I was saddened by stories (www.grandparents.com) of those who have been denied seeing their grandchildren by their own adult child and/or their adult child’s partner. I would suggest we step back and take a long look at the expectations we have of family (i.e., as a teacher of parents, one pet peeve I have had is when parents say to their young children, “You will get married,” “You will have children.” Do they say that because they are anxious that their children may not want to do this and need “programming?” Or because they want grandchildren to indulge?) Maybe the problems are long-standing. In whatever context, these type of expectations are presumptuous.
I would approach building my relationships with my grandchildren this way:
1. First, have a positive and working relationship with the adults in their lives. This may come with owning up to one’s own shortcomings as a parent, and accepting and getting to know the significant others in one’s own adult child’s life. (This may be easier if you’re not living next door!)
2. Positive reinforcement: Yes, with the adults. This means appreciating the good and not being negative about the things that you may not like. Realize that each generation is going to push back against their parents’ ways—that’s the nature of things historically. Necessarily, there will be differences, some good and some not so good.
3. Don’t presume privileges you had when your children were younger (i.e., “dropping in” at their home, giving my opinion when not asked, commenting on weight, comments on the furniture arrangements, etc.). In my mind, I try to approach my adult children as I would close friends—with respect.
4. Embrace ALL the children in the family, especially if they aren’t your biological grandchildren. And remembering all the children in some way at one child’s birthday–when they are little. (All nine grandchildren are “mine,” even if they also have other biological origins. One grandson told his mother, while upset, “You’re the only one who loves me and grandma Jan!” He was surprised a few years later that we weren’t biologically related.) While you may not be able to always “give exactly equally,” you can make sure you give the same number of gifts, with similar value.
5. Consult your adult children before giving grandchildren gifts or money. It is fun to think of gifts that their parents may not think of, gifts that fill a need, even gifts that broaden their world. What could the children use? What do they need? What are their particular interests?
If you can’t afford pricey gifts, think of how to do a lot with a little—and age-appropriate. The child enjoys art? He or she might enjoy a good set of colored pencils and a pad. The child is into sports? A good set of trading cards. (I’ve given up choosing clothing for pre-teens or teens—gift cards to their favorite store is an option.) Live close? A holiday trip with each child–lunch and a destination of interest?
If you can afford to buy expensive gifts, check yourself. Are you spending more than their own parents can do? In some cases, I would consider a gift to the adults to spend for their family, with a small fun gift or gift card for each child.
In these tough times, family members need support, and sometimes help. We can play a valuable role. And we need to take care of ourselves–for ourselves and for our family! I wish the best for all of our futures!
I recommend Susan Adcox’s 7 ”Hints for Communicating with Adult Children” http://grandparents.about.com/od/grandparentingissues/tp/Grandparenting-Communication.htm
Ruth Nemzoff, “Who’s in Charge Here?” also has constructive, positive ways to approach our differences with our adult children in regard to discipline: http://www.grandparents.com/grandkids/discipline-and-behavior/whos-in-charge-here