The early challenge of becoming a grandparent is that you will be dealing with the parents of your grandkids. Adult children are the gateway into your grandkids’ lives. To have a successful relationship with your grandkids, you must have a successful relationship with their parents. The primary relationship children need to develop is with their parents. Although your relationship with your grandkids is important, it is secondary to the one they need to have with their mom and dad. Since your adult children are the gateway to having a relationship with your grandkids, let’s talk about a couple of things you need to understand to build successful relationships with your grandkids’ parents.
Successful relationships start with understanding
First, you need to realize who is the key decision maker in your grandchild’s life. When my first grandchild was born, I was thrilled to have MY grandchild! But I realized that he did not belong only to me; he belonged mostly to his parents. They have their own hopes and dreams for him. They have goals and expectations about what kind of life they want their children to have. In addition, they also have their own fears and concerns. This child belongs to them more than he belongs to me.
We have a saying in our family, “He who does the work, gets the say.” It’s a good saying. One of the first things I needed to remind myself was that the parents were doing the lion’s share of the work. I was sleeping just fine. They carried the lion’s share of the responsibilities. That meant they were going to have the say. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t be a part of the conversation.
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Every family is different
Second, you need to realize that every family is going to do things differently. As my adult children and their spouses began to add children to their families, I saw that each family was choosing to parent in different ways. They were reading different books, visiting different website, and talking to different groups of friends.
One family was using a variation of the “cry it out” method to help their child sleep, while another embraced co-sleeping or the “family bed” concept. Potty training started at 18 months in one home, while another mama waited until her son just started using the bathroom facilities on his own. One family watched “Wonder Pets” with their toddlers and another family never turned the TV on when the children were awake. I needed to ask what their preferences were. I needed to follow their guidelines. When I understood where they were coming from and what they wanted in their own family, I was better able to build successful relationships with my grandkids’ parents.
Every child is different
Third, each of your grandkids will be different from one other. The longer we have been grandparents to our eleven grandkids, the more we realize that each one of our grandkids has an individual personality, with different strengths, weaknesses, and needs. One size does not fit all when it comes to parenting styles. At birth, all of the babies started out at approximately the same place. Their needs were fairly predictable and easily taken care of.
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We have noisy, outgoing grandkids. Some of our grandkids are cautious. There are a few that took crazy risks as toddlers and were at the ER many times. Some of our grandkids love to sleep. Most of them don’t. Some love to create drama with their parents, while there are a few rule followers in the group.
As the grandkids got older, other things begin to surface that needed to be taken care of. One grandchild needs glasses, or is being fitted for braces. Another might take medication to control seizures, or diabetes. There are also some behavioral or educational issues that may show up. Some of your grandkids will have trouble with impulse control. They may have a learning disability.
There is no “perfect” child, and each one of your grandkids will have some kind of challenge in their lives. Don’t be surprised when these challenges begin to make their appearance. Just as one style of parenting won’t work for every child, neither will one style of grand-parenting work with your grandkids. Conversations need to happen between all of the adults. We need to build relationships with our grandkids’ parents so that we can figure out how to best build relationships with our grandkids.
Successful relationships grow through conversations
The key to building successful relationships with your grandkids’ parents is to clarify expectations, explore boundaries, and talk about ways to be involved in your grandkids’ lives. Some conversations will be easier to have: “What are we doing for the holidays?” But others may be more difficult: “How do you want us to handle temper tantrums?” Some conversations will be one-and-done. Other discussions will be ongoing for months and sometimes, years.
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- Conversations to explore expectations
- Conversations to explore boundaries
- Offer ways you are able and willing to help
Here is a list of things you may need to discuss:
- Television use and “screen time”
- Childcare needs
- Ideas about nutrition–snacks, sugar, etc.
- Food allergies
- Medical issues–asthma, seizure precautions
- Do you share similar religious and political opinions; if not, do they have guidelines for you?
- How do they feel about toys? Educational? Anti-violence?
- What about gift giving? Are they minimalists?
- What are their expectations for how you will be in their child’s life?
- How do they plan to handle discipline and training issues?
- How do they envision holidays and celebrations?
Successful relationships offer support
Finally, as grandparents, be supportive. Let your adult children know how you are available to help. You may be able to offer occasional child care. Be prepared to learn how medications are administered. To provide consistency, use the routines that your adult children are using. Find out what strategies your children are using in response to behavioral and emotional challenges. Remember, the goal is a family that can survive and thrive for a 100 years. To do that, you need to work with the parents to take a long-term approach to raising grandkids.
Again, we are not the ones doing the lion’s share of the work. As a result, we need to support the adults who do have that responsibility. Build relationships with your grandkid’s parents. As you do, through both conversations and acts of service, you will be invited to play a bigger role in your grandkids’ lives.