The importance of grandparents

The role grandparents play in a child's life is a very special one. With a lifetime of experience behind them, they can offer their grandchildren the gifts of wisdom, love, patience, and time.

The degree to which grandparents are involved in their grandchildren's lives can vary enormously depending on the family — some are very involved, particularly if they are relied upon for childcare, whereas for others contact may be more infrequent.

Within the family structure, grandparents are ideally placed to be mentors to their grandchildren. They are wise to the ways of the world with the added bonus perhaps of being able to offer that elusive gift of time spent in the company of their grandchildren. As adults, many of us hold fond memories of spending time with our grandparents doing small chores or pursuing hobbies. This relationship is a very special one for both the grandchild and their grandparent — the pressure of being the parent and feeling the weight of responsibility for the child does not apply to this relationship, and yet your child is receiving the same type of unconditional love they get from you. The relationship between grandparent and child can be a less complicated one, hence it can be very relaxed.

Generosity is key to nurturing this rich relationship between grandparent and grandchild. Generosity on the grandparents’ side in terms of the time and effort involved in being a part of their grandchildren’s lives. Also generosity of spirit, which allows them to accept and adapt to the changes in parenting practice over the generations and not to be judgmental of how their children parent their grandchildren.

Generosity on the parents’ side is vital so that children can enjoy a rich and satisfying relationship with their grandparents. Again generosity of spirit — by recognising and allowing for the fact that they may have done things differently, and not being upset and threatened by their suggestions. Also it's important that you enable your children to spend time with their grandparents and that you give them the space to develop this special relationship.

Quite often, problems in the relationship between grandparents and their own children can have a significant knock-on effect on the relationship between the grandparents and their grandchildren. This is a shame for all concerned as the grandparental relationship with their grandchildren is a unique and very special one.

If there are issues from your childhood that still make you feel angry or frustrated with your parents, remember that your child may not experience these problems. If you are annoyed or upset about something your mother-in-law or father has said remember not to give out about them in front of their grandchildren — this isn't fair on either of them. Grandparents generally want to be there for their grandchildren and to enjoy a relationship with them — don't let your problems with them interfere with this — if you do, you are denying your child a unique opportunity to spend time with grandparents and experience the joy of such a relationship.

Children are very open to meeting and interacting with many people — they accept people as they are and adapt to their ways easily, so while it may really annoy you that your dad spends so much time telling stories about his childhood, this may be what your child loves most about him.

As new parents, you may find it difficult at first to feel comfortable in your relationship with your parents or parents-in-law. However it's worth the effort to make this right. Try to differentiate your problems with them from their relationship with your child. Don't punish them for these difficulties by trying to limit their contact with your child — keep these relationships separate. It might help to have an honest chat about some of these difficulties. If you are finding it difficult to explain why you are doing things in a particular way, then how about suggesting that they read the parenting book you are using or give them information on why you are doing things the way you are?

We are all very sensitive, particularly with our first baby, and may feel threatened by others suggesting alternative ways of doing things. Grandparents may simply be anxious to share their experience and may be completely unaware of the negative effect this is having on you. Try to be understanding and gentle with them as you explain your views, etc. Like all new relationships, it may take a little while for everyone to feel comfortable. Grandparents also need to try to be prepared for the changes in child rearing practices and allow their children the space to parent as they choose.

Your parents can inspire your children and give them encouragement. If they have a close relationship with your children, they can act as a trusted confidant, ready to give sound and loving advice. Like you, your parents will love your children unconditionally, be they average, slow, gifted, and regardless of whether they have a disability or are physically fit, or whether they are sickly or perfectly healthy. It's worth making some compromises to give your child the opportunity to experience such a rich relationship.

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