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Posted on May 27, 2013 by Christine Crosby in 

5 Pillars of The Grandparent-Parent Relationship

The Issue:
We both laughed, when we read a comment by author Hope Edleman (Mother of My Mother), “Grandparents are just as likely to be sources of conflict as pillars of support”.
And then I (GRAND) stopped laughing, as I recalled a recent time when I blew it. Just the other day, in fact.  I didn’t keep my mouth shut, when a parenting issue became too intense for me to keep quiet. No, my grandchild was not in danger. I just didn’t agree with how the situation was being handled. And it got pretty uncomfortable. After some discussion with the parent involved and later more with the one not at home at the time, it dawned on me: This is definitely a work in progress. This parent-grandparent relationship, I mean.  And it’s going to work better some days and not so well other times.

Most people agree: Grandparents are pillars of support, playing a critical role on so many levels.  Grandparents are a link to the past…sharing the wisdom they have acquired through decades of life experiences as well as a different perspective.

And most people also recognize that the older generation offers another source of unconditional love and encouragement for grandchildren, while helping them feel secure in the world, as noted by Dr. Susan Newman (author and parenting expert) in our recent interview.

So far, so good.  Yet this constant ‘dance’ between the two generations – both of whom just want what’s best for the grandchildren – can be emotionally draining and, sometimes, even feel like a tug-of-war.


I recently heard being a grandparent described as a blessing and also a responsibility. It was as if a light went on in my brain. I know that being a grandmother is amazing.  But I never really thought of the role of grandparent as being a responsibility.  

So, I looked up the definition. Responsibility:  Answerable, or accountable, for something within one’s power.  And that gave me a whole different perspective, when helping craft our 5 Pillars. That helping make this relationship work is within my power.  It’s part of my – and the parents’- responsibility to do so.


So, we asked parents and grandparents for tips on making the relationship work. Many of these suggestions referenced how very different information on child development, food allergies, etc., is from when the grandparents were raising the parents. Communication also seems to be a key skill, including discussing what kind of role the grandparents will play in their grandchildren’s lives.

And, with the help of these parents and grandparents – whose names aren’t being used to protect us all! – we’ve narrowed it down to 5 Pillars of The Grandparent-Parent Relationship.

1.     Talk about Expectations, Rather Than Assume!
  • Have this discussion as early as possible, even starting the conversation during the pregnancy.  However, the discussion needs to happen, regardless of how old the grandchildren are now.
  • How would the grandparents want to be involved? What kind of grandparents would they like to be, is a question suggested by Dr. Arthur Kornhaber (author and founder of Foundation for Grandparenting).
  •  How do the parents see the grandparents’ role?  Discuss how involved the parents would like the grandparents to be in their child’s life.
2.    Don’t Undermine the Parents.
  • Parents should be able to expect grandparents to follow their parental rules and preferences.
  • Grandparents should follow parent’s rules and wishes – including food guidelines parents use – even if they don’t agree with them. This extends to parental limitations on what toys, movies and videos grandchildren can receive as gifts and can play with, or watch, when in the grandparent’s care.
  •  Parents should remember that grandparents really only want what’s best for their grandchildren.  And parents should decide what the ‘must follow’ rules are; then, be flexible with other rules for the grandparents.
  •  Grandparents should wait to be asked for advice. One grandparent shared her mantra for remembering not to offer unsolicited advice or override the parents: “Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand on my mouth.”
3.    Foster the Grandparent-Grandchild Bond.
  • Grandparents should be willing to help, most importantly with time and love.
  • Parents should allow time for the grandchild to build a relationship with the grandparents.
  • Both generations should set clear boundaries about babysitting and providing child care. Let’s be clear here: Grandparents can offer to babysit as much as they want or are able. Parents can always decline or suggest another time to do so.
  • Parents should keep in mind grandparent’s comfort level with, and ability to ensure the safety of, different aged grandchildren.  Revisit the issue, as grandparent’s health, mobility or energy levels change.
 4.   Communicate Regularly and Openly.
  • Grandparents and parents should be able to listen to each other with an open mind and without feeling defensive, focusing on what’s best for the grandchildren
  • Parents should communicate their rules for the grandchildren, when they are at home and at the grandparents’ house.
  •  Both generations should be sensitive to changes in the other’s life that can impact the parent-grandparent relationship…without being judgmental.
  •  Communicate clearly. Don’t assume someone can read your mind, even if you feel both generations know each other very well, as Dr. Newman reminds us.
5.    Parents and Grandparents Have Separate Lives.
  • Grandparents shouldn’t expect to spend every holiday with their grandchildren.
  • Grandparents should have lives which include, but don’t revolve around, their adult children and grandchildren.
  •  Parents should not drop off grandchildren without advance planning and a specific request to do so.

All of us – grandparents and parents alike – at some point in the relationship have disagreed with, or questioned something going on with the grandchildren. Life isn’t perfect and neither is this relationship. Like or not, these three generations are connected. It behooves each of us to figure out a way to make this work – or at least make it manageable. We’re always working on our grandparent-parent relationship! We hope these 5 Pillars are helpful for you.

Share you ideas and tips for making this relationship work. Join the conversation on our Facebook page here.  And ‘like’ us, then enter our newest sweepstakes! Your choice to win one of two great prizes for you, your child and grandchild.  Or go to our website, momandgrand.com, and enter to win our sweepstakes!

We want to say a special ‘thank you’ to the parents and grandparents who shared their tips for this article.


Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, Foundation for Grandparenting website

Dr. Susan Newman, Facebook page



Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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