The mantra ‘it takes a village’ may be accurate and ideal, but is increasingly difficult to find community in our lives, when we often live apart from our extended family, work full time and may not know our neighbours, says Emily Manning. One way to get around this is to encourage your child’s relationship with their grandparents. Their bond with their grandparents is an important link to both the family’s history and your child’s own personal growth. Read on to see the special role of grandparents in our lives.
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Getting to Know Grandparents
Grandparents are a wealth of knowledge, experience and joy that give your child the opportunity for a unique relationship.
Grandchildren are a delight – according to my own parents, there is nothing better than being able to have all the fun and not have to deal with the sleepless nights, constant worry and other parental pleasures! They have the added benefit of a ‘been there, done that’ experience where they have gone through it all before and learned from their mistakes. Although hopefully they pass some of this wisdom on to us parents.
In an ideal world, the family dynamic made up of you, your child and your parents will be harmonious and untroubled. However, in reality, many couples find that their own parents’ involvement with their children can give rise to areas of conflict; a degree of unwanted interference, some critical judgment and clashes of opinion.
With careful handling and a little compromise however, you can get around these potential stumbling blocks and ensure that the relationship between all of you is as special as it can be.
Grandparents Giving Advice
It can be galling to have unwanted advice handed out from your parents or in-laws, but when you think about it, it’s perfectly understandable that the older generation will feel they have more life experience to bring to the table when it comes to raising a child.
The key is to look for areas of compromise – agree with whatever pieces of advice sound reasonable, express gratitude for your parents’ or in-laws’ interest, but stand your ground.
There is a wealth of parenting opinion and advice available now, much more so than our parents and grandparents had access to, so it is not unreasonable for them to have a different view and experience. Rather than making this a constant source of disagreement and discord, take the time to chat about how different approaches work with different personalities, or how school curriculums and expectations have changed, and so on.
Grandparents’ Rules (or lack thereof!)
Grandparents usually love nothing more than to spoil their grandchildren with little treats like sweets, money, toys and so on. If you feel the treats are getting out of hand, or that your child is beginning to take them for granted or expect the same at home, explain gently that whilst you’re very grateful for their generosity it might be better if you could all agree a maximum number of treats per visit.
Why not suggest that your parents or in-laws substitute some of their material gifts with other special treats, like teaching your child a new card game, going for an extra trip to the park, an afternoon at the cinema, or even reading a favourite book together?
It’s an area where you can probably compromise, however – if you have a policy at home around sweets, for example, you can agree on an amount you’re happy for your child to have when (s)he’s with her grandparents, while explaining to that these are ‘Granny’s rules’, and that things at home won’t be changing! This is a great time to encourage traditions and special routines that are unique to their grandparents’ house.
Grandparents In Charge
With childcare costs often equivalent to or even exceeding monthly mortgage payments, as well as the challenging time spent commuting and juggling drop-offs and collections, many parents are relying more on grandparents for childcare.
When it comes to the day-to-day realities of this kind of childcare solution, it is important to discuss in advance what your expectations are in relation to the daily routine – for example, what snacks are allowed and how many, behaviour and discipline, completing homework, and so on. In addition, it will be important for collection and drop-off times be adhered to in the same way as if you had hired a non-family childminder.
While this childcare arrangement may suit you and be a delight for your parents, the real benefit is how much time your child will get to spend with their grandparents. However, the most important thing to remember is the importance of the family dynamic. Don’t let rules, payment and discipline detract from the grandparent relationship – it may mean finding a new solution if this becomes the case.
The Generation Gap
For grandparents, the relationship with their grandchildren opens their eyes to a whole realm of new ideas and lifestyles – from the hottest apps and most popular toys to the latest styles and technology. And in return, grandparents can offer valuable wisdom and life experience that may seem incredible to their grandchildren.
Hearing stories first-hand, discovering similar likes and dislikes or skills and abilities, is the kind of relationship children cherish for years to come.
There have been numerous studies into the unique nature of grandparent-grandchild relationships, with fascinating results. One such study showed that grandparents who engage regularly with young grandchildren perform significantly better on cognitive tests than those who didn’t; while another study by Boston College researchers over a 19-year period showed that close emotional ties between grandparents and adult grandchildren reduced depressive symptoms in both age groups.
Protecting The Grandparents’ Bond
If your child has regular access to his or her grandparents, the relationship will grow and adapt as years go by. Time spent together, even doing everyday tasks, will bring significant reward. So how do you go about actively protecting this grandparent bond if you live some distance from your parents?
Teach your parents and your child the value of technology in maintaining relationships.
- Use FaceTime or Skype
- Send emails
- Make videos
- Use Whatsapp to send photos
- Or just pick up the phone for regular chats.
- You can also send letters – a real joy for children to receive! – and even the youngest child can send a drawing or painting in return.
Encourage any common interests, whether it’s reading, art, getting hands-on in the garden, playing sports, or cooking up a storm. The more time spent together, particularly doing something they both enjoy, is an ideal opportunity to strengthen the grandparent-grandchild relationship.
How does your child spend time with his or her grandparents? Do they have shared interests that make their time together even more special? Let us know in the comments below!