Grandparents can be very special to a child. Many grandparents take an active role in the care of their grandchildren. In a good relationship they offer unconditional love and acceptance. They often pay undivided attention and listen with interest to all that their grandchild has to tell. Many grandparents are flexible, they have free time, and their own lives are fairly settled. Since they don’t have day-to-day responsibility for their grandchild, they can get involved without worrying about such tough issues as discipline and education.
Good grandparent-grandchild relationships usually revolve around the child’s interests, although children sometimes will listen carefully to their grandparents’ stories and may enjoy participating in a grandparent’s hobby. Still, the focus is on the child.
Sometimes parents find themselves in the middle of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. In the best of situations, parents love to share their child’s accomplishments with grandparents and hear them say wonderful things back. It’s especially gratifying when grandparents compliment parents for successful child rearing. But the relationship can be complex and uncomfortable, especially for the generation in the middle.
When grandparents criticize the way their grandchild is being raised, parents resent the intrusion. If grandparents are especially loving towards their grandchild, a parent may angrily or jealously wonder why she didn’t experience such acceptance when she was young: “Why are they so nice now? They were never like that when I was growing up.” At the other extreme, if grandparents aren’t loving enough, parents experience the loss of a relationship they wanted for their child.
If your child’s grandparents are intent on seeing and enjoying him, the relationship will flourish. If they’re emotionally or geographically distant, there are some things you can do to encourage the relationship.
When grandparents live far away, remain in constant contact via phone, videocam or email. Exchange emails describing recent activities, or send pictures (either hard copies or via the Internet) often. Send DVDs of your child playing, singing, showing off his room, or telling a story. You can help your child write to his grandparents by giving him several addressed, stamped envelopes ready to send off with a drawing, photo, or letter.
If you’ve kept grandparents at a distance because of their attitudes or actions, or because you think they spoil your child, reconsider your position. One parent who thought her mother overindulged the grandchildren began to see that the leniency and generosity didn’t harm them or make them greedy. She began to invite her mother over more often and welcomed her involvement.
If you sense that your child is bothered or worried about his grandparents, let him talk about his feelings. If his grandmother is sick or if there’s a sudden change in her health or living situation, he may ask lots of questions and seek reassurance: “Will Grandma always be sad?” “Will we still get to see her?”
The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can enrich both generations. When it works, it’s wonderful. When it doesn’t develop as you would wish, there still will be benefits. As the parent in between, try to accept whatever disappointment you feel, and nurture the good parts of the relationship.