Being a grandparent is complicated. I discovered that nine years ago after witnessing the birth of my first grandchild. I was blessed to be the first person to see my granddaughter enter the world and when our eyes locked on each other, a miraculous bond was formed. I went completely “gaga.”
When I came back down to earth, I discovered one of the great misconceptions about grandparenthood. It’s not just about you and your grandchild. Your relationship with your grandchild is embedded in the relationship with your adult child and his or her spouse. They are the gatekeepers to a successful relationship with your grandchildren.
The most important lesson I’ve learned since becoming a grandma is to nurture the relationship with your adult children as much as you do with your grandchildren. Simply put, you earn their trust by following their rules and respecting their decisions.
It’s especially important in the early stages of your relationship when everyone is learning their new roles as well as the boundaries between these roles. We grandparents have to step back and respect the parents’ right to make decisions and not make judgments as they learn from their successes and mistakes.
If you sneak around and conspire with your grandchildren, telling them not to say anything to mommy, it will come back to haunt you. I know—I once gave my 3-year old granddaughter a cookie and the first thing she did when we got home was to run and tell her mommy how excited she was that Baba gave her a cookie!
We grandparents are faced with a conundrum. We want to be buddies with our grandchildren and spoil them a little; but we don’t want to be the enforcer who tells them they have to stop. I’d rather leave that role to my daughter so I can enjoy being the Funmeister. That’s the privilege we grandmas get to enjoy. It’s why we find humor in American humorist Sam Levenson’s quote: The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.
The quote strikes a familiar chord. But it’s also disrespectful and hurtful. This popular quote makes the parents the “bad guys” when all they’re trying to do is set some rules for our grandchildren and enforce them.
Calling the parents the “enemy,” even in jest, is negative, hurtful, and disrespectful. I think a friendlier quote would be: The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is because they share a common ally.
I admire my daughter’s consistency in setting rules and routines for my granddaughters. She’s providing them with structure and teaching them values. One rule that gets tested every time I’m with my granddaughters is their 15-minute time limit on video games.
Ever since I got an iPhone, it’s become my two granddaughters’ favorite toy. I can understand why. I’ve downloaded several fun free apps for them and they’re addictive.
The 5-year old would play “Scoops” for hours if I let her. She is mesmerized by those whimsical little scoops of ice cream falling from the sky to the sounds of an ice cream truck’s jingle. The 9-year old loves “Tiny Tower” and “My Horse” and could easily spend hours playing them. She’s even learned how to download apps herself. But I don’t let either of them indulge indefinitely because I know my daughter’s rules and I want to earn her trust.
If parents know we respect them and follow their rules, they’ll trust us with our precious grandchildren. We all need to understand that we’re part of a team and that the parents can be our allies.
If grandparents and parents make a commitment to sit down and talk about their shared purpose, it will be a win-win situation for everyone.
This post first appeared on the Huffington Post on January 21, 2013.