A growing number of grandparents in our community are caring for grandchildren, helping the families of their adult children. While this is a positive trend, it can also present challenges. It can put a strain on the grandparent/parent relationship.
Grandparents add a wonderful dimension to the lives of the children. Often grandparents have the time required to help young children learn about the world, to literally stop and smell the roses. Grandparents can listen to children with acceptance and patience. Children benefit from having a wider circle of loving people involved with their care and they learn to value older individuals.
While Grandparents add to children’s lives, children add to their Grandparents lives too. Many older people say that keeping up with their grandchildren keeps them young. Others express that they had never imaged they would love their grandchildren as much as they do. The time spent in these interactions make lives richer.
Grandparent care for grandchildren is very different from more formal child care. It can be more flexible, convenient and far less expensive. It is usually based on love and the mutual enjoyment of each other.
There can be challenges for grandparents while caring for their grandchildren. Some grandparents are reluctant to set limits with their grandchildren for fear of overstepping the mark. They do not view this as being a part of their role. Others may want to indulge the children, give them gifts, lollies or other treats. This may cause dilemmas for the children’s parents who want to limit such foods and create good habits.
Some grandparents will have different expectations and rules to parenting for example, permitting a child to eat while walking around rather than insisting on table etiquette which may be important to parents.
These are grandparents who feel critical of their adult children’s parenting methods and want to tell them how to do it.
Others want to be very involved with day-to-day routines and see their role as to sort out the child’s behaviours. Their discipline techniques may be different than those used by their adult children and can lead to conflict.
It is important that there is a balance between the needs of grandparents who want to provide child care for their grandchildren, with their need to continue other interest, work and social engagements.
It can be difficult for parents and grandparents to sort these needs out together. Parents may fear that their care will be jeopardised if they raise these issues. In many families traditional notions of adult children continuing to be parented by their older parents can make discussion that acknowledges the adult children’s authority or knowledge about the issue difficult.
However these dilemmas are worth addressing for the benefit of everyone. Sit down together and hear each other’s points of view. Explore the benefits of what is occurring. What all the adults have in common is love for the children, so focus on the children’s needs. Saying something along the lines of, “I want them to enjoy sharing time with you”, or, “I love that you enjoy spending time with them” will be a good opening line.
In relation to making suggestions about parenting, trying something along the lines of, “All children are different; what I have found works with Annabelle is…”
Enable your parents to see how much you appreciate their role and support. Emphasise how much the children love to be with them. Coming to some agreement around how issues might be raised or addressed can be useful.
In the words of the oft quoted African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” and you and your children will benefit from the village.