When Help Hurts: Are You Really “Helping”?

We grandparents desire nothing more than to help our children and grandchildren live great lives. And, we’ve got wisdom to share!

When our help is accepted, we feel valued and important because we’re contributing and supporting. But sometimes we may suspect (or are told outright) that we’re actually making our adult children nuts!

The danger point is when we appear to think we have all the answers. Chances are, you do in fact have many of the answers. (Been there, done that, right?) You’ve experienced late nights with colicky babies, worried about rebellious teenagers, and dealt with every issue in between.

So when you watch your son or daughter interact or struggle raising their own children, arguing with their spouse, and dealing with other adult problems, you may feel the urge to offer insight or to critique. But do you wonder if your adult children need to learn their own lessons?

Discovering How Help Can Hurt

All grandparents should ask themselves: Why are you proffering help in your role as grandparent? Do you want to assist…or are you trying to make up for your own shortcomings as a parent? Are you overstepping your boundaries and taking power away from your kids as parents? 

“Do you wonder if your adult children need to learn their own lessons?”

We often see our adult children as we’ve always seen them, whether they’re 13 or 30 or 50. We feel like we have to guide our children or we assume they might not know “how” to parent without our advice. We see them making the same mistakes we made, maybe we even hear our own voice in theirs—and it makes us cringe. At our age, we may feel we see things more clearly because we’ve gained an outside perspective—and we may not like the view.

“Are you overstepping your boundaries and taking power away from your kids as parents?”

Many of us want to “help” because we’re trying to fulfill something deep within ourselves—our deepest yearnings aren’t being met. Our yearnings are our deepest human needs. We yearn to love, to be loved, and to be heard. We may simply yearn to matter. So instead of addressing our deep desires and striving to find our own purpose, we commandeer the lives of our children and grandchildren.

When we offer unsolicited advice—no matter how helpful we think we are, we’re likely actually disempowering our adult children. We must ask ourselves if our actions take away their autonomy. Do we make them feel like we don’t believe they can do it on their own? If we put them on the defensive, they might pull back or start to put up walls.

Reality check: no one likes to be questioned or parented as an adult.

Your adult child is learning and navigating their own path. They need to be empowered by their mistakes and live their own life. Truth be told, so do you.

Life in Three Phases: Child, Parent, Grandparent

In our youth phase, we’re discovering ourselves and making mistakes. Those mistakes are what build us into fully formed adults.

When we reach the adult or parenting stage, we shift focus from ourselves to a tiny being. From the moment we strap our baby in that car seat and leave the hospital (wondering, “How on Earth are they letting me take this tiny baby home?!”), we’re focused on nurturing, protecting, growing,  creating and parenting.

We have to figure out how to haul kids back and forth to school, soccer practice, and swim lessons. We have to get dinner on the table and figure out the work-life balance. This immense responsibility in the parent phase can be hard to shake when we move into the grandparent phase.

We should take those protecting, nurturing, parenting feelings and shift them to a place of quiet wisdom and guidance for all. We should be there as a sage—knowing the answers if we’re asked, but also realizing that the best learning comes from experience.

We shouldn’t rob our children of their own parenting experience—mistakes and all.

So, yes, we may have to bite our tongues sometimes. Parenting is an active phase of life, while grandparenting is a being or more passive phase of life. We have to shift from rule-enforcing parent to benevolent grandparent.

Embracing the Joy of Grandparenting

It can be a relief to step back from the role of parent. We don’t have to enforce rules or sort out logistics!

Instead, we get to revel in the joy of being a grandparent, marvel at our grandchildren’s discoveries and delight in listening to them. We get to play with our grandkids and to discover the intricacies of our grandchildren that parents might not have time for. Nutrition and bedtime? Well, that’s Mom and Dad’s problem—unless, of course they solicit our help.

It can be hard to shift into the role of grandparent, especially for those of us who tend to like to have control in every situation. The bemused observer is a much different place than the rule-maker and regulator. Being that observer enables you to be a trusting presence for your adult children while being a source of joy and laughter for your grandkids.

When it comes to offering advice, you can say, “I have some experience in this area, would you like my advice?”

They may say no. If so, bite your tongue and let them learn on their own. It’s a difficult situation, but it allows you to grow. Don’t step in and try to parent for them; let them find their own path. When guidance is requested, offer it from an empowering place. Help your son or daughter find their strength as a parent and confidence in learning through trial and error. Above all, believe in them as you would like others to believe in you.

We’re all responsible for our own journey. Rather than trying to control your adult child’s journey, let them discover their way. This is a great lesson in trust. Even if you cringe at their parenting style or if you know you would “do things differently”—simply know you can leave a legacy and have a greater positive influence on your grandchildren by being a place of refuge.

Meanwhile, embrace your role in the grandparent phase! Now you’re able to bring wisdom and nurturing to the entire planet. You’ve moved into the bigger caretaker role. You are experienced and aware. Embrace it!

So let’s get back to focusing on growing and engaging within our own lives. What do YOU want? It’s your time again to play, grow, and learn rather than fret about child rearing. Allow your adult children to make mistakes as parents, just as you did. You’ve earned the right to move into this beautiful new phase of life!

 

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