In 1978 Grandparents Day became a national holiday, thanks to the efforts of Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade a West Virginian who had first had an idea back in 1970 for a special day that would “honor grandparents, give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, [and] to help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer. (Grandparents-Day.com) The Sunday following Labor Day was declared Grandparents Day.
When It’s Less Than Perfect.
So this week, we talking about grandparents, or rather, your parents, or your spouse’s parents—you know, those warm, fuzzy creatures with the gray hair who take your kids fishing or have them over to bake cookies. We all want this intergenerational relationship for our kids. But what if it’s not like that? What if your relationship with your parents was less than healthy? What kind of relationship should you try to foster? Would it possibly be better to just avoid them all together?
While I had one of those idyllic grandparent experiences, and have nothing but praise for my own (now-deceased) grandmother, this isn’t the experience of everyone. Family relations are fraught with years of drama, grudges, mental illness, and other dysfunctions. Having your own kids doesn’t change that.
But regardless of the state of your own relationship with your parents, the research is pretty one-sided—children are better off with grandparents (even imperfect ones) than without.
And though it might create some emotional upheaval in your mind and heart, you have to really consider your kids. Are your parents eager to spend time with them? Are your kids safe with them? If your parents are abusive or in active addiction, all bets are off. But knowing what we know about the beneficial relationships between children and elders, you may look into a foster grandparent program. A counselor, therapist, clergyperson, or honest friend can be especially useful in helping you to arrive at an objective conclusion. Regardless of the relationship you had with your parents (but taking into account the above conditions) they might still turn out to be award-winning grandparents who seem to love your little ones a lot more than they loved you.
Many times less-than-stellar parents see grandparenting as a time to right the wrongs. If your parents seem eager to shower love on your kids, let them. Let them love YOU this way. They may not know how to say they’re sorry for the past twenty-five years, but they may know how to pick up your son to take him to a baseball game.
When It Isn’t You.
But what do you do when you can’t get the grandparents to assume their role? Most people assume that it is the parents’ choosing—that they are denying access. And this certainly happens. But there’s another side to this coin: sometimes the grandparents seem to have no interest in spending time with or developing a relationship with the grandkids. Then what?
The number one way to get the grandparents involved in your kids’ lives is to let them know you want them there and that actually, it’s their duty. Some grandparents, not wanting to ‘meddle’ step a little too far out of the picture. Let your parents or in-laws know you want them to be active in your child’s life.
Grandparents might not understand how important they are to your kids. Not wanting to be a bother, they sit the sidelines. You can encourage them to get involved and take a leadership role.
If it’s physical distance that separates you, make travel a financial priority. Certainly this isn’t easy, but the relationship your kids have with their grandparents has the power to influence their character as adults. Think about the cost of that plane ticket as an investment in your child’s future.
Frequent phone calls and video chat can also help keep up contact and promote a solid connection across the miles.
One effective way that grandparents build relationships with their grandkids is through the sharing of interests and skills. Some grandpas teach the grandkids to pull the guts out of a fish or a grandmother will bring the little ones right into the kitchen with her. My grandma never actually did this, though my great aunt, another influential elder, did. The reason? My grandmother loathed the kitchen. But she was a great painter, card player, and coffee drinker. Weekends at her home were spent working on ceramics projects and playing gin. When I got older it was coffee and crossword puzzles. Whatever your parents enjoy will be special to your kids—encourage them to share it.
Let Them Make Mistakes.
Just like no one handed you the parenting guidebook when your little ones popped out, no one gave your parents lessons on how to be perfect grandparents. They’re going to make mistakes. But if everyone is trying to love your kids, it’s unlikely that your kids are going to be scarred for life. As long as no one is in danger, let it happen. Relationships develop organically out of a series of stops and starts, trial and error.
Let Them Be.
The grandparents are going to need a little space to develop their own relationship with your kids. You don’t want to micromanage this. As mentioned, even grandparents that are a little unorthodox can have a great impact for good in the life of your child.
But that doesn’t mean they get carte blance. If you think there is an issue that requires discussing, you might talk with a friend or clergy person to get a little third-party insight. If your concerns are grounded, have a talk with your parents about it. Rational communication is a good place to start and can help preserve a relationship that will have immeasurable value in the life of your child.
How will you celebrate Grandparents Day this year?