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Overcoming the Barriers
When we conducted our interviews and focus groups for this book, we consistently heard grandparents say that they found it difficult to hold back and bite their tongues. This held true across the spectrum of family situations. Whether our children and their partners are well-educated parents with whom we have an excellent relationship, or they are young, challenged, or estranged, we all have occasions when it is difficult to refrain from interjecting with a comment or suggestion about raising our grandchildren. There are a number of reasons we grapple with this principle. Perhaps by examining them, we can understand why it is sometimes so difficult to be the cheerleader instead of the quarterback.
Sometimes, our egos get in the way. Not only did we raise children who became wonderful, competent young adults, but we also consider ourselves quite well informed about child development. We keep current, we are interested, and some of us actually have careers that overlap with the parenting field. Rosemary, a grandmother of four, suggests that grandparents need to put their egos aside and look at each situation from a fresh and unbiased point of view. If you still believe it is important to communicate a concern, time these conversations carefully. For example, while Rosemary feels that her daughter and her partner are sometimes too severe when disciplining their children, she refrains from commenting at the time of an incident and finds an appropriate opportunity to bring up her concern in a diplomatic way. Once she has expressed her opinion, she lets it go. The rest is up to the parents.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (aarp) survey, the majority of grandparents consider one of their major roles is to pass on their values to their grandchildren. In our discussions with grandboomers, however, this was not a primary concern. In fact, most felt that shaping children’s values was the responsibility of the parents, not the grandparents. Nonetheless, many boomers have deeply held values including religious and cultural beliefs that may not be as important for their children. How do we handle this?
Tracy’s parents, whose lives centre on their family and church, decided not to interfere when Tracy and her husband did not baptize their first child. Their approach paid off in the long run.
I am Catholic. My mom’s sister is a nun and just celebrated her sixty-year jubilee. It took a long time to get the kids baptized and my parents handled it well. Family is first for them. When we are visiting them at their home, if the choice is going to church or staying with us, they always stay with us. The children were actually baptized in their church and they helped make it happen in a way that worked for us. The ceremony was very private. The church bent the rules. My parents kept their feelings about the children not being baptized from us until it was over. I felt supported, not pressured.
This example does not mean to imply that our children will always come around to our way of thinking, if we just remain patient. On the contrary, it is our experience that if we hold back, listen, and observe, we are just as likely to come around to theirs, or at least come to accept our differences (see Principle Four and Principle Ten for further discussion of this topic).
Our concerns for our grandchildren
Even when we are open and enlightened, some of the newer theories and practices may concern us, especially with the first grandchild: home births, infants sleeping on their backs, no solid foods until six months, and bed-sharing. Most of these practices are backed by solid evidence and we soon become acclimatized. Principle Three: Be Open to New Possibilities further explores how we as grandparents can learn more about new parenting practices.
Our concerns for our adult children
For a variety of reasons, some of us are still parenting our adult children. They are very young or parenting on their own. They have financial or emotional difficulties. We feel that they are too vulnerable to adequately take on full-time parenting at this time. When this is the case, grandparents may find themselves playing the dual role of parent and grandparent. The challenge is not to blur these lines. With the responsibility for providing extraordinary practical or financial support comes the feeling of entitlement to also make decisions and provide direction. This is natural, but not always helpful in the long run for our adult children. Grandparents need to be more of a coach than a director. Our adult children need to feel responsible and in control to develop as parents. The support has to come without a lot of strings attached.
Elizabeth describes how she met this challenge when her nineteen-year-old daughter and her boyfriend had a child while both were still in school.
These are young parents, still maturing. They are also from very different cultures. They need a lot of support until they finish their education. We pay the rent on their apartment and drive Kari to her daycare everyday, even though we are both still working. I often bite my tongue and try to let them make their own mistakes and grow in the process. It takes a village to support these kids. I provide my opinions when asked specific questions, but otherwise, I try not to interfere. I often feel stuck in the middle, trying to harmonize the two cultures. My strategy is to play the role of facilitator, not arbitrator. I pick my battles.