The 10 Commandments For Grandparents
BY JILL BOWLER
The news that I was going to be a grandma was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. I just couldn’t wait! My husband and were still young enough to really enjoy our new roles as grandparents. This was going to be the highlight of my life!
Don’t judge! It was the middle of the night. Not my most put-together photo.
As I was having these total “delusions” of grandeur, I thought this was my chance to make right all the wrongs I had committed on my own children. Certainly, I could raise this next generation with much more wisdom and finesse than I could possibly have done 20 years ago.
Imagine my shock when the reality set in that this was NOT a do-over for ME!! As a matter of fact, this had nothing to do with me getting a second chance at all.
As grandparents, we play an important support role in the lives of our adult children and grandchildren. However, we need to accept and respect that we are just that – the supporting cast – not the leading lady. Sheesh! What a diva I was! I guess we all have to come to grips with the fact that the spotlight has passed and it’s now time to help our children be successful parents – albeit, in a quiet, caring way.
#1 Thou Shalt Accept the Fact That This Is Their Life and Family
Isn’t this what you have been waiting for? Your children are all grown up and ready to start a family of their own. It’s your chance to be proud of the way you raised them. Slow down, girlfriend! Remember that this is their chance to be parents and do things their way. Think back to when you were a kid. Weren’t their things that your parents did that you said you would never do?? Yeah, me too!
However, let me share a secret with you. If you wait it out – 9 times out of 10 – they will do exactly what they said they wouldn’t anyway. I remember telling my mom, “I will NEVER yell at my kids.” Oh my! Every once in a while, I would lose it and let my kids hear me loud and clear. . .I just had to remember to shut the windows, so the neighbors wouldn’t hear me too! <sheepish grin>
#2 Thou Shalt Accept Thy Supportive Role as Grandparents
Similar to the first commandment, you have to not only accept that this is your children’s life but accept your new role in that life. There are a few levels within this role as well. Let me explain.
If you are a grandparent on the maternal side of things, then you may have a more prominent position. Mothers tend to gravitate more towards their own parents first and since they’re usually the primary caregivers, you’re going to be much more in the know about your grandkids. (I do recognize that this role of primary caregiver is changing these days, but for now, I believe that this still holds pretty true.) However, if you are a paternal grandparent, you may end up feeling a bit left out now and again.
Don’t be disheartened if you feel a bit left out at first. Everyone is adjusting. The worst thing you can do is assume or insist that you have a primary position on the grandparent ladder. If you overstep your bounds, you just may end up as the “other” grandparents. (Did you see the movie, Parental Guidance?) Don’t compete! Stop worrying about everyone else. Just do you! Don’t try to fit into anyone else’s mold and as the grandchildren grow, so will their love and respect for you and how you fit into their life.
#3 Parents Shalt Make the Rules – Not the Grandparents
Your child is now in a relationship with someone who grew up with a whole different set of rules than your child did. Now, they have to work out the bugs of bringing two lives together under one roof. This will probably involve some compromise between them and they don’t need you trying to tell them how to do that.
In addition, their children are going to have different little personalities from your children. We all know these Littles don’t come with an instruction book, and they are each tiny little individuals of their own. They may need a different kind of discipline or reasoning or motivation than your children needed. Let the parents work through it and figure it out. Sit back and enjoy the fact that you don’t have to.
I’m going to build on Margaret Mead’s saying just a bit: “Grandparents are given a second chance to experience parenthood from a different view and actually enjoy it because it has fewer of its tribulations and anxieties.” So, just sit back and enjoy the show. As I recall, it was Bill Cosby who told us that our mothers put a curse on us that our children would act exactly as we did. Well, I’m here to tell you that it works!! Just ask my in-laws. Every time one of my boys would do something. . .well, let’s just say. . .less than smart, I would ask what I ever did to deserve this. My in-laws would just smile, point to my husband, and say, “You married him!” (Then they would snicker as if to say, “That worked just as we planned.”)
So, I threw the curse on my kids, and it is working beautifully! There is no sweeter justice.
I am going to throw in one caveat. That is that you still have the right to make the rules in your own home (see Grandparents Commandment #7). Just open the dialogue and let your kids know that the rules they grew up with still apply to this next generation. If they have issues with it, then talk it over with them. However, they need to understand that you do have rights to your own territory.**
#4 – Thou Shalt Keep Thy Mouth Shut!
Bite your tongue, zip your lip, close your trap – whatever you call it – just DON’T say it! You know what I am talking about. Criticism, judgment, or anything that looks like either of those needs to stay firmly inside your head and never slips out onto your tongue. I dearly love and respect all my children and in-law children, but I can tell you that I have one sore tongue, because it seems I have an opinion about everything!
Honestly, it just isn’t worth stirring up bad feelings or resentment. If you absolutely MUST say something (and it had better be a life or death situation for you to go there), please “reverse your buts.” I know, sounds weird. This is a technique I learned from someone about how to say something that isn’t pleasant. Just remember that everything you say after “but” is what sticks around in people’s hearts and minds.
Here’s an example: I don’t want you to move so far away, but I’m very proud of your ambition to provide a better life for your family.”
