by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.

As a grandparent, you can’t help but have desires and dreams for your grandkids. And if you’re anything like me, it’s tempting to get carried away and push your suggestions and opinions on their parents.

But before trying to exert your influence, remember that every married couple needs to leave their parents and create a new, unique family of their own. That’s the best situation, and it’s just as important in single-parent situations. Being the mom or dad is their role and responsibility, and we need to acknowledge that and respect them, even when we disagree with their approach with their children.

So, here are two important “rules” for how to deal with our own ideas about their parenting:

1. Wait for the parents to ask for advice. We need to give our adult children the freedom to parent, to figure things out, and even to fail. So take a step back, give your kids room to be parents in their own way, and keep looking for ways you can encourage them. You may not always agree with their approach, but it’s important to respect their right to choose their own parenting style.

Generally, think in terms of influencing them with your example and hold your opinion until they ask for it. If you’re mostly positive and encouraging, they’ll be much more likely to come to you when they have a question or face a difficult situation. And even if they ask, make sure they really want to hear your suggestions and they aren’t just venting their frustrations. Most of all, your goal should be to help them be the best parents they can be, whether they parent their way, your way, or some other way.

2. Share observations of the grandkids—with no strings attached. Because of your years of experience and the perspective you have because you aren’t in their home 24/7, you will see things in your grandchildren’s lives and character that the parents may not see. Telling them at an appropriate time and speaking with love can be a big benefit to the parents.

When our kids were young, our youngest son spent a weekend visiting my parents. When we picked him up, my dad commented on the slight stutter in his speech. In the middle of raising five kids, we hadn’t paid that much attention to it, but on the drive back home, Dee and I talked and decided to take him to a speech specialist. Sure enough, some simple tests confirmed what my son’s grandfather had observed, and we took steps to help him learn to speak more clearly.

When a grandparent’s observations are shared in a positive and supportive manner, everyone wins. The key here is knowing when to stop talking: provide useful information without adding unsolicited advice or exerting pressure on the parents to respond in a certain way. Your input can be valuable, but leave it up to the parents to decide on the best course of action, if any. Once again, share your suggestions only if they ask you.

Now, are there ever situations where the parents truly are irresponsible and the children are at risk living under their care—or lack of care? Yes. Sadly, this is somewhat common today, and sometimes grandparents are in a position to take action to protect their grandchildren. These are always complex situations, and I would advise seeking out wise counsel before taking any drastic steps. Your positive encouragement can make a big and often surprising difference.

I’m just scratching the surface here. What other wisdom have you picked up about how to respond to your adult children as parents? Please share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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