12 Steps to Becoming a Happier Grandparent

Filed under: Relatives, Holidays, Relationships, Expert Advice: Family Time

Happy grandmother holding granddaughter

Credit: Getty Images

The general public -- including our children and grandchildren -- may be more aware of Grandparents Day than, say, Root Canal Appreciation Day, National Hairball Awareness Day or Liberace's Birthday, but that's not saying much. Personally, I know of no grandparents, no matter how loving and selfless, who are regularly celebrated, let alone acknowledged, on this, our special day.

So, if the kids aren't going to pay any attention to us, let's take matters into our own hands. Let's step back and reflect on what it means to be a good grandparent. Here's a list of aspirations for the coming year, a sort of 12-step program for grandparents who love, judge, spend or worry too much -- and all the rest who simply adore their grandkids.

Step 1: Put Your Faith in Your Adult Children

A wise friend suggested that the more I trust my son and daughter-in-law to be good parents, the better parents they'll be. This means not rushing to judgment or second-guessing their every move -- even silently. Our faith helps to bolster their confidence; our criticism and doubt undermine it. Besides, if we grandparents learned (eventually) how to be "good-enough" parents (to quote D.W. Winnicott), so will they.

Step 2: Communicate

This is key. In order to avoid disappointment, resentment, dashed hopes and missed cues, we need to speak up -- and so do our adult children. We may not always be able to give them what they want -- or vice-versa -- but hearing what they have to say and saying what we really mean help to make the tricky parent/grandparent dance go more smoothly, even when the conversations are challenging. Remember, your kids are trying to take care of their kids, while also making space for you, the grandparents -- no small task.

Step 3: Agree to Disagree

Let's face it: Our grown children do things differently than we did. They get their parenting advice online, they buy complicated contraptions we never dreamed of, they insist on rules we deem silly, while ignoring others we think are essential. Go figure -- or not. Their kids, their rules. Unless we're raising our grandchildren or we witness abuse, we're just there to provide backup. We must periodically remind ourselves to disconnect our two most vital organs -- our minds and our mouths.

Step 4: Practice Saying No

For many of us, grandparenthood provides all sorts of fresh opportunities for guilt: Our son or daughter asks us to babysit for the twins for two weeks while they go paragliding in Paraguay, or they need thousands to finance private polo lessons, or maybe just a C-note to buy groceries. The point is that we need to be realistic with ourselves and let our adult children know what help we're physically, psychologically, or financially able to provide -- before we feel put upon or exhausted beyond words.

Step 5: Forgive Thyself Thy Trespasses

Stuff happens, no matter how good our intentions. Recently, my husband gave what he considered an innocuous answer when our granddaughter asked him what an army was. Ever since, she's been terrified to go to sleep at night and claims that G-Daddy told her that soldiers are coming to take kids away. (That's not what he said.) Still, he feels terrible. The truth is, children have wild imaginations. Everybody's feelings get hurt from time to time. We are all irrevocably, exquisitely, impossibly human. We can only try to do our best -- and have compassion for ourselves when our best turns out to be imperfect.

Step 6: Forgive Thy Adult Children Their Trespasses

See Step 5.

Step 7: Drop the Word "Perfect" From Your Vocabulary

Quel relief!

Step 8: Befriend the "Other" Grandparents

Yes, of course we all secretly hope that the grandkids will love us more than their other grandparents. Still, we need to behave kindly, generously -- as if we didn't harbor that shameful, secret hope. Besides, in most families all the grandparents are in the same boat. Our adult children aren't interested in any of our opinions. Take comfort in numbers.

Step 9: Take Charge of What You Can

That is, your own life. You're not in control of where grandchildren live or go to school, what they eat for dinner, or the disciplinary habits of their parents. You may not even have a say in when you can see the little darlings or which holidays you can share with them. This can lead to feelings of powerlessness, frustration, even rage. Which is why it's so important to remind yourself that you are in charge of your own life -- including how much time, energy, and cash you devote to the kids.

Step 10: Let Go of All the Rest

Grandparenthood offers an excellent opportunity for personal growth by way of letting go. Now is the time to acknowledge a higher power in matters pertaining to your grandchildren -- their parents.

Step 11: Say the Serenity Prayer

This works just as well for grandparents as it does for people in AA: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Step 12: Remember, Love Trumps All

Grandparents are messengers of love. That is our only job. Revel in it, and give thanks that you get to sleep through the night. There are good reasons why people have babies at 30, not 60 ...

For more from Grandparents.com, visit the Grandparents Day guide for activity ideas, sing-alongs, greeting cards, coloring pages and more.

Related: Surprising Facts About Today's Grandparents, Parenting Styles: Then and Now, 13 Truths Only Grandparents Know

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.