The following is a guest post from Sandra Moncada. Sandra is a cycling enthusiast, who frequently escapes to hang out with her literary and movie heroes. She is vitamin D’s biggest fan, who is passionate about meditation, Pilates and beating stress. When she’s not floating in the ocean or her outdoor pool, she loves to write about lifestyle improvements, self-development and stress-relief methods. You can connect with her @SandramoncadaOh.
As a parent, you want the best for your children and that includes a healthy relationship with the people who raised you. The bond that your children form with their grandparents is a special one, so it’s important to foster this connection. That said, there are some challenges when it comes to the grandparent-grandchild relationship, not least of which is finding a balance between love and discipline, tradition versus modern thinking.
How the Community Grew
For thousands of years, human society thrived on communal living right from the start. In various tribal settings around the world, older women past childbearing years supported younger women with children, which created a unique bond between grandmothers and their grandchildren. Even as nomadic communities evolved into settlements and eventually suburbs, the old standards still placed heavy emphasis on community, specifically the family unit. Up until a few decades ago, it was still common practice to live with or close to your parents and grandparents. With the advent of technology, we’re not confined to the same neighborhoods that we grew up in. People moved away and families grew apart. Fortunately, life expectancy has also improved, meaning that you’re more likely to have at least one living grandparent well past your college years. Research suggests that older adults and their adult grandchildren benefit from maintaining close relationships. People who stay connected with their elderly relatives are less likely to be depressed, and it goes both ways. There’s a direct and powerful mental health benefit to keeping up with your grandmother across the country. While technology broke up the tribal community, it’s also enabled us to connect with people a world away. Skype, FaceTime and other apps let us maintain these crucial relationships.
Your Way vs. Their Way
Parents sometimes butt heads with their own parents when it comes to taking care of the kids, and it’s completely natural. With wisdom and experience that come from age, grandparents feel that they have a lot to offer their grandchildren in terms of guidance. Because parents are typically busier and more mentally exhausted, children may view parents as overly strict and their grandparents as “the fun ones.” This discrepancy can quickly evolve into an ugly scenario of “our way vs. their way,” a game that nobody wins. Here are some tips for respecting boundaries and parenting at every stage:
- If you’re the parent, recognize that your own parents bring value to your kids’ lives. They’ve raised children before, and they may be able to help you. In fact, that is what they’re trying to do, even if it seems like nagging.
- If you’re a grandparent, put yourself in your kids’ shoes. Think back to when you were starting the parenting journey, and ask yourself how helpful it was to receive unsolicited advice. In other words, you need to let your kids take the lead when it comes to setting rules and discipline.
Grandparents offer extra emotional and psychological support to their own kids and grandkids. At the same time, parents need to know that they can trust their own parents to adhere to the rules they’ve put into place for their children. Avoid outright criticism. Instead, offer suggestions only when asked, and back up your claims with examples from your own experience. Otherwise, the grandkids will get mixed messages about who’s in charge. Children need consistency. Parents and grandparents are both right to some degree, so shoot for compromise where you can, and remember that parents have the final say over their children’s upbringing.
Benefits of Grandparenting
As a grandparent, you have a lot to offer your grandchildren. If you’re retired, then you also have a lot more free time than your adult children, which allows you to spend more time on activities that they may not be able to do. Share your hobbies with your grandkids, whether it’s fishing and hunting, gardening, competitive chess or watching old films. As you reach this stage of life, include your grandchildren in your trips down memory lane. Explain what life was like when you were young, and don’t be afraid to talk about important issues that you had with your own kids when they were growing up. Your life experience gives you plenty to talk about, and children are captive audiences, especially when they’re young. When they have problems, your grandchildren might come to you more easily than they would with their own parents because you share a special bond with them, both familial and friendly. As an added bonus, the time that you spend with your grandkids can bring a new sense of purpose into your own post-retirement life.
Keeping the Kids Safe
As a parent, you’ll benefit from the built-in babysitting that your own parents can provide, but there are some important safety tips to keep in mind when you allow older people to care for your kids. You should watch out for the following:
- Small, breakable objects around your parents’ home that may pose a choking hazard
- Any (prescription) medications should be locked away in a medicine cabinet
- Any matches, lighters and candles that might be part of a more traditional lifestyle as well as fire safety equipment and how it may react to an open flame (check the kitchen stove, fireplace, barbeque etc.)
- Any chemicals or pesticides used for cleaning or gardening that can be easily reached
- Bird/cat/dog food should be out of sight and out of reach
- Keep the list of emergency contacts updated and easily accessible – the same goes for the first aid kit
Your grandkids are your legacy, so take the time to get to know them, offer them guidance and teach them practical skills that they can use as they age. And, if you’re a parent, let your own parents develop a good relationship with your kids while keeping in mind their safety. Trust your instincts, and relax. How do you foster the bond between your parents and your kids?