See? Not so bad. . .but now, reverse that statement. See how negative it sounds? See how that can be seen as you trying to control their life? The first one allows you to voice your feelings but still show love and support to your children. It also shows your acceptance of their decision. This gives your children the opportunity to validate your sad feelings because they want/need to move far away. At the same time, they won’t feel like you are trying to judge or control their life. So, keep quiet unless you feel confident about how to say it or that it won’t set off WWIII in the family.
This leads into the next commandment. . .
#5 Thou Shalt Accept the Changes Thou Hast No Control Over
Your children have the right to change their plans, their lifestyle, their parenting rules, or any other aspect of their lives. As the old Serenity Prayer states: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and WISDOM to know the difference.” Amen! Don’t take their chances as a personal attack on you. Most likely, it has nothing to do with you.
My son and his family lived with us one summer while they were trying to figure out the whole career thing. One day, my son announced that he wanted to pursue a career that would inevitably take them out of state. My heart broke as I realized that he was taking three (at the time, now four) of my sweet grandchildren far away from me. However, his decision to better financially support his family had nothing to do with me or taking the grandchildren away from me. Sheesh! I just had to take a deep breath, and figure out how to be the most fabulous long-distance grandparent ever! So, if your children change their plans to not go out to dinner with you at the last minute, or cancel a vacation that had been planned with you, or decide to live in another state, . . . just accept it. Remember. . .it’s their life. Seeing a pattern here?
#6 Thou Shalt Let Thy Children Set the Grandparents Boundaries
Everyone needs boundaries to keep healthy relationships. My daddy used to tell me that “good fences make good neighbors.” (I think Robert Frost said it first, but. . .you know. . .Dad wisdom) For instance, you may not be welcomed to just drop in when they need some space and time to bond as a family. I speak from experience here. My father-in-law barged in just minutes after we brought our first baby home from the hospital. Or maybe they have asked that you keep gifts under a certain dollar amount. Don’t be offended – they still love you! They just have needs too.
Remember that even when the grandchildren are with you, there still may be boundaries that you should observe. Things like: the amount of screen time their children can have, their sugar intake, or bedtimes. You should adhere to these requests. However, there may be room for just a bit of spoiling. After all, we are grandparents, and spoiling is what we do best! Right?
#7 Thou Shalt Also Set Boundaries of Thine Own
Lest you think that I have forgotten, grandparents need to have boundaries too. These commandments wouldn’t be complete without some of our rules also. You still have your own life to think about. Remember to care for your own self and your well-being. Let’s face it, we’re not as young as we used to be!
Set boundaries for babysitting and regular childcare without pay, going places with them, supporting activities, and other expectations. Some of us still have jobs, friends, other children, a house, and a spouse that also need our attention. Balance is the name of the game. Remember the most important factor of all: What you do for one (especially the first) will be expected for all the rest. Be careful of the precedent you set.
I made this mistake a couple of times in my zeal to be the perfect grandparent. What did I learn? If the thing is too big, you may not want or be able to repeat it for all the grandkids. This can cause heartache for the grandkids and you too.
#8 Thou Shalt Keep Up with the Times & Stay Open to New Ideas
Things are rapidly changing in the landscape of raising kids. Everything from parenting skills to technology for families is moving at the speed of a 2-year-old with ADHD (I had one of those!).
Stay as current as you can. Be up to speed on things like car seat requirements, seat belt rules for kids, good and bad technology, what current TV shows are about, and other relevant things that apply to the ages of your grandkids. This is easier said than done! So stay on your toes. Because things are changing so rapidly, you also need to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. If the current “rules” say to lay a baby on their back to sleep, (but long ago you put all of your babies on their stomach to sleep), just go with the new way of doing this. Most likely, your child will be very uncomfortable with your old ideas. Especially if the current info says “this” is safer than how we used to do it. Ask questions and don’t argue. That’s the best advice I can give on this one.
And speaking of advice. . .
#9 – Thou Shalt Not Give Unsolicited Advice
Please don’t give unsolicited advice to your children. Again, they are testing out the waters just like you did. And like you, they need to make mistakes and learn from those experiences. However, if they do ask for your advice, tread lightly with love, and most of all – don’t criticize! And please, don’t bring up the parenthood trauma you experienced! That’s just NOT helpful.
Be a good listener and help lead them to discover their own solutions if possible. It’s the best way to guide someone to a good outcome without looking like a know-it-all. To be honest, just give encouragement and reassurance that things will work out if they just keep working at it.
#10 – Thou Shalt Teach and Inspire
You are in a position as grandparents to affect generations. There is more wisdom in your life experiences to draw on than any of the generations currently living. Just think. . .you are the keeper of all wisdom for your family. Don’t forget that you are still a parent and your children need you as much as your grandchildren need you. Teach and nurture your children as you did when they were young.
Be encouraging – especially when things are going badly, and celebrate the small victories. Tell them when you notice the things they are doing well – both your children and your grandchildren.
So what’s the point of keeping these 10 Commandments for Grandparents? It’s to help you realize that even though your day in the sun has passed, you now get to sit back and bask in the glow of a lovely sunset. Be the best you can be at supporting your children and grandchildren.
TO READ MORE ABOUT GRANDPARENTS IN GRAND MAGAZINE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JILL BOWLER
With six children and 15 grandchildren, Jill Bowler has helped inspire thousands of grandparents to navigate and nurture relationships between adult children and grandchildren through her blog, Adventures in NanaLand. You can reach Jill here firstname.lastname@example.org