by Dr. Ken Canfield

Since our adult children are now parenting their own children—those amazing little creatures whom we also love, encourage, and pray for—it puts us in a somewhat different position as we relate to the young parents.

For most of their lives so far, we have “called the shots” with regard to parenting decisions. Maybe we never have felt like experts at parenting, but we were the ones in the role and trying to figure out what’s best for our kids on a daily basis.

But now, we don’t call the shots with our grandkids and we shouldn’t try to. They are their children, and raising them is their responsibility—and many of us are glad that stage of life is in the past. We can definitely help raise them and provide free babysitting, give extra encouragement and love from adults who are close to the family but not inside the family, and share wisdom with our grandkids about life. Maybe we’ll have opportunities to provide some parenting advice when the parents ask for it.

Our normal, everyday approach with our adult children should be to support them in every way possible. There are many different ways to do this, but for now I want to mention two:

Learn about their approach to parenting.

Child-rearing wisdom seems to change every five or ten years. Maybe your child and his or her spouse attended a seminar or read a book on parenting that makes a lot of sense to them. The ideas may be completely foreign to you, and you may disagree with some of them. But they are the parents and it’s their decision.

If they are trying to follow certain principles as they raise their children, in most cases it isn’t your role to question their approach. Instead, find ways you can assist and support them. One idea is to find an online video related to the seminar they attended or get a copy of the book they read. Be willing to stretch a bit and adapt to their way of thinking when possible. It will help you better understand what they’re doing and you’ll be able to work more in tandem with their approach when you’re with your grandkids.

Reinforce the parents’ decisions and rules.

This is where you live out your conviction that the parents have the prerogative to make and enforce decisions with their kids. There will probably be a time when a grandchild comes to you complaining about his parents. “It’s not fair,” he’ll say. Or maybe he’ll run away from home … to your house.

That’s a key opportunity to demonstrate how important it is for your grandchild to obey and respect his parents, even if you have doubts about how they handled a certain situation or you think you know better. Also, having our adult kids’ backs like that isn’t easy when we know we’ll upset the grandkids with whom we have a special connection. But we must support the parents.

When we’re with our grandchildren and their parents aren’t there, we send a powerful message when we support the parents’ rules and desires for their kids. And sure, many parents have (or should have) some grace and flexibility to allow for a little “spoiling” from Nana and Papa. But it’s good to know what the guidelines are, be clear about where there might be room to fudge a little, and do our best to cooperate.

Doing so shows our adult children that we recognize and respect their authority and responsibility to oversee their children’s growth and well-being. We play a valuable role, but we’re helpers.

How do you navigate this with your grandkids and their parents? Please share your insights 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.