Parents of young children may think their parenting job has an expiration date. You get them out of high school or college, give them a start in the world and you're done. Right? Wrong.
The reality for most people is that, no matter how old your kids are, they're still your kids. You never stop thinking of ways to help them.
If your kids have children of their own, you gain an additional role. The fact that you're a grandparent doesn't change the fact that you're also still a parent. At first, grandparenting might seem like the easiest job in the world. People joke about enjoying the little ones and then being able to hand them over to the parents.
Reality strikes again, however. Again, you're a grandparent, but you're still a parent. You want to help your grown children be the best parents they can be. Maybe you think they're making mistakes. Maybe they feel stressed, but you don't want to be a meddler or a know-it-all. You don't want to insult them or make them angry. Finding the right approach can be tougher than dealing with a 2-year-old's tantrums.
But there are ways that can work. Keep reading to learn more.
By being a good parent yourself, you show your children how to be good parents. Some of this modeling will already have happened over the years, while your now-adult child was growing up. You can't get do-overs at this point. You can't go back and correct the mistakes that hindsight lets you see. But you can, at the right time, acknowledge those mistakes to your grown child and talk about what you might have done differently. Being honest is part of being a good role model.
If you still have younger children at home -- teenagers, maybe -- you have an excellent opportunity to show your child who is now a parent how you handle tough issues.
You can also model good parenting by showing respect and tact toward your adult child. You can be the kind of parent you'd like to have -- the kind who offers help when it's needed without trying to take over.
You can be a good role model in another way, too. Keep reading.
You can also help your children be good parents by being a role model for your grandchildren. Rather than lecturing, you can let your grandchildren (and their parents) see you living in a healthy, active and responsible way. You can eat right. Wear your seat belt. Be thoughtful. Don't litter. Treat people with respect and kindness.
The young ones will notice what you do. They will see how you behave and how you treat people when they go places with you. They will repeat things they hear you say.
Their parents should see what an impression you make and understand how closely children watch the adults in their lives. If you can make that point in a tactful way, take the opportunity. In this way, you can help your children provide good role models for their own children. The modeling passes from one generation to the next. Maybe by the time your own children are grandparents, they can look back and be pleased at the role model they've provided.
Parents, especially first-timers, can benefit from your perspective. You can help them step back and see that things aren't so bad.
If they want to vent, let them. Providing a sympathetic ear when kids -- even grown kids -- want to complain is one of a parent's important roles.
But if they're really stressed, help them out. A new mom may feel that she'll never again have a good night's sleep. A dad whose toddler skinned his or her knee while in his care may be hard on himself. Parents of a 2-year-old who says nothing but "No!"may think they've got a serious behavior problem on their hands. When their previously loving little girl becomes a sullen back-talker in middle school, mom and dad might despair.
You've been through all these phases. Obviously, you survived, and so did your child. Reassure your child that phases pass and accidents happen. Tell funny stories about things that happened to you as a parent. You might remind your child, with gentle humor, that he or she acted a lot like that stubborn toddler or uncommunicative tween -- and look how that turned out!
But sometimes, problems may be serious. Read on to learn more.
Your experience and perspective can help you reassure your child that his or her child isn't the only one who's ever been through a difficult phase, and that the phase will eventually end. But your experience and perspective also might make you suspect that a grandchild really does have a problem that needs special attention.
Remember that a first-time parent doesn't have much with which to compare a child's development and behavior. Don't be an alarmist, but do keep your eyes and ears open. A grandparent may be in a good position to note something such as unusually slow development of motor skills or language that could signal an illness or condition. Early intervention can make a big difference.
If repeated observation makes you think there could be a serious problem, raise the issue carefully with your child. You might calmly ask if the parents have discussed the situation with their pediatrician. You could say, without sounding alarmed, that it might be worth bringing up.
Want more ideas? Keep reading.
Sure, you've got years of experience. You've lived longer and you've already raised at least one child. But never forget that your child is the parent now.
One of the most important things you can do to help your child be a better parent is to acknowledge that your child and his or her partner are the parents. You're there to help if possible and when needed, but they're in charge. Respect them as parents and as adults. Follow their rules about discipline, food and everything else. Ask their permission before buying the child something or inviting the child somewhere.
This approach is especially important if you ever babysit or become a caregiver for your grandchild. Treat them the way your child -- your grandchild's parent -- wants them to be treated, even if it's not the way you dealt with your children. If they don't want their children to have sugary snacks, don't give them sugary snacks. If they have rules about TV, enforce them.
By respecting your child's leadership, you will increase his or her confidence. You will support rather than undermine your child's authority as a parent.
There's more on the next page.
If your children ask for advice, give it in a way that won't threaten their authority or insult them. Be positive, not judgmental. Make it clear that you support them.
Keep this in mind: Just because you did things a certain way as a parent doesn't mean that's the only way.
Advice given to parents changes as science and medicine progress. Breastfeeding went out of style and came back in. Conventional wisdom once said that infants should be laid to sleep on their stomachs. Now, doctors believe that sleeping on the stomach increases chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Opinions about when to start solid food have changed. Once, many believed that picking a baby up when it cried spoiled it. Now, more people believe that it's important for a baby to feel loved and comforted.
