by Dr. Ken Canfield

What are your typical grandparenting opportunities?

Usually, they will include a variety of family gatherings ranging from a simple Sunday lunch, a birthday celebration, a morning meet-up at a park, a holiday gathering or even a week-long vacation. Quite often, three generations will be present, and the larger the group, the more complex the family dynamics will be and the more likely it is that conflict will arise.

To some degree, all grandparents experience some tension with their grandkids’ parents. There may be no way to avoid it completely. But there’s a lot we can do to keep the mild tensions from becoming really painful situations where we don’t get to see our grandkids or only get to see them occasionally or under certain conditions. A growing number of grandparents are estranged from their adult children, and their opportunities to be grandparents are greatly reduced or even taken away completely.

I believe we grandparents are in a great position to be peacemakers in our extended families, and many of our best efforts can start before the small issues become big ones. There are things we can do as preventive measures to try to keep things harmonious, or at least manageable. Here are three suggestions:

Start with observation.

Family gatherings are ideal opportunities to watch how people interact with one another. Even while you’re enjoying the time, you can also be looking for any issues that might need your attention and possibly some reconciliation. If you do notice something that seems significant, don’t bring it up right there in the moment. Simply be an observer and then give yourself time to reflect on it, pray, and possibly confer with your spouse or a trusted friend.

Consider, too, whether you really saw evidence of something that needs to be dealt with, or maybe someone was just having a difficult day. You do want to be a reconciler, but you definitely don’t want to create an issue where there wasn’t one.

Be generous with intentional blessings.

I’m a big believer in having regular times of blessing in families, and we grandparents are the ideal people to make it happen. We can bless others in many ways, but what I have in mind here is a prayer, a toast, or some other simple recognition of a family member for an accomplishment or simply for being his or her wonderful self. Be sincere, specific, and brief. Leave no doubt about your intention to build up the person. It can happen in front of the whole family, but more private blessings are also effective. You can pull someone aside for a brief word of affirmation or a quick “I love being your grandmother—and I love you!” Speaking words of support is also a great way to encourage your child and son- or daughter-in-law.

Blessings like these can set a positive tone for family gatherings, and if others follow your example—either in the moment or later—that’s an even bigger blessing. Those gatherings can be a source of renewal if we’re intentional about making them so.

Embrace vulnerability and humility.

For reconciliation and ongoing harmony, families need common ground, and the most basic common ground is the fact that everyone is vulnerable—grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. We’re all imperfect, with various human weaknesses, and the sooner we accept that in others and ourselves, the sooner we can move toward healed relationships.

Our humility can be a real difference maker in our families. When a grandparent adopts a humble manner and attitude in family dynamics, the stage is set for healing and renewal. And it adds a new dimension to interactions with our grandkids: We mature and accomplished adults bend down, kneel, and lie on the floor so we can best connect with them.

Our genuine humility can also help prevent conflicts in the first place. When we accept each other’s weaknesses and failures, we allow all family members to be themselves; we make it safer for them to risk being vulnerable. And courageous vulnerability opens the door to deeper understanding and stronger connections between family members.

This is just a little taste of the potential we have as grandparents who are committed to reconciliation. We are in a prime position, and we are motivated. Knowing our time is limited, we don’t want to waste any energy on conflicts. Most of all, we want to be remembered as people who were filled with love and mercy. We can lead the way when it comes to establishing and maintaining harmony in our families.

What’s your #1 tip for keeping peace with your children and grandchildren? Share some wisdom and check in with other grandparents at our Facebook page.

This was adapted from Dr. Ken Canfield’s book, The HEART of Grandparenting. Find out more and get your copy here.