Tips for being an awesome grandparent

I was very lucky. As a child from a big family, my grandmother carved out time just for me. I was allowed to walk by myself to my grandparent’s house as it was just up the road and I was guaranteed a special breakfast. She gave me a boiled egg with a knitted hat on top to keep it warm. We spent time in the garden together and I got to bake ‘calcium cookies’ with her. I can still smell her special Oil of Ulan moisturiser, and the deep fryer smell in her home when she served homemade fish and chips, which we ate out of a paper bag sitting on a tartan rug. I love hearing about the special relationship between children and their grandparents. There is nothing quite like it. Memories are made that literally last a lifetime. It is wonderful to have parents who absolutely love and adore their grandchildren and want to spend time with them.

But the grandparent relationship doesn’t always work the way we want. Some parents wish there was more happening between their children and their parents. Alternatively, some grandparents wish they weren’t taken for granted so much. Their own children have assumed they are always available for babysitting and transporting children around. They love their grandchildren, but were hoping to have the time and energy for themselves as well. Then there are grandparents desperate for more time with their grandchildren – longing to forge a connection and a role to play.

It can be hard if your parents are of an age where they just don’t have the energy or agility to keep up with your children and instead of them helping you out with your kids, you are helping them out because of health issues and so forth. For some parents, the grandparent relationship is going to be easy, valued and very rewarding. For others it is going to be tricky and require sensitive handling.

One mum tells me how she and her husband had hoped that her parents would be more hands-on. She appreciates the abundance of toys and financial help, but would just love it if her own mum would pick up the phone and ask her son and daughter around for a sleepover. Her parents both work full-time and seem too tired to cope with meals, visits and outings. Other parents have told me they wish their children would get an occasional ‘letter’ or postcard in the mail from the grandparents – even an email or text would be meaningful. It tells the children that this person in my life has been thinking about me and cares enough to make contact with me.

Grandparents can also want to be ‘too’ involved and nitpick at the parent’s actions when it comes to parenting. Like all relationships, this one needs to be worked at and compromises made. It has so much potential that it is worth the effort to make it work – primarily for your children’s sake but not exclusively, as the benefits for everyone are enormous! Here are some tips to make these relationships work

GrandmotherGrandparent’s wish list

In an ideal world, my children would –

  • Appreciate that we can be busy and that we need some lead up time to making a commitment like babysitting or picking a child up.
  • Remember that we still think manners are important. We can adapt to lots of things but getting your children to say please and thank you means a lot. Hearing words of gratitude for a gift makes us feel appreciated for our efforts.
  • Leave some toys for us to buy. When your children seem to have every toy and gadget under the sun, it is hard for us to ‘treat’ them to something special.
  • We appreciate it when you check in with us over our rules. When your children know our rules and you support us, even if they are different in your home, it helps them work here.
  • We love to be invited to special events like birthdays, school prize giving, and swimming classes or sports events.
  • At our age, we may not have read all the parenting books, or even be on quite the same page as you, but we will care for and love our grandchildren. Please give us the opportunity to look after them.

Parent’s wish list

In an ideal world the grandparents would –

  • Spend time with each of our children doing something special. It would not need to be expensive or for hours on end.
  • Be happy to talk to our children on the phone or Skype and have some great questions to ask.
  • Remember their birthdays or significant events. Attending these events is a real bonus.
  • Be willing to teach our children new skills like sewing, baking, knitting, card games, chess or making crafts. You have more patience and time than we do!
  • Be great listeners. When we unload a parenting challenge, sometimes all we need is a listening ear, not lots of advice. Please check what we are looking for.
  • Let us carry the final authority. We understand that you may disagree with our parenting decisions but we need your support rather than have our decisions overridden.

All relationships take effort, initiative and insight. If it is at all possible, forging a good connection between parents, grandparents and children is worth the investment. Give it your best shot.

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About Author

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale is our Senior Family Coach and we’ve been lucky enough to have her on our team for 19 years now. Once upon a time, Jenny was a teacher. These days, she spends her time supporting our team of Family Coaches, training new ones, and travelling around the country talking in preschools, schools and churches. She loves working with families and helping them find solutions to the challenges they face with behaviour and parenting. Jenny has been married to Stuart for 40 years and adores being a grandma to her grandkids (who live just 1km away). She needs a support group so she can stop buying books for them. She’d love to raise free-range chickens, write children’s books and perhaps even take up horse-riding again.

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