by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.
What are your secrets to success as a grandparent? We’re all different and special in some ways, but there are some traits that many of us have in common, and they are worth affirming.
And I hope a lot of parents are also reading this, because your children’s grandparents have some advantages because of the role they play in your kids’ lives.
Grandparents can do things for a child that no one else can really do—and that’s good.
Grandparents provide a connection to heritage; a link to the past for your children. And from a more practical standpoint, we provide some benefits because of our unique perspective on our grandchildren’s lives:
For one thing, we are more objective.
Go to any youth sporting event, and you’ll see how parents invest a lot of their ego into their child’s performance. And that can be a mixed bag for the child. We’ve all seen parents overreact and chew out their child, or treat a referee’s call on their child as a personal offense toward them, the parents. In that setting (and others), they’re not always emotionally prepared to affirm their children simply for who they are.
But as grandparents, we know from experience that children bounce back, and that a game is just a game. We can support a child win or lose. We’re just happy to be out at the ball field watching the greatest grandchildren in the world.
Often that objectivity comes in handy. When our kids were young, my father suggested that my son might have a cross bite, which was causing slurred speech. In the middle of raising five kids, we hadn’t paid that much attention to it, but the doctor confirmed what my dad said, and we took measures to correct the problem.
As grandparents we also have a relaxed temperament.
This can be a big benefit to families. Many parents are consumed by pressures at work, providing for the family, and a long list of other responsibilities.
But most of us grandparents have been through all that. We’ve learned that net worth and cash flow concerns have to be kept in proper perspective, and that we gain our true worth and value from other sources—like our faith and other meaningful relationships. And we’re determined not to miss out on the joys that grandchildren bring into our lives.
We’re also important additional models of a healthy man or woman.
Have you ever considered that? Parents, of course, are vital role models to their children. But sometimes they’re too close to be looked at that way. And with Mommy and Daddy, kids have daily power struggles about eating their peas, doing homework, helping in the kitchen, and so on.
But Grandma and Grandpa are often seen more like people out there in the world, whom that child might become like someday. Your little boy or girl probably wonders sometimes, “What are men and women all about?” Or, “Fifty or sixty years from now, what will I be like?” They’re looking at us, their grandparents.
Our modeling also helps to complete our grandkids’ ideas about relationships and marriage. During childhood, when boys are always running and jumping and yelling and little girls are playing dress-up or house, the idea of having a meaningful relationship someday probably sounds crazy to them. And that will change later, but in the meantime we grandparents can help.
Granddads can show their granddaughters that there are men who’ll show interest in their dolls and tea parties and interesting ideas. And when grandmas go out in the yard to pitch whiffle balls to their grandsons, that affirms them in all their boyhood. Our grandchildren are always watching, and the example we set is very important.
With our unique window to a grandchild’s heart, we can also help to transmit values.
That struggle for authority between parents and children often gets in the way of important lessons the parents are trying to teach. But with us grandparents, often a child can relax and be herself, with no competition or expectations. She’s a better listener and may ask more thoughtful questions, like, “Grandpa, when Mommy was seven, was she like me?” “Did she have to clean up her plate?” Or maybe, “Why did Aunt Julie get a divorce?” She’s trying to learn about her world, and those can be meaningful times when a grandparent’s simple yet wise perspective can help to shape a young mind.
Most parents could probably learn a lot from watching us grandparents; wise parents will notice these kinds of benefits and encourage our involvement in their kids’ lives. Because there are many benefits, and they’re real.