The Issue: Expectations about The Role of Grandparents
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” (Donald Miller)
Sometime, somewhere, someone is going to fall short of your expectations. And it’s likely to happen, we’ve heard – and learned through personal experience – when grandchildren arrive and the two generations have to negotiate this new, unchartered territory. We’re talking about the role of grandparents in the grandchildren’s lives. And the really tricky part? As children grow and grandparents age, the whole issue of expectations comes up again!
Face it: Our world is full of expectations. We’re expected to be good neighbors; good citizens; good sons and daughters – no matter how old we are. We’re expected to obey laws, study and work hard. Expectations also apply to being good parents and good grandparents. But here’s where it gets murky. What I think of as a ‘good grandparent’ may be worlds apart from someone else.
Whether you’re first time grandparents or many times over, it’s very hard not to have expectations of playtimes, babysitting, birthdays and holidays together. Being a part of his or her life. Same goes for parental expectations of grandparents. We’re only human. And this is family, right?
Did I hear someone say, “Uh. Huh. Time for a reality check!”?
Ok. So, expectations are defined as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future”. They’re hope for the future, part of our dreams. What keeps us going.
Expectations are part of life, as I am reminded by these quotes…
“Anger comes from frustrated expectations.” (Elliott Larson)
And, (I love this one)…
“Expecting the world to treat you fairly just because you are a good person, is a little like not expecting a bull to attack you, because you are a vegetarian.” (Dennis Wholey)
When we asked parents to share their tips for making relationships with the grandparents work, expectations was the number one topic!
There were disappointments with too little and too much involvement with the grandchildren, which clearly shows that expectations are personal. This means we are going to have to get personal in our expectations and (yikes!) TALK about them, rather than assume we are all on the same page from the start. Parents shouldn’t assume that their children’s grandparents are going to have the same interaction and relationship with the grandchildren that the parents did with their own grandparents.
Expectations defined as our hopes is a good place to begin…..no one sets out to disappoint; they just have different visions and hopes. Parents who weighed in on this issue advised keeping communication open and ongoing, and accepting each set of grandparents for who they are.
How to weather the expectations issue?
This might help. GRAND recently heard the role of grandparents described in a different light:
Ensuring grandparents are an important part of children’s lives is a great gift to them. Grandparents provide the love and support of an extended family along with the security and sense of belonging that offers in this great big world of ours.
Second, ignoring the issue might seem the easy way out, but that results in disappointment and frustration on both sides of the parenting generation gap.
Comfortable or not, it’s better to have a discussion – not confrontational, rather information sharing – between each set of grandparents and the parents, including everyone as part of the process and ensuring both generations have communicated clearly their needs and desires…and hopes.
- Avoid pre-judging. Ask what both parents and grandparents hope to see as the grandparents’ role. Once you understand each other’s hopes, you may be able to close the gap in those expectations. Consider personalities; other commitments; and how far away they live.
- Think about this new stage in the grandparent’s lives. They may have more time available now than they did with their own children. Or, their established day-to-day routines as well as physical or financial limitations may reduce their activity level or time with grandchildren. Others may prefer to enjoy new found freedom and travel, spending hours on hobbies and their own activities.
- It would be natural to feel hurt or disappointed, if the grandparents don’t spend as much time as you would hope with their grandchildren. Dr. Susan Newman (psychologist and author) suggests parents concentrate on being thankful for the positives that grandparents do add to your family and use other relatives and friends to fill the voids left by grandparents who are not as involved as parents would like.
- Keep in mind the treasured memories parents and grandparents can help create for all three generations for holidays, birthdays and vacations. Find what works for both generations AND the grandchildren, modifying traditions or establishing new ones.
- Address health, safety and aging issues with grandparents who are willing, or live close enough, to help with child care or babysitting. Ask grandparents to be open to your new information or different parenting style.
- Be upfront about setting boundaries to protect and preserve the family life of the grandchildren and their parents as well as the independent lifestyle of the grandparents.
Maybe, just maybe, the most compelling reason for both parents and grandparents to discuss each generation’s expectations about the role of grandparents is contained in this quote from Dr. Cheryl Wu, pediatrician, parenting expert and mother:
“The grandparent-grandchild bond is perhaps the purest kind, where the two parties are completely okay with each other’s differences and come to love the other exactly as they are.”
Resources worth checking out:
Dr. Cheryl Wu, M.D. (parenting tips and videos for new moms)
Dr. Susan Newman, PhD (psychologist, author, parenting and parent-grandparent expert) and on Facebook