Grandparents—Their Joys and Challenges

“I love being a grandparent! You enjoy your grandchildren without feeling accountable or responsible for them. You realize that you have an influence on their lives but that ultimately you don’t have the final say. Their parents do.”—Gene, a grandparent.

WHAT is it about being a grandparent that can evoke such enthusiasm? Researchers point out that the normal demands that parents naturally place upon children can generate a lot of tension. Because grandparents usually do not have to make such demands, they can enjoy a much more stress-free relationship with grandchildren. As Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., puts it, they are free to love their grandchildren simply “because they breathe.” A grandmother named Esther says: “With my own children, my daily emotions were so involved with everything they did. As a grandparent, I feel free to just enjoy and love my grandchildren.”

Then there is the increased wisdom and competence that come with age. (Job 12:12) No longer young and inexperienced, grandparents have years of parenting under their belts. Having learned from their mistakes, they may be more competent in handling children than they were when they were younger.

Dr. Kornhaber thus concludes: “A healthy and loving bond between grandparents and grandchildren is necessary for the emotional health and happiness of all three generations. This bond is a natural birthright for children, . . . a legacy bequeathed by their elders that benefits everyone in the family.” The journal Family Relations similarly notes: “Grandparents who participate and identify with the role of grandparent develop an increased sense of well-being and morale.”

A Grandparent’s Role

There are many valuable roles that grandparents can fill. “They can be supportive of their married children,” says Gene. “I think that by doing so, they can offset some of the tough circumstances that young parents find themselves in.” Grandparents can also do much to support the grandchildren themselves. It is often the grandparent who passes on the stories that give a child a sense of family history. Grandparents frequently play a key role in passing on a family’s religious heritage.

In many families, grandparents serve as trusted mentors. “Maybe there are things that children will share with you that they are not comfortable talking about with their parents,” says Jane, mentioned in the first article. Parents generally welcome such added support. According to one study, “over 80 percent of the teenagers viewed their grandparents as confidantes. . . . A large proportion of adult grandchildren maintain contact with their closest grandparents on a regular basis.”

A loving grandparent can be especially important to a child who lacks proper nurturing at home. “My grandmother was the most important person in my early childhood,” writes Selma Wassermann. “It was my grandmother who stepped in and filled my world with nurturing. She had a lap bigger than Miami Beach, and when she took me into it, I knew I was safe. . . . It was from my grandmother that I learned the most important things about myself—that I was loved and therefore lovable.”—The Long Distance Grandmother.

Family Tensions

Grandparenthood is not without potential tensions and problems, though. One parent, for example, recalls a bitter dispute with her mother over the proper method of burping a baby. “It caused a breach between us at a very vulnerable moment for me.” Understandably, young parents want their parents to approve of the way they raise their children. Suggestions from their well-meaning parents can thus feel like devastating criticism.

In his book Between Parents and Grandparents, Dr. Kornhaber tells of two parents with another common problem. Says one parent: “I get invaded every day by my parents, and they are upset if I am not at home when they come. . . . They don’t think about me—my feelings and my privacy.” Complains another: “My parents want to possess my little girl. They eat, sleep, and think Susie twenty-four hours a day. . . . We are thinking of moving away.”

Sometimes grandparents are also accused of spoiling their grandchildren by showering them with gifts. Of course, generosity is as natural to a grandparent as breathing, but some do seem to go overboard in this regard. At times, though, parental complaints may spring from jealousy. (Proverbs 14:30) “My parents were strict and harsh with me,” confesses Mildred. “With my kids they are generous and [permissive]. I am jealous because they haven’t changed the way that they act towards me at all.” Whatever the motives or reason, it can cause problems if a grandparent does not respect the parents’ wishes when it comes to gift giving.

Grandparents are thus wise to show discretion in their displays of generosity. The Bible shows that too much of even a good thing can be bad. (Proverbs 25:27) If you are not sure what kinds of gifts are appropriate, consult with the parents. In this way you will “know how to give good gifts.”—Luke 11:13.

Love and Respect—The Keys!

