Dear Future Me: How to be a good grandparent

Dear Future Me

Listed below are a few things I really hope that I remember when I am about to become a grandparent one day. Kids, I totally give you permission to print this out and make me read it when the time comes. 

  • You are not owed access to your grandchildren. Whether and how often you experience the privilege of time with your grandchildren will depend largely on the relationship you have with the parents. There are many things that go into having a good relationship. At present I am inclined to believe the key aspects of a relationship are love, respect and trust. You need not be natural bosom buddies with everyone in your life but if you can really invest in those three pillars you can build a healthy relationship with that person. If you have not put the effort into building happy and healthy relationships with the parents of your grandchildren then how can you expect to have fabulous relationships with their children?
  • Accept that your children eventually grow up and need to be treated as individuals who are free to make their own choices and mistakes. I can see that I might have to pray for serious strength to not interfere, but miracles do happen so here’s to trusting God will give me the strength to cut the apron strings when the time comes.
  • Unsolicited advice will seldom go down well. Generally people ask when they want help. If they have not asked then do not say anything. If you have worked really hard to build a nourishing, uplifting and affirmative relationship with a person then you might be able to give the odd advice. Just remember that there is always a limit as to how much unsolicited advice a person can give without injuring a relationship. If you are in the lucky position to have a strong enough relationship with a person to give advice then pick your battles and only give the rare advice. Once advice has been given drop it. You have said your piece.
  • This leads me onto the next point. Again, if and only if you have a relationship that is close enough that allows you to give advice, pick the timing of your advice well. I emphasis this for two reasons. Firstly, if it’s badly timed it can increase the level of offense taken. Secondly, if you feel that strongly about giving your opinion then you want to make sure that you say it at a time when it is mostly likely to be heard because as mentioned earlier after saying your piece you need to drop it and let them decide.
  • There may be times where it is worth risking everything to speak out or fight for something related to your grandchildren because you feel that strongly about it, but understand that you are putting your relationship with your children and grandchildren at risk by offending them. Pick your battles wisely and give your relationships the thought and consideration they deserve. Don’t shoot your mouth off if the reason isn’t good enough. 
  • Check your expectations at the door. Expectations can be the death of many a good relationship. Don’t assume or expect things to be a certain way or people to fulfill certain roles. Every relationship is unique and needs to be treated as such. Expectations relate to many aspects of a relationship:
    • Time spent together. Everyone has different opinions of how much time an extended family should be together. No matter how much someone may love you they might need more space and time apart than you do and vice versa. The key here is communication. In my opinion it is always rude to invite yourself and incredibly rude to show up unannounced. If you want to see someone you need to take the initiative to invite them to either visit you or  to do something fun together. They then have the option of declining the invitation. Do not take offense if your invitations are sometimes declined or their invitations are not as readily extended as you would like. If you genuinely feel hurt, then do raise the issue but in a sensitive way without placing too much unfair expectation on the young family. Try and talk it out in as calm, respectful and loving a way possible.
    • Level of involvement in each other’s lives. Do not assume that just because your children adore you that they want you involved in every aspect of their daily lives. They are their own family now and as much as they love you they might need their space more than you would expect. Also understand that the amount that they may want or need you around could change depending on the life phase that they are in. This same piece of advice applies to the young family as well. As much as you might love your grandchildren you might feel that the young family’s involvement in your life might be more than you are comfortable with. Either way, the offended party needs to respectfully set their boundaries and the offending party needs to accept this boundary.
    • Level of independence with the grandchildren. Just because you were happy to ship off your children to their grandparents does not mean that your children will be happy to do the same or maybe the opposite is true. If they do not feel comfortable handing over tasks and babysitting to you do not always assume offense, they will if they are ready and pushing them to give you a greater level of control or involvement before they are ready will probably make them even more hesitant to do so. The opposite is also true, if you are not happy or comfortable doing certain tasks or being alone with the grandchildren you need to communicate this. Remember it is not always about you. It’s also about the parents wishes and readiness.
    • When in doubt ask. Rather ask too many questions and permissions than forcing yourself upon people. Want to take the baby outside to play on the grass but you have never done that before? Ask the parents if you may, before you do. It might seem silly to you but it will show them that you respect them and their role as parents. It will also go a long way towards earning their confidence in your commitment towards respecting their boundaries and parenting styles as these types of questions open the door for them to express their preferences for how they want things done. It is not about whether you feel that you know how to do these things. It’s about trying to understand and respect how your children want things done in their family.
