We’ve all read it and heard it—whether during our own Bible reading or possibly when it was read during a wedding: the “leave and cleave” principle. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, and the Bible says it this way:

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

It’s an important idea: New couples are to leave their parents and create a new family of their own, which becomes a higher priority and a more important identity going forward. It’s vital for couples to make that mental switch as they commit themselves to a healthy marriage and family.

It’s also vital that we grandparents respect and encourage that whole process.

It’s a mental switch for us too, and it isn’t usually quick or easy. The “leave and cleave” process can last for many years—even as the couple eventually gives us grandchildren. As grandparents, we all face some interesting situations, and we’d be wise to continue reminding ourselves about the wisdom of this principle and let it guide our actions.

First, it’s important for our adult child’s marriage.

Maybe you have certain expectations and traditions that involve your adult child: she’ll spend certain holidays with you every year; he’ll be available to help with projects and needs around the house; they’ll check in with you every few days on the phone; they’ll be willing to get together with you just about any time.

It’s possible those things can still happen, but they have other priorities now, and we only make their lives more difficult by trying to place expectations on them. No young wife wants to feel competition with her mother-in-law for her husband’s love and loyalty; it will only add potential for conflict to that young marriage. (And to be clear, it doesn’t just happen with mothers-in-law!)

You can’t ensure they’ll have a great marriage, but you can do a lot to encourage it by respecting the fact that your child has other, more important priorities now. You can still have a great relationship with them, but it’s different now.

It’s also important for them as parents.  

The common scenario here is the grandparent who loves those adorable grandkids and wants what’s best for them, and that leads naturally to giving unsolicited advice about how they should be raised. But when we truly respect those parents as the leaders and decision-makers of that family, we learn that the best way to influence them is to give them our unwavering support in what they’re trying to accomplish with their children.

Sure, we may disagree with some things we see happening, but our best approach is to affirm and encourage where we can, be available if they ask for advice, and of course, be involved, positive, helpful grandparents. Our adult children are much more likely to want us around them and their children if there isn’t conflict or tension when we are around.

What challenges have you faced in this area, and what have you learned? Please help other grandparents by sharing your insights on our Facebook page.