Grandparents and parents should help one another

Published 11:27 am Monday, January 31, 2011

Grandparents are not parents. We can’t do with our grandchildren what we wished we knew to do with our children. Part of our job is to reinforce what now our children do—something like a “second opinion” for their consideration. If the grandchildren should doubt what Mom and Dad say, they ought to hear the same thing from Grandma and Grandpa.

It’s not easy for parents to stand by and watch their adult children make the same mistakes with their children as we did with them. One would think that now that we know better, we should be allowed to say so. But stand-by is not only all grandparents may do, it is precisely the thing to do. We can, and should, talk with our children privately about our observations and opinions. But we must leave decisions and actions to the parents.

Among other considerations is the fact that things have changed since they were little and at home with us. It’s not only a different world, but our children and grandchildren live together in a different part of this different world. Despite what we have lately learned, we don’t understand everything about our grandchildren’s world. Try as we must to understand and however much we do learn, we’ll never fully understand—probably not even adequately.

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Grandparents have neither the obligation nor the right to “spoil” our grandchildren. This is subverting our children’s teaching and discipline of our grandchildren. We do our grandchildren great harm when we indulge them in letting them get away with attitudes, talk, and behavior disallowed by their parents.

I am astounded to hear, as I certainly do, grandparents actually brag about spoiling their grandchildren. This is utterly irresponsible. It is to betray our children and abuse our grandchildren.

Not every such remark is actually spoiling grandchildren, and I understand this. Sometimes it is but a manner of speaking rather than being literally true. I suggest, nonetheless, such language is dangerous at best, because it can lead to actual spoiling.

And actually spoiling grandchildren is both self-defeating and counterproductive. We so lose our authority and authenticity. Not infrequently, the grandkids themselves recognize this before the grandparents do. By the time the grandparents do, it may be too late because the damage has been done.

Grandchildren probably like to be spoiled at the time, but when they have matured they come to resent the indulgence. I have never heard a grandchild eulogize a grandparent because he let him get away with things. On the contrary, I have often heard them express gratitude for firm and consistent grandparent discipline. So, just how do you want your grandchildren to remember you?

We may and should treat our grandchildren differently from the way their parents treat them. This is to say, we should treat them appropriate to the position, perspective, and experience of grandparents. Grandpa must act like a grandfather and not try to be a dad. So must Grandma make this distinction. We don’t either compromise or even duplicate the discipline of their parents; we reinforce by supplementing what they do.

I think this is crucial: Grandparents must always be there for their grandchildren and accept them as they are at the moment. Every child at one time or another thinks his parents don’t understand him or her. They actually know better (as we did), but it is an emotion they need to work through. When they choose to think Mom hates them (and they do so choose), they can turn to Grandma as one who would never hate them. Grandma doesn’t contradict what Mom has said or undo what she has had to do. She makes no comment. She just hugs them and says, “I love you; I always will.” And the kids understand all this.

Parents and grandparents are a team who work together for the best interest and welfare of the grandchildren.