Resist the temptation to mutter "Well, it worked for me" if your child tells you something you did was wrong. Don't be offended if your child values advice from modern books and magazines more than advice from you. Have an open mind to the new ideas. Some things don't change, and your wise advice will be valued.
Keep reading for more ideas.
Your busy children may have little time to nurture a sense of family history in their children. You can fill the gap.
Knowing who we are and where we came from is important in developing values, self-confidence and a sense of being connected to something bigger than the nuclear family.
Helping your grandchildren to an understanding of family history helps their parents, too. Maybe you didn't have as many opportunities as you wanted to pass on family lore to your kids when they were growing up. You can make up for that now and help them be a strong link in the family chain. Often, people wish later in life that they'd asked more questions of their family elders, but then it's too late. You can nurture and preserve this important information and sense of identity.
Share old photo albums, baby books and scrapbooks with your children and their children. Let the grandkids help you make new scrapbooks. Tell them stories about their parents when they were kids. If religion is important in your family, enrich that background.
In cases of divorce, it can be especially important for grandparents to develop this sense of family.
Want to be a real help? Read on.
One of the most practical ways you can help your children be better parents is to give them a break when you can. If you live close by, offer to help with the endless jobs of driving kids to and from school, lessons, social events, practices and ballgames.
Some grandparents become regular caregivers. Others provide babysitting from time to time. If you're able, keeping the children even occasionally can be a big help. Don't always wait to be asked. If you think the parents might benefit from a night off, suggest they go out while you keep the kids.
If you don't live close by, you might plan a babysitting trip for a special occasion. Maybe the parents want to take a trip to celebrate an anniversary, and you could come stay with the little ones.
Always be careful to follow the parents' rules when you're the caregiver. Never overindulge the grandchildren. Don't undermine their parents. And don't invite the kids over -- or yourself to their house -- without checking first.
Read on to learn how to help from a distance.
Even if you don't live close by, you probably stay in close touch with your grown children through phone calls, e-mails and other media.
You can also help them by nurturing a close long-distance relationship with the grandchildren from an early age. Even young children will enjoy videotapes or Skype sessions when you talk to them or read stories. As they get older, you can also communicate by e-mail, text messages, instant messaging, Facebook or whatever works for you. You can play games together online or find other ways to have fun together.
Do whatever you can to be a real presence in the life of your grandchildren. Get to know them. Let them know you're a sympathetic, loving adult who is willing to listen to them if they need someone besides a parent to talk to. Show genuine interest in who they are and what they do.
If you work to develop a real relationship with your grandchildren, you'll be in a much better position to offer their parents help and advice when they need it.
Read on to learn more about how to be a helpful grandparent and enjoy it, too.
You're a parent. Worrying about your grown children and what kind of parents they are comes with the territory. But don't let your worries or desire to help get in the way of enjoying your family.
Have fun with your children in their role as parents. And have fun with your grandchildren. Share laughs with your child about the adventures and misadventures of being a parent. Be ready with funny stories from his or her own childhood. Think of enjoyable things to do together.
Be a real friend to your grandchildren. Get to know them as people. Take them to the park. Tell them stories. Laugh with them. They may turn to you later if they have a problem they are hesitant to discuss with their parents.
Make holidays fun, not stressful. Offer to host the family gathering if that works, but don't insist. Don't gripe if the other grandparents get the holiday visit. Figure out a time to celebrate with your children and grandchildren -- even if it's not the real holiday, or if you have to celebrate with different parts of the family at different times. Be a good sport. Remember what's important.
HowStuffWorks learns about the free-range parenting philosophy and talks to the movement's founder Lenore Skenazy.
- A-Better-Child.org. "Grandparents Role in the Family." (Accessed May 26, 2011) http://www.a-better-child.org/page/888950
- Adoption.com. "Advice for Grandparents."(Accessed May 28, 2011) http://library.adoption.com/articles/advice-for-grandparents.html
- Bellah, Mike. "A Grandparent's Advice to Parents." BestYears.com. (Accessed May 27, 2011) http://www.bestyears.com/grandparentonparenting.html
- Consumer Product Safety Commission. "A Grandparents' Guide for Family Nurturing and Safety." (Accessed May 27, 2011) http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/grand/704.html
- Coblentz, Bonnie. "Grandparents play big role in families."Mississippi State University Office of Agricultural Communications. (Accessed May 29, 2011) http://msucares.com/news/print/fcenews/fce05/051020.html
- Family Education. "When Grandparents Give Parents Unwanted Advice." (Accessed May 28, 2011) http://life.familyeducation.com/parenting/grandparents/57048.html
- Fogarty, Kate. "The Protective Role of Grandparents."University of Florida Family, Youth and Community Sciences. (Accessed May 26, 2011) http://fycs.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/rnycu06/2007/01/protective-role-of-grandparents.html
- Helpguide.org. "Grandparenting Tips: Building Great Relationships With Your Grandkids." (Accessed May 27, 2011) http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grandparenting.htm
- Spock, Benjamin, updated and revised by Robert Needlman, M.D. Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, Eighth Ed. Pocket Books, New York. 2004.
- Parenting Weekly. "The Role of Grandparents." (Accessed May 28, 2011) http://www.parentingweekly.com/grandparents/role_grandparents.htm