By Cynthia G. Kane
Have you recently become a grandparent? Congratulations!
Is there any other significant life event over which we have so little control? We can’t determine the day of our birth and most of us probably won’t orchestrate our death, but most people put a lot of planning into every other step in their lives. Choice of career, choice of life partner, what city to live in, whether and when to have children, when to retire…But will you be a grandparent one day? Maybe and maybe not.
For anyone with adult children, grandparenthood will either happen or it won’t. There is nothing that can manifest it or prevent it. And if it does happen, the timing will be unpredictable.
Some parents spend a decade or more anxiously waiting to hear that their adult child is starting a family, while others find the title of Grandparent bestowed upon them when they least expect it. Some will end up with many grandchildren and struggle to get to know each one intimately, while others have one or two, and have a solid, regular role in their lives. Still other parents find that they never become grandparents, which is just fine for some, while others find it heartbreaking.
In each case, it is our own idea of grandparenthood that we dwell upon. Memories of our own grandparents influence our concepts, but so does every depiction of a grandparent that we see in the media and the world around us. Ultimately, the role of grandparent will fit each person as differently as any other aspect of their lives.
If you grew up in a family where your grandparents were deceased, very elderly or lived far away, you might conclude that grandparents are non-essential contributors to a child’s overall growth and development. After all, you didn’t have grandparents, and you turned out just fine!
On the other hand, if your grandmother and/or grandfather played an important role in your everyday family life, you might have the opinion that children need grandparents! You may be able to cite numerous examples of how your life was influenced for the better by a grandparent; the unconditional love you felt from them, the life lessons you learned, and the family lore that was passed down to you.
What kind of grandparent will you be?
To begin with, our age, health and geography are major influences on how we function as grandparents. The younger we are, the fitter we are and the closer we live to our grandchildren, the greater the opportunity to be closely involved.
Cultural influences also play a part. According to some research, families from cultures that place a high value on interdependence, the sharing of family tasks (including childcare) and a give-and-take between young and old, demonstrate increased closeness between grandparents and grandchildren. Families that tend to place a higher value on independence and individuality may find that the grandparent-grandchild bond is less strong.
Many other factors shape our idea of what kind of grandparent we will be. Some things to ask yourself:
- Do I have a preconceived notion about what being a grandparent will be like?
- Is my relationship with my adult child (and their partner) strong and based on mutual respect?
- Do I share parenting styles with my adult children? If not, can I support their style?
- Did I grow up with grandparents who played a strong role in my life?
- Would I want the same type of relationship with my grandchild that I had with a grandparent?
- Do I have a picture of the Ideal Grandparent?
Common Traits of a Success Grandparent
When a new baby joins a family, everyone’s role changes, and each family member will experience the shift in their own way. Grandparents who experience this journey most successfully share common traits:
- They have a track record of positive, respectful interactions with their adult children (and their children’s partners).
- They can put their adult children’s perspective on parenting above their own, by supporting their children’s goals for the grandchildren.
- They accept that family life today will not be identical to the way life was when they had small children.
Your adult child is now a parent, and you are now a grandparent. Take some time to think about how to begin to see yourself as the wise family elder. Remember that you’re in the position to provide loving, respectful, helpful and non-judgmental support to the new parents as they raise their family.
Cynthia G. Kane is a board-certified, licensed genetic counselor with 25 years of clinical experience. A grandmother, Cynthia has a certificate in Grandfamily Leadership and is the founder of It’s Their Turn, which provides counseling, support, and education for grandparents. Grandparent Meet-Ups are forming now. Her website provides information and resources for grandparents. Cynthia can be reached at [email protected].