I hear comments like these about grandparents more often than I would like:
“I’d like to have a special relationship with my grandparents, but they’re so critical. I just don’t want to be around them.”
“My parents are constantly undermining my parenting and relationship with our kids. Why can’t they support us?”
“I really want my children to know my parents. They’ve done such a great job parenting themselves. But they are completely disconnected from their grandchildren, and that grieves me a lot.”
I want to be fair and say that I also hear plenty of amazing stories about grandparents enjoying incredible relationships with their adult children and their grandchildren. Their stories move me to be an even better grandparent myself. Still, there is a lot of pain going around out there.
I believe in the importance of strong, healthy adult-child relationships in families, and I’m sure most of you want to be effective, intentional grandparents who really do matter in the lives of both grown children and grandchildren. So, I’d like to offer six powerful ways you can be a grandparent who matters—the kind that both your grown children and your grandchildren really want to be around. Here they are:
- Never, never, never dishonor or degrade your adult children in front of your grandchildren. If you don’t’ like their parenting style, zip it until you can find an appropriate way to discuss when the grandchildren are not present. When your grandchildren are with you, never talk about their parents in a demeaning way. Lift them and their spouses up with great respect and honor in front of your grandchildren.
- Support the rules laid down by your grown children when you are around the grandchildren. If there are things your grown children don’t allow, don’t make exceptions in your own home without permission. Ask them how they would like you to handle things like video games, TV, food, etc. Let them know you want to help them succeed as parents, not try to make them accommodate your agenda.
- Make your time with your grandkids something they will look forward to doing again. Intentional grandparenting seeks to build a legacy of faith, but it does not do so at the expense of a good time together. Help them feel that when they are with you it is a safe, welcoming and fun place to be. Make sure there is laughter in your walls.
- Guard against favoritism. When there are multiple grandchildren, it is not unusual to gravitate to a favorite child. However, work hard to never show favoritism. Ask God to give you a tender and compassionate heart even for the more difficult child. That child could one day become your favorite. Make sure each child feels equally valued and loved by you because of who they are—created in God’s image.
- Tell them your stories. Talk to them about life as you experienced it. I am convinced that your grandchildren want to know your story because it is also part of their story. Pull out your photo albums and tell them some of the hilarious pieces of your story, as well as some of hard stuff. Let them see that you were a child once too.
- Be a connected and involved grandparent. When you can, go to their sports, school or church events. If you’re long-distant, use technology to regularly connect. Learn to ask questions that let them know you care about them and what is going on in their lives. Write notes of encouragement and send them in the mail. Stay involved.
There is a lot more I could say about being a grandparent that matters, but these 6 simple steps are a good starting point. These 6 things can help us make sure we aren’t in the way.
Cavin Harper is Founder and Executive Director of Christian Grandparenting Network (christiangrandparenting.net). He is author of Courageous Grandparenting: Unshakable Faith in a Broken World as well as several articles and blogs. Cavin has served in various ministry positions and has operated a retreat center with his wife Diane. They have been married for 44 years, have two children and nine grandchildren, and live in Colorado Springs.