Grandparents have a special relationship with their grandchildren but like all relationships this may change over time. At times it may seem that you see less of them especially as they develop their own interests. And sometimes you may not agree with the interests that they are taking up! You may have regrets about your own children, or about your relationship with them. You may be hoping to get it right with your grandchildren and feel upset if this is not happening. Try not to criticise or impose your views. Rather take an interest, listen to them, talk about your values and help them to build their confidence as young adults. At Family Lives we receive emails from grandparents who want to step in when their own children aren’t coping so well, but also question their right to do so, even when they have been very hands-on with their grandchildren’s care and upbringing.
“I have a daughter who turned 18 this month, she has a three month old baby and I have had to contact Social Services twice already as she wasn't looking after him properly […] What can we do? We are his grandparents and love him dearly.”
These issues can put a huge strain on relationships within the family. If there is constant arguing or you’re not seeing your grandchildren as often, children will notice that there is something wrong. Younger children may not understand why they can’t spend more time with you or why everyone isn’t getting on, whilst older children and teenagers may feel that they want to make their own decisions about who they spend time with or even live with.
“My son says that they can no longer stay, which is okay, he is the father but when I ask to see the boys, one minute it is yes and then later he will change and say no. The boys are frightened of him and I want to know what rights I have. The eldest boy is nearly ten so I have been having them for a long time.”
Try to create a balance where you are on hand when your children or grandchildren really need your support, but know when to hold back when you can see that they’re not happy or comfortable with your involvement.
What can you give your grandchildren to help them out?
- Be supportive. Tell them how much you love them, how hard they try and how much you value them.
- Listen when they talk and be there when they need you.
- Help parents and children to talk to each other.
- Enjoy them!
What can you give your children to help them out?
Give practical help – offer to babysit, shop, cook a meal, take the children for a weekend so they can all have a break.
Offer a listening ear - your children may want to tell you about their triumphs and joys, so welcome them when they do. But parenting is a tough job and there are times when they may need a good moan. Be prepared to hear about anger, sadness, jealousy and uncertainty as well as pride and love.
If you’re not sure what they need, ask!
Don’t judge or criticise your children or their partners, or your grandchildren. Instead, give credit where and when it’s due. You’ll find them far happier to come for help if you do.
"We only saw our grandchildren one weekend a month. They seemed so busy with friends and school work, and our daughter never had the time to bring them over. I thought it through and then suggested she might find it helpful if they came to us every Friday for their tea before going to their swimming club, which was near us. They all thought this a wonderful idea."
You’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt, which is why you may feel inclined to advise your children in family life issues. They may appreciate your advice or perhaps even resent it, if this is the case try to think back, didn’t you just hate your own parents doing that? As a grandparent, share your experiences with your children as people learn best by hearing ideas and then being supported to try it for themselves.