Sad to say, some grandparents complain that their work as caretakers and babysitters is taken for granted. Others feel that they are not given enough access to their grandchildren. Yet others say that their adult children have shunned them without even explaining why. Such painful problems can often be averted if family members show one another love and respect. The Bible says: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, . . . does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. . . . It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”—1 Corinthians 13:4, 5, 7.

Perhaps you are a young parent and Grandma makes a well-meaning but irritating suggestion or observation. Do you really have grounds to “become provoked”? After all, the Bible shows that it is the role of older Christian women to teach “young women . . . to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home.” (Titus 2:3-5) And do not you and the grandparents want the same thing—the very best for your children? Since love “does not look for its own interests,” perhaps it is best to focus on the needs of the child—not on your own feelings. Doing so might help you to avoid “forcing one another to a showdown” over every trivial irritation.—Galatians 5:26, footnote.

Granted, you may fear that too much generosity will spoil your child. But usually a grandparent does not have evil motives when he or she is generous. Most child-care professionals agree that how you train and discipline your child will have a far greater impact than the occasional intervention of a grandparent. One doctor advises: “Maintaining a good sense of humor helps.”

If you have legitimate cause for concern over some child-care issue, do not cut your parent or in-law off from contact with your children. Says the Bible: “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk.” (Proverbs 15:22) At the “right time,” have a serious discussion and reveal your concerns. (Proverbs 15:23) Oftentimes, solutions can be worked out.

Are you a grandparent? Then showing respect for your grandchild’s parents is essential. Of course, you would feel obliged to speak up if you felt that your grandchild was in danger. But while it is natural for you to love and cherish your grandchildren, parents—not grandparents—have the responsibility of raising their children. (Ephesians 6:4) The Bible commands your grandchildren to respect and obey their parents. (Ephesians 6:1, 2; Hebrews 12:9) So try to avoid barraging their parents with unrequested advice or undermining parental authority.—Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:11.

True, stepping back, holding your tongue—and perhaps your breath—and letting your children do their job as parents is not always easy. But as Gene puts it, “unless they ask for advice, you have to go with what they feel is best for their children.” Says Jane: “I am careful not to say, ‘This is the way it should be done!’ There are a lot of different ways to do things, and if you’re opinionated, it can cause problems.”

What Grandparents Can Give

The Bible portrays having grandchildren as a blessing from God. (Psalm 128:3-6) By taking an interest in your grandchildren, you can be a powerful influence in their lives, helping them to develop godly values. (Compare Deuteronomy 32:7.) In Bible times a woman named Lois played a significant role in helping her grandson, Timothy, to grow up to be an outstanding man of God. (2 Timothy 1:5) Similarly, you can experience joy as your grandchildren respond to godly training.

You can also be a source of needed love and affection. True, you may not be the gushy, affectionate type. However, godly love can also be shown by taking a sincere, unselfish interest in your grandchildren. Writer Selma Wassermann says: “Showing interest in what the child is telling you . . . will certainly indicate your caring. Being a good listener, not interrupting, being uncritical—all communicate regard, affection, prizing.” For a grandchild, such loving attention can be one of the finest gifts a grandparent can give.

Our discussion has thus far focused on the traditional grandparenting roles. Many of today’s grandparents, however, carry a much heavier load. “It was from my grandmother that I learned the most important things about myself—that I was loved and therefore lovable” 

Tips for Long-Distance Grandparents

  • Ask the parents to send you videotapes or pictures of the grandchildren.
  • Send audiotape “letters” to your grandchildren. For small children, record yourself reading Bible stories or singing lullabies.
  • Send the grandchildren postcards and letters. If possible, establish a regular correspondence with them.
  • If you can afford it, keep in touch with your grandchildren by long-distance telephone. When talking to small children, start conversations by asking simple questions, such as, “What did you have for breakfast?”
  • If possible, make regular, brief visits.
  • Arrange with the parents for your grandchildren to visit your home. Plan fun activities, such as going to zoos, museums, and parks.

The Featured image credits to    simonstapleton

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