Grandparents Need to Be Team Players

by Donne Davis on August 27, 2014

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One of the great misconceptions about grandparenthood is that it’s all about you and your grandchild. Many brand new grandmas are so infatuated with their new grandchild they can often forget the most important people in this new relationship: the grandchild’s parents. That’s why grandparents need to be team players.

Your relationship with your grandchild is embedded in the relationship with your adult child and his or her spouse. They are the gatekeepers to a successful relationship with your grandchildren.

When I was a new grandma, I was so eager to see my granddaughter I’d rush past my daughter and forget to give her a hug first. After she complained that I just came to see the baby and not her, I realized my mistake and began to see the bigger picture.

In my eleven years as a grandma, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to nurture the relationship with your adult children as much as you do with your grandchildren. Simply put, you earn your childrens’ trust by following their rules and respecting their decisions.

This is especially important in the early stages of your relationship when everyone is learning their new roles as well as their new boundaries. We grandparents need to step back and respect the parents’ right to make decisions and not make judgments as they learn from their successes and mistakes.

Today’s parents are super conscious and have access to so much more information and resources than we had. We need to be curious, interested observers who want to understand what the parents are reading and thinking so that we can become informed team players.

If you sneak around and conspire with your grandchildren, telling them not to say anything to mommy, it will come back to haunt you. I know — I once gave my 3-year-old granddaughter a cookie and the first thing she did when we got home was to run and tell her mommy how excited she was that Baba gave her a cookie!

We grandparents are faced with a conundrum. We want to be buddies with our grandchildren and spoil them a little without having to be the enforcer who tells them they have to stop. I’d rather leave that role to my daughter so I can enjoy being the Funmeister. That’s the privilege we grandmas get to enjoy. It’s why we find humor in American humorist Sam Levenson’s quote: “The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.”

The quote is satirical, of course but does cause a chuckle with most grandparents. Not the parents, though, who are portrayed as the “bad guys” when all they’re trying to do is set some rules for our grandchildren and enforce them.

Calling the parents the “enemy,” even in jest, is negative, hurtful, and disrespectful. I think a friendlier quote would be: The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is because they share a common ally. When our adult children realize we’re allies, they’re more likely to grant us the privileges we so long for with our grandchildren. Acknowledge their efforts with specific compliments, for example, “I like the way you held your ground when Lucas had a meltdown.”

I admire and appreciate my daughter’s consistency in setting rules and routines for my granddaughters. She’s providing them with structure and teaching them values. One rule that gets tested every time I’m with my granddaughters is their 15-minute time limit on phone apps.

Ever since I got a smart phone, it’s become my two granddaughters’ favorite toy. I can understand why. I downloaded several fun free apps for them before realizing how addictive they are. I also understand my daughter’s rationale for limiting time on the apps—it takes away time from more creative activities.

The 7-year-old would play “Temple Run” for hours if I let her. She is mesmerized by the man running and leaping over bridges and traps. The 11-year-old loves “Fashion Studio” and could easily spend hours designing color-coordinated ensembles. She’s even learned how to download apps herself. But I don’t let either of them indulge indefinitely because I know my daughter’s rules and I want to earn her trust.

If parents know we respect them and follow their rules, they’ll trust us with our precious grandchildren. We all need to understand that we’re part of a team and that the parents can be our allies not enemies.

When grandparents and parents make a commitment to sit down and talk about their shared purpose, it is a win-win situation for all three generations.

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