five years later, I was bereft. She was like a second mother to me.
Grandparents can play an important role for their grandchildren as well as provide real support and help to their children. My good friend Tracy and his wife have three grandchildren that live a block away from them. They play an active, actual role in their everyday lives. It’s more difficult when grandparents live farther away. Yet, I still have warm memories of my maternal grandfather, who lived in Florida.
What are some important lessons for grandparents?
Keep your opinions to yourself.
There are always differences in parenting approaches from one generation to the next. Today, the internet brings vast amounts of information to Moms and Dads from both experts and fellow parents. And there is new knowledge, approaches, and ideas that pediatricians and psychologists think are important for parents to follow. Our approaches may seem old-fashioned and out of date to new parents.
Don’t give unsolicited advice.
Now, that’s a tough one! We are so used to doing that as parents, it’s hard not to continue when our children start their own families. If your kids ask you for advice, the door is open to share your experience. Otherwise, don’t make suggestions.
Make it easy for grandchildren to visit.
My mother, the grandma of nine, lived far from all her grandchildren. She decided early on to pay for any of her grandchildren to visit her. She lived in Florida and her grandkids would fly down to spend school holidays with her. She didn't want the decision whether to spend the money to rest with their parents, who might have competing uses for those funds. The net effect—she had a very close relationship with all her nine grandkids, even in their adolescence when grandchildren are more interested in their peers than their family.
Ask your kids how you can be helpful.
On this trip, I wasn't always sure how to be helpful with my grandchildren. I told my daughters— “Just tell me what you want me to do. I’m excellent at following instructions”. They appreciated being in control of how I helped them.
It’s both wonderful to be a grandparent and it’s wonderful to have warm and loving grandparents in your life. And truly, it takes a small village to raise a child.