Over the years, the Foundation for Grandparenting has received thousands of letters from parents asking for suggestions on ways to help foster a meaningful relationship—fostering the “Vital Connection” between their own parents and their children when personal or geographical circumstanses interfere.
One young mother complained that her father lived two blocks away, but never took the time to spend more than an occasional hour with her children. When she spoke to him about his lack of involvement, he told her that he didn’t want to “meddle” in his daughter’s life. He thought he was doing her a favor by allowing her to be more independent.
One of the major reasons for a lack of parent/grandparent involvement is poor communication. Many parents are hesitant to ask their parents to be more involved in the family out of guilt. “My parents have worked hard all their lives and already raised a family,” one father said. “I don’t have the right to ask them to get involved in mine.” Parents do, however, have a right to at least ask their parents for time and attention.
When grandparents don’t want to be involved
Another reason for the lack of a close bond between grandparents and grandchildren is that some grandparents simply don’t want to become involved, even when asked to do so by their children. One grandmother said, “I have raised my children and now I want time for myself.” Her son, on the other hand, thought his mother was “very selfish and self-centered.”
What to do
Under these circumstances, it is best for a parent to ask a third party – such as a friend, clergyperson, or therapist – to sit down with their family. At the meeting, allow everyone to express their feelings and point of view. If the children are old enough, have them make their own needs known to their grandparents. Be direct and open with your feelings. Then try and come to an agreement that is acceptable to everyone. Often, the parents and grandparents’ love for the children will bring them together.
Overcoming physical distance between grandparents and their families can be difficult. Many grandparents would love to be more involved in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives, but live too far away and are unable to travel because of cost. We received a letter from an overworked mother whose parents live all the way across the country. She asked us if we knew anyone in her area who would be willing to “grandmother” her daughter after school.
When grandparents are willing to be involved but do not live near by, the family needs to pool their financial resources to allow the grandparents to spend as much time with their grandchildren as possible. Acknowledge the limitations of the distance separating everyone, and then make a commitment to try to be as close as possible despite this handicap. If the grandparents cannot travel to the grandchildren, have the grandchildren travel to them.
The Foundation has even received letters from children asking if we could find them a grandparent. This last situation was the motivation behind the creation of our Grandparent-Grandchild Summer Camp. When grandparents and grandchildren can spend a week together without the usual external distractions, they have the freedom to forge a close attachment that can last a lifetime. The Camp is especially enjoyed by grandparents and grandchildren who are separated by distance and normally do not get to spend long periods of time together.
It can be quite heartwarming for a grandparent to hear their child articulate that they love them and want to be closer to them, and that they want their children to have a close relationship with them. Communicating this clearly to grandparents is sometimes all that is needed for them to deepen their commitment to their family.