The roles for today’s young, vibrant and involved Grandparents are so different than previous generations. In past generations, some grandparents spent lots of time playing with their grandchildren, providing childcare for their grandchildren and some were of the “children should be seen and not heard” school of thought. Most of the grandparents I have spoken to recently are not sure of their roles compared to their parents and grandparents’ generations. They want to spend quality time with their grandchildren but they also want to enjoy not being responsible for children anymore, travel, engage in hobbies and interests and enjoy time with their significant other or begin dating again.
What do today’s grandparents do when they want to enjoy themselves but also spend time with grandchildren? Do they provide child care? Will they offend if they refuse? Should they offer advice? Will this also offend? How do they stay in contact? Text? Social media? What are the rules regarding stepping in when a parent is struggling to provide their child boundaries while out as a family? Should the grandparent say something? Offer help? Stay out of it?
These are the questions I hear so often that I wonder what type of grandparent I will be or want to be when my young adult children have children of their own. I am going to share my thought process for what kind of grandparent I want to be someday but know that the answers are specific to me and my family but hopefully, the process is ongoing and will change and grow as my life (and yours) changes and grows. (This is not about grandparents who are the ones raising their grandchildren, as they have completely different roles in their grandchildren’s lives).
My first thought has always been, how involved do I want to be? I have been in the childcare field since I was 12, a nanny at 16, a daycare worker at 20, a classroom teacher at 25 and a parent at 28. I am now 50 and though I work with children for a living, it is not the same as being a parent or grandparent. I know that I personally do not want to provide daily childcare to my grandchildren. I am thinking more along the lines of weekly dinners, monthly babysitting and a week-long “Grandma summer camp”. I know this will change as I age and because I will not be a young grandparent, if and when my youngest decides to have children.
I know that for me, I have spent a lifetime caring for others and as I get closer to an empty nest (my youngest is 16, the rest are young adults) and I want to do things I have put off such as hobbies and travel. I have begun spending more time on things I enjoy over the past year and I am looking forward to getting more involved in those activities. It is important for grandparents to keep up with hobbies, friendships and other interests in order to stay healthy and vibrant. This means, it is okay to make time for yourself first and enjoy these years guilt free.
Since today’s grandparents are healthier and more energetic, they are more likely to do bigger activities with grandchildren like travel with them and take them to theme parks. This is a great way to stay involved while also doing what you love (unless theme parks make you anxious or is out of your price range).
On the topic of giving parenting advice, I think we should all consider how we felt the first time our parent or in-law tried to give us parent advice. It is best NOT to give advice. If they ask for opinions or advice on a specific topic, it is always better to ask what they are thinking first to gauge where they are at on the topic. If you seem to have a widely different beliefs then they have, you can suggest they ask their pediatrician, a children’s counselor like myself or a close trusted friend. Many parents are just looking for support on the thought they already have or a choice they are about to make. Arguing your point or perspective won’t change their mind, it will just make them hurt or angry.
There are many ways to stay in touch these days, especially with pre-teen and teen grandchildren. Remember, it is not a child or teens job to stay in touch with you as their grandparent. You are the adult and it is your job to teach them how to be in a relationship with family. You may consider texting them on big days like the first day of school or a first day at a new job. Daily texting would be considered annoying by many teens unless they are reaching out to you first. Always ask before following them on social media. Pre-teens and teens are self-conscious enough with their peers that they may feel you will judge them as well. And please do not give them unsolicited advice on how to present themselves on social media. They have grown up on there and have a better grasp off the consequences of their actions then we ever will. It is their parent’s job to explain the dangers of the online world and social media.
Often, grandparents ask me what to do in this situation: the grandparents, adult children and grandchildren are out to dinner, one of the grandchildren throws a tantrum or start whining and the adult asks grandma for help in the situation. What can and should they do to help or should they do nothing at all?
I find that offering to take an overwhelmed child for a walk or offering to stay at the table with the calmer child(ren) would be helpful as well. It is however, the parent’s job to deal with helping their child calm down or discipline any children that need help. In addition, ignoring or judging the parent while they are in a stressful moment doesn’t ease the situation. When grandparents stay calm and relaxation, their children feel supported and it helps everyone stay calm.
I have questions for all of the grandparents reading this. What do you want your role to look like? What kind of grandparent did you imagine yourself to be? What kind of grandparent are your children and their partner hoping you will be for their children?