My son and 2 year old granddaughter came to stay overnight. It was the first sleepover at granny’s house without mama being there. A big step for all of us. As the little one gets older, develops her character and I spend more time getting to know her, this clever, funny and energetic little human has single – handedly taken my heart and turned it into mush. As my friends counselled, ” Nora, grandparenting is wonderful. So much fun and little responsibility and you hand them back when you want a good night’s sleep.” This is absolutely true, but I was unprepared for the pure love and joy this little critter creates for those around her.
Life delivers those fleeting moments that will always be remembered. Tiny little fragments of life that imprint on the heart and are precious. This morning we all went ” down the street” for a takeaway coffee and muffin. Sitting on the steps of the town hall in autumn sunshine we shared our muffin. Froglet enthusiastically devoured the muffin pieces as I pulled the monster muffin apart. There was one piece left and little one picked it up and popped it in her mouth.I playfully said ” hey cheeky I thought that was granny’s piece?.” She stopped chewing, looked at me with her big eyes and very seriously took the mushy muffin out of her mouth and gave it to me. I stared at the sticky mush in my hand and then at her big eyes and melted. Her innocence and kindness was so pure.
Talk to grandparents and we’ve all had these moments, totally disarmed by the love and vulnerability of these little, precious children. Like most of us, I’m just winging it when it comes to grand-parenting hoping that my child parenting skills of 30 years ago and a recent first aid course would see me through! So I decided to do a little reading about good practice and the sort of grandparent I want to be.
The best grandparents are a rock solid foundation in a child’s life. Children need to know that no matter what might be going on in their lives, no matter what disappointments they might encounter out in the world they are always safe and loved at grandma’s house. It’s unconditional love.
Here’s what came to the surface in my grandparent reading and thinking…….
- Your fears are your issue not there’s. Don’t inflict your fears and anxieties on your grandchildren . Give them support, encouragement and a positive outlook on what life offers…
- Don’t project from your experience of parenting on to the grandchild. ie because your child never slept more than 2 hours doesn’t mean your grandchild will be a poor sleeper. There’s also the whole ” Who does he/ she look like?” Yey my genetics rule! This is hard when you see likenesses in your grandchild that are similar to great aunt Ethel or your mum. It’s territory where self image and sleepless nights meet and stepping gently is advised.
- Avoid jealousy and competition especially between grandparents. This can be tricky especially if you are the ” Other Gran.”ie the paternal grandparent. I came across a great article about the relative place of the paternal and maternal grandparents. I’ll look at this article in some depth in next week’s Viva70…its interesting.
- Only offer what you can give..whether it’s time, energy or money. Selfless unthinking support can lead to exhaustion and bitterness. Grand-parents are older. They do get tired. Many have less resources than they once had. Many are also wanting to explore other interests such as travel and hobbies.
- Agree some shared understandings with your own children about grand-parenting. These might be around safety or ways of behaving, perhaps bedtime routine, sweets or screen time What are the 2 or 3 absolute agreed non- negotiables? Keep it a short and simple list and once agreed, honour and respect the parenting wishes of your own children. But remember grandmas place is different and a little bending of home rules can apply. One of the joys of staying at grandmas is having some spoiling- pancakes for breakfast or a special treat. But never bend on the agreed non negotiable rules.
- Keep in touch on a regular basis if you live some distance away. If you aren’t good with technology now is the time to learn the basics so you can continue to be in your grandchildren’s lives.
- Accept you have no control. The hardest thing about being a parent is being responsible for everything. The hardest thing about being a grandparent is accepting you are not. Before you speak ask yourself, is this helpful to anyone?
Essentially grand-parenting has the potential to be a highly charged emotional relationship, both positive and negative. With your grandchildren you can experience a very new and different love than you had for your own children. Grandchildren are just so precious, vulnerable and fun. With your children, as adult parents now and with us in our 60’s, 70’s and beyond the relationship shifts. They are the one’s making the decisions in this domain. All relationships reshape and change. We let go of parts of the old and we transform the relationship to be fit for purpose for the future. If we are stuck and inflexible, if we want to hang on to control, we could miss the joyful gift of time with our grandchildren. We never stop learning. We never stop making unintentional mistakes. We never stop having the opportunity to love and be loved.
The cornerstone of being a good grandparent is respect- for your own time and needs, for the parents’ wishes and for the beautiful human being growing before your eyes. We’re in a privileged position to be invited into our grandchildren’s lives. We enter this space as wise elders but with a lightness, flexibility and a love of life that brings joy to our grandchildren and our families.
Words by Nora Vitins Feature Image by Trinity Kubassek with thanks.
Research Barbara Greenberg 10 ways to be a wonderful grandparent Psychology Today March 2002
Flic Everett, Grandparents The Guardian, 11 June 2016
Lynn Jamieson Gender and lineage in the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Journel of Social Science Jan. 2018