What Role Do You Play With Your GRANDchildren?
According to Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., president and founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting and the nation’s foremost expert on grandparenting issues, there are 11 roles grandparents play in a family. These roles are dynamic, meaning they will change and grow as you and your grandchild(ren) do so too, and you may find yourself playing many different roles throughout the years. Grandparents offer children a broader range of knowledge, emotions and experience than they did as parents. They also inhabit a special place in the family as a trusted adult, yet separate and different from the child’s parents, and may provide a safe place for children to turn in times of stress when they feel they cannot approach their parents. The following are the special roles grandparents can play in the lives of their grandchildren.
As a grandparent, you are the link to your grandchild’s ancestors. You are the head of the family unit and a connection to the family’s common history. In addition, your age and wrinkles serve as proof of survival and resilience, and stories of your own grandparents and other ancestors bring them to life and make them real for your grandchildren.
Because you are not responsible for the day-to-day care and discipline of your grandchild, you are able to assume the role of a pal, secret confidante, and a “light-hearted conspirator.” Dr. Korhhaber’s studies have shown that many grandparents “treat their grandchildren in a more relaxed and permissive manner than they ever treated their own children.” As a result, children often feel more comfortable discussing sensitive issues with a grandparent than with their own parents. When fulfilling this role, be mindful of pitfalls such as conspiring in activities that are against the parents’ wishes, spoiling, and favoritism toward one grandchild over another.
Although the hero role can be a literal one if you have fought in or lived through wars or other extreme hardships, you may also be a hero to your grandchild just for the fact that you have endured for many years or that you stepped in to rescue or help your grandchild in a time of need. Being a hero gives your grandchild someone to model his or her life after and someone to inspire them.
The role of historian overlaps somewhat with Ancestor; however, you are the living witness to the history of your own time, in addition to that of your ancestors. This gives the child a sense of “we,” solidifying the fact that he or she belongs to a family unit – something bigger than themselves – and gives him or her a sense of safety and security.
This goes beyond just teaching your child a subject – you are a cheerleader inspiring her imagination and her dreams, nurturing her spirit, and encouraging her intellectual growth while giving her a sense of self-worth. Grandparents are especially effective as teachers because their unconditional love makes the grandchild feel safe and comfortable and loved for who they are, not how they perform.
Your role of nurturer as a grandparent is similar to your role as parent, with some added functions and advantages. Your support provides an emotional and social safety net for the entire family, making your grandchildren feel safe and secure. This role has become even more important in light of the increasing divorce rate, parents’ career demands, teenage pregnancy, and other social problems. Long-distance nurturing may be more challenging, but is not impossible. Make sure your children and grandchildren know that you are there if needed. Keep in close touch with your grandchildren with frequent phone calls, emails, letters or postcards if frequent in-person visits are not possible.
Your actions can teach your grandchildren how they should behave in society, care for themselves, and how they should aspire to be as future parents and grandparents themselves. Your influence can also help create a positive perception of older people in general. Your relationship with your children can also serve as a model for your grandchildren’s relationships with their own parents and children.
Your role as a spiritual guide to your grandchildren can help teach them to value and achieve spiritual rewards such as love, tolerance, compassion, reverence, joy, peace, gentleness, faith and kindness. Because you are not responsible for their daily well-being, you can focus on their spiritual, moral growth and development. By acting in a moral, ethical, and honest manner you set an example for your grandchildren to emulate.
While it’s true you have many valuable things to teach your grandchild, don’t forget that you have many valuable lessons to learn about and from them. You can be a student of grandparenting by joining grandparenting groups, reading grandparenting books and magazines, and taking classes, but also by listening to what your grandchildren have to teach you. They can teach you to keep up with new inventions and ideas to help keep you growing and changing, which is key to remaining vibrant and youthful. Your grandchildren will also get a sense of empowerment and self-worth by teaching you new things and sharing a bit of their life and culture with you.
You have a fantastic opportunity to impart your knowledge, special skills, and experience to your grandchildren as their teacher. If your subject matter meets with opposition from your grandchild’s parents, talk it over with them openly and calmly and try to come to a compromise. Differences in values, lifestyle, religion, and tradition can sometimes cause conflict, but showing your grandchildren you can come to a compromise will benefit everyone.
Your role as a wizard provides your grandchild with a playful, imaginative alternative to their task-oriented daily life. You can indulge your grandchild’s fantasies because you don’t have to worry about the daily discipline. Imaginative play is essential for young children – particularly around four and five years old – and enhances their intellectual and verbal skills and emotional balance later in life. The simplest tasks can take on a magical quality to a young child, with a little wizardly help from grandma or grandpa!