Grandparents come in all types. There are doting grandparents, long-distance grandparents, supportive grandparents, uncomfortable grandparents, “bonus” grandparents (for stepchildren), interfering grandparents, helpful grandparents, annoying grandparents, wealthy or poor grandparents, positive mentoring grandparents, and everything in-between.
I think about this a lot – especially during the holidays when families are often thrown together in family situations. While some grandparents have the pleasure of spending lots of time with their grandchildren, others are long-distance and that often makes it harder when families get together for long periods of time.
I’d like to think I’m a grandparent who offers help, support, encouragement, mentoring, and love to my grandchildren and their parents. But that’s my personal view of who I am — I’m sure my daughters and son-in-laws would have a slightly different opinion at times! Even though I know better, I have stepped over the bounds of “grandparenting” at times.
As I pondered the question about what makes a great grandparent, I thought about some things we could all keep in mind as we welcome grandchildren into our lives. Whether you’re the parent or the grandparent, these might be helpful tips — and they may be worth sharing with your parents if you’re an adult child with children of your own.
- Respecting the parents is the number one rule for grandparents. After all, you are not the parent to the grandchildren. Your adult children may make different parenting decisions than you did, but that’s okay and it’s important to respect them. If you try to tell your children how to raise their children, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed, sometimes angry, and often upset. Respecting your children is important to a healthy relationship for everyone. Times have changed and the world is a different place for children today — psychology has also advanced and taught us a lot about the impact of how we raise children — so what worked 20, 30, or 40 years ago may not work today.
- Always be clear about the role you WANT to play in a grandchild’s life. This may be even more important when you live close by or if you work part or full-time outside the home (or in the home). For example, how often do you want to babysit or pick up the kids at school? Are you willing to babysit during the day and at night when needed – or do you prefer days only? If you work outside the home, do you even want to babysit at all? It’s important to be clear about this so there are no hard feelings along the way.
- The parent’s rules come first. This is a hard one for many grandparent but consistency is vital for children. Otherwise, they get confused and don’t exactly know how to behave in certain situations. Know the rules that have been set by the parents and stick to them as closely as possible. Of course, grandparents are often given a little more leeway with rules (like staying up 15 minutes past bedtime at grandma’s house sometimes), but stick with the rules as much as possible and there will be fewer disagreements and hard feelings with your grown children and in-laws. Reinforcing the parent’s rules is an important grandparenting responsibility.
- Don’t allow grandchildren to get away with bad behavior. Grandparents don’t want to be the disciplinarian in most cases, but it is important not to let children think it is okay to be rude or inappropriate in any way. Decide the best way to handle bad behavior and be consistent – this should be discussed with the parents so you are in agreement.
- Don’t try to over-indulge grandchildren with “things”. It’s tempting to give them more than they need and everything they want, but it’s not a good idea. Instead, consider giving them more of your time and attention. Focus on activities rather than things and encourage an active, healthy, and educational lifestyle. Grandchildren are definitely for “spoiling”, but that can be done in ways that also helps build character and focus.
- Be fair. It’s easy to overdo it with the first grandchild. But remember that there are likely to be more grandchildren in the future and you want to be able to be fair to all of them. Giving the first grandchild a $10,000 savings account for college would be quite grand – but can you do that for #2, #3 and #4? Think about this when you have your first grandchild so you don’t set yourself up to disappoint others in the future — including your own grown children!
- Forget about food as a reward. Unfortunately, many of us as grandparents came from a generation when it was a real treat to get soft drinks, store-bought goodies, and sweets. I remember getting a peppermint stick once when I got a great report card at school (no, I am not THAT old but times change quickly!). It was truly a treat. Today, it’s easy to treat kids to lots of fun things like cupcakes, ice cream, candy, and other treats that are so easily accessible. But don’t use these things as rewards and always use them sparingly. Grandparents can play an important role in influencing how children learn to eat and live healthier lives — and what they see as a reward for good behavior, hard work, and success.
- Go outdoors. Children who see their grandparents spending time outdoors are watching important role modeling.Taking a walk in the park, playing at the neighborhood playground, visiting a nature center, or walking on the beach is a way to show children how to enjoy the outdoors, get some healthy exercise, and have a great time together. Grandparents are great at teaching kids how to do fun yet simple things like identifying different types of leaves, skipping rocks on a lake or pond, and collecting unusual rocks. Teach children how much fun it is to enjoy fresh air and nature because it’s just beyond the front door.
Being a grandparent is one of the most rewarding things in my life. My grandchildren are precious to me and they keep me younger and healthier than I would be without them. They inspire me to look at life with open eyes and a positive attitude every time I am around them. I am blessed to have a wonderful relationship with my own daughters and that allows me to be an active part of my grandchildren’s lives too. But I also know that I am not the parent to my grandchildren.
Enjoy your grandchildren and love them in very special ways. Respect the rules and direction set by their parents and focus on being a role model who shows them how to make the most out of every day. The rewards of grandparenting and being a part of shaping their young lives is one of the greatest rewards in life.