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The Role of Grandparents in a Child's Life

Understanding and Navigating the Role of Grandparents

Parents and children of today face a very different world than those of the previous generation. Awareness of these differences can help today's parents navigate the role of grandparents in a child's life and, on the flip side, help grandparents play a special role in the family.

For example, child health and safety issues are of much greater concern now than before. Today's grandparents who had children before 1967 took them to school, to the playground, and to their grandparents' homes without the benefit of seat belts or car seats. Given what we now know about the dangers of automobile travel, it is unthinkable that anyone, much less infants and toddlers, would travel this way.

In addition, for many parents, second-hand smoke was an unknown danger to their children. Now, aware of the health risks it poses, today's parents are becoming more conscious and making different decisions than their parents once did.

As things change in our world, it's become important for grandparents to check with their grown children and be in sync with their parenting styles. Communication and respect are key aspects of the grandparent to parent relationship. However, remember that some things will never change - grandparents' love, genuine concern, and dreams for their grandchildren.

Parenting Tips: Establishing the Role of Grandparents

Here are some tips for establishing the role of grandparents in a child's life that make both the parents and children happy and safe.

If you're a parent:

  • Check in with your parents and partner's parents. After you and your significant other, there is no one who loves your child more. Grandparents can be a wealth of knowledge and teach you important life lessons. Remember that they've raised their own children and have years of learning to build upon.
  • Let the grandparents know your expectations for your child. Sometimes this is difficult to do. How do you tell your own mother or mother-in-law that you would like things done differently? The answer is honestly and respectfully. "Mom, we're concerned about the amount of sugar in juice, so we'd like him to drink milk or water for now. Thanks for listening." "Dad, we don't think that movie is suitable. Thanks for taking the girls skating instead." 

If you're a grandparent:

  • Find out your child's (and his/her partner's) expectations for grandparents and grandchildren time.
  • Are there routines that they'd like for you to maintain as the grandparent? Knowing just the right sequence at bedtime may make the time infinitely more pleasant for you and your grandchild.
  • Learn your grandchild's schedule. Knowing when meal time occurs, how much time the child needs to get ready for an event, when outside playtime is okay, and so forth will allow you to provide more consistency for your grandchild.
  • Are there some activities that are taboo? You don't want to be the reason your grandchild loses privileges.

Does this mean grandparents have to follow the rules at all times? Probably not. What grandchild doesn't like to stay up late at Grandpa's house, get another scoop of ice cream, or rent an extra DVD? Grandma's house can be a very special place with its own set of routines and rituals - it's not meant to be the same as home, but be certain that the fun is still within the parenting parameters set by the child's parents.

As grandmas and grandpas, understand the special role and importance of grandparents in the family, but also remember - your children are now the responsible adults who have created an entirely new nuclear family. You went through this process years ago, so remember how good it felt to be respected and have your decisions validated as parents.

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