    • The role of grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives. This is a tricky part of any relationship. We so often base our assumptions, of what a person’s role is in a family, on our own experiences. The problem with this is that we all have a different frame of reference; different desires for how we want to be treated and perceived and our current relationships are also different from the people that modeled these roles to us in the past. My personal recommendation for future me is the following: when in doubt ask, but in a way that you are clearly open to an honest answer. If you nourish your relationships then hopefully you will have a relationship where you can figure out a compromise that would work for both parties.
    • We all have different boundaries and different ideas as to what could be considered a normal boundary. In the earlier years of a child’s life the parents get to make some of these boundaries for their children. Acceptance of the young family’s boundaries is generally not negotiable if you want a happy functioning relationship. As your relationship with a person evolves these boundaries may also change. The stronger and closer a relationship becomes might mean slightly less formal boundaries. Also remember that you are only part of a person’s life there are other factors affecting their boundaries. It is not always about you.
    • Set your own boundaries and be firm about them. You can change your mind but try to be as constant in your boundaries as possible. The same way you will be expected to respect their family they should respect yours. Don’t suffer in silence, they might not even know that they are overstepping. I generally like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they do not even reason when they are overstepping but it is then up to you to gently show them that they are.
  • Respect your grandchildren. We are all born with opinions and preferences. Respect them. That does not mean that you have to indulge bad behavior but it does mean that you should be respectful of what the child wants as well and treating them like an individual with valid thoughts, wishes and preferences which are worth consideration. Somehow my mother manages to interact with my toddler with such a wonderful level of respect and consideration while still maintaining firm boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour it is the most beautiful thing to see.
  • Cherish and enjoy your grandchildren. You have raised your own children. This time around it is someone else’s responsibility to make the difficult decisions. As grandparents you get to just love and cherish these precious little beings without the burden of big decision making.
  • If you want your grandchildren (and children) to enjoy visiting you then make your home a safe and age appropriate space for your grandchildren to visit. It does not mean that you have to completely renovate your home but you can do basic things like make sure that the main areas where the grandchildren are expected to spend time are both safe and fun. This means some basic baby-proofing might be required and providing age appropriate entertainment (if you do a little research you will find ample free, age appropriate and fun activities for children their age to do). It is not fun for a parent to constantly worry about a child’s safety nor is it fun for a child to constantly be in an environment filled with “no’s” and a lack of age appropriate things to do. My mom has a bookshelf full of toys in her house and both her grandchildren now know where to find all the toys when they visit granny. Her kitchen is also fairly safe in that most dangerous items are stored out of reach and the children know which draw is the draw that they can pull apart each time they visit. Baby gates for stairs and childproof pool covers are a must. Breakable knickknacks that can’t easily be moved out of reach while little children are visiting can be both a safety issue and a source of stress. And don’t forget exposed plugs. There’s no need to go wild on baby proofing if your children hardly ever visit but do understand that doing this will greatly decrease the level of stress that they experience when visiting you.
  • Remember how quickly this time flies by and don’t miss out unnecessarily. You won’t be able to go back in time to claim missed opportunities and memories.
  • You normally get out what you put in. As with any relationship you get out what you put in. How much effort did you put into being there as a support for your grandchildren? How much you put in now will in all likelihood affect how they treat you when they are older and making their own decisions. Remember that it is not always about quantity, it’s about quality. You do not need to see your grandchildren often or live close by to be good grandparents. It’s about the quality of care and attention that you give them. There was never a second that I doubted that my grandparents loved me, also the time that I did have with them while growing up was magical. They truly went out of their way. I’ll never forget my grandfather converting his garage into a theatre for us with proper pulley operated curtains, all the arts and crafts with my granny, baking, etc. Proper quality time spent together enjoying each other’s company.
  • Don’t bad mouth the parents in front of your grandchildren. I could explain this but really it’s just wrong on so many levels I really should not have to.
  • Behave like a role model. Just because you are not the parents that does not mean that you won’t be a large influence on the grandchildren. Take care to model good behaviour. On that note, be respectful of the family’s values when you are around the grandchildren.
  • Don’t forget about your children. This might sound stupid but they still want to feel loved and acknowledged.

I could probably carry on writing a million other things but think that I will cut it short(that ship has sailed) there. Here’s to hoping that I figure out how to be a fabulous mother, mother-in-law and granny when the time comes. I don’t think that I know it all and truly do hope that I become wiser with each extra wrinkle, but I do hope to freeze this perspective in time. Maybe it will make it easier to be more sympathetic one day?

A huge thank you to my parents for all of their love and support, for respecting us enough to make our our choices and mistakes. I know that it must be difficult to step back and let us find our feet, but appreciate the freedom and respect we have been given to do so. Their grandchildren adore them and few things are as exciting to our little ones as seeing them. If we are even half as awesome grandparents as them then I’ll be happy. Here’s to hoping that they rub off on us before it’s our turn.

What are your top tips for being a fabulous grandparent?

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