by Mary Ellen Tippin
Aren’t grandchildren great? They love us and take us like we are, warts and all. They don’t mind if we have cracks in our faces (wrinkles really) or wear comfort shoes rather than the latest styles. They want to play with us but don’t give us a hard time if we are slow and not so physically adept. (That way they have a better chance of winning a game that requires certain skills, and we are delighted to let them.)
Oh, if only grandchildren were all we had to deal with! Of course those grandkids come with rascally parents, and that is often where the problem lies. Since physical and emotional access to our grandchildren often hinges on our relationship with those parents, it helps us to have a cooperative or even harmonious relationship with them.
I will suggest some ways to repair and narrow the breach with our grown children that often keeps us from our grandchildren, or from enjoying them as we would like. But let me warn you at the beginning that the cure for these ills is not painless and struggle-free. The solutions may entail some of the most difficult steps and choices you will ever make—so tough, so excruciatingly hard, and so worth it!
Keep in mind that my suggestions are largely preventive. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” the adage goes. What can we do to maintain a great relationship with our child and his or her family, thus allowing us to enjoy more time with our grandchildren? How can we be proactive, avoiding trouble before it begins?
Watch your tongue.
I think we can agree, the tongue is the part of our body we have the hardest time controlling—which gives us the most trouble, much like a runaway horse or a ship without a rudder. We very often don’t think before we speak, or we don’t think at all!
A friend of mine who had four young children shared the outrageous response she and her husband received when they reported to his parents that they were expecting their fifth child. Neither grandparent came through with flying colors, I’m afraid. Her father-in-law darkly joked to his son that he was going to remove his private parts with a sharp object, and her mother-in-law raged she was going to report them to social services because their house wasn’t big enough for all those kids. Would you call this conversation a bridge builder? Me, neither.
What comes out of our mouths can cause a world of hurt or a world of good. Setting guidelines in advance, before a situation or confrontation arises, might be one of the best ways to exert a semblance of control over what we say.
Here’s a thought for starters: How about determining to never give unsolicited advice? An acquaintance told me her mother-in-law of thirty years had never offered her unasked-for advice. Amazing! Just recently I heard a counselor advise his older listeners to do the same. I have five grown children, and I’m rather outspoken in many ways. (Why do you think I’m telling you what to do?) I would like to report I don’t ever offer unsolicited advice to my children, but that would be untrue. Sometimes my tongue “slips up.”
The key word here is “unsolicited.” If our children aren’t asking for advice from us, it probably means they don’t want it or are not ready to hear what we have to say. We need to put the shoe on the other foot, so to speak, and ask ourselves, “Do I want someone telling me how to live my life and what to do with my time, telling me what I am doing wrong?” We certainly don’t—and neither do they.
Young parents have to do things their way, not our way. The fact that each family has a right to be their own unique blend and not a clone of either side of the family is key. Do we want our children to do things just like we did them? I have messed up enough to know I want my kids to do better than I did.
If you feel very strongly about something and are convinced that what you have to say would be invaluable—and I mean invaluable—ask your son or daughter and their spouse if they would like to hear your thoughts, and then accept their reply. Here comes the tricky part: You will have to be prepared to keep your opinion to yourself if they respond, “No, thanks” … which they might.
Be quick to give praise and encouragement.
This is another proactive step. What difference would it make if we infused large doses of compliments and optimism into our dialogue with our kids and their families?
I just received a card from my daughter. She is a master communicator, much better than her mother. She wrote, “Thank you for the appreciation you show my husband. You are quick to compliment his efforts and I love that!” Aside from the fact her husband is a really great guy, I am catching on a little. Finding as many positive things to say to and about your family goes a long way toward building and healing relationships.
Isn’t it amazing how we remember every insult we receive, but we don’t seem to have the same acute memory about the compliments? That’s why we need to be so generous with our affirming words and so cheap with our critical ones.
Refuse to be offended.
My own mom was a wonderful example of this strategy for keeping our families close emotionally. She wasn’t one for fine furniture and genuine gems. My mother was unruffled and easy going for the most part. As long as good food and coffee were part of the plan, she seemed quite content. Maybe that’s why she lived in relative health until her death at 101 years old! The lesson she taught through her actions was choosing not to take offense. Many times she would decide to “let it go” when she could have been hurt, offended, or angered by what was said to her or about her by another family member.
As grandparents, we would do well to put this one into practice. If we really desire a relationship with our children and those darling grandchildren, then we can’t go around getting hurt or angry by what is said or done to us by our children and their spouses. It’s true that sometimes they say or do things that are insensitive or even cruel toward us, but we have to stop and ask ourselves, “Is it really worth it to act offended and risk losing a long-term relationship with this family?” “Could I, for the sake of a relationship and the influence I can give, strive for the greater good and overlook this offense?”
Am I suggesting this is easy? Hardly! In fact, it may be one of the most difficult things you have ever done. Will it be worth it in the long run? I would venture to answer in the affirmative almost every time.
Choose to forgive.
“Forgive and forget” may seem like a worn phrase that has lost its luster, but in reality it is one of the most lovely vestments of life we can wear. I wish I had the ability to write these thoughts in some stunning calligraphy to display its true beauty!
Who wants to live in a world of guilt and regret, a world where all our past faults are too often paraded before our eyes and hearts? Genuine forgiveness is a gift, really. It says by its very nature that we have been wronged, that someone has done something hurtful. And yet, instead of holding this wrong in our hand to beat it over the person’s head over and over, and instead of stabbing that person with cutting words and harsh reactions, we open our hand, open our heart and give it up.
Forgiveness also means recognizing that we too have been the offender in some cases, and we too need forgiveness. We all make mistakes, we all mess up, we all say what shouldn’t be said. We all hurt people we care about and want those relationships restored to a good place. If forgiveness is what we want for ourselves, shouldn’t we be eager to give it to others?
But what if the perpetrator isn’t one bit sorry? It’s important to realize that we can’t control that; we can’t do anything about his or her lack of remorse, only our own response to the wrong that has been done.
Also, it is always a peace-keeping idea to give others the benefit of the doubt. Consider, in all likelihood, there’s much more going on than we realize. The person who offended us very well could be struggling with exhaustion, stress, or other difficulties we have no idea about, and those factors may have contributed to the offense. How quick we are to use these excuses for ourselves, but we’re slow to make the same allowances for others.
So then, what about forgetting? Can we really do that? Maybe not completely, but dwelling on past hurts instead of forgiving them certainly does nothing to bring healing and restoration to our relationships with our kids and in-laws.
Every time we sow seeds that show concern only for our own thoughts, hurts, or wants—harboring a grudge, nursing a grievance, wallowing in self-interest and self-pity—we are sowing seeds of family destruction. On the other hand, every time we choose to assume the best, speak a kind word, or dispel negative thoughts, we begin to turn into someone a little different from the person we were before, someone fostering good and growing relationships with our children and grandchildren. And if we really can start making progress in these areas even a little—speaking with care and kindness, refusing to be offended by words and actions, choosing instead to forgive and forget—then our beautiful acts of giving create in themselves a picture and treasure we are painting for our grandchildren. Those precious grandchildren: they are the prize; they are the blessing received from enacting these principles; they are the joy in our hearts for years to come.
Mary Ellen Tippin is author of six children’s books. (Find out more at maryellentippin.com.) In addition to writing, she enjoys music, flowers, hosting people in her home, and influencing her ever-growing number of grandchildren. She and her husband, RJ, live near Newton, KS.