Are you a new grandparent or hoping to be one soon?
Seeing your children’s children for the first time is a huge milestone in life.
And then you get to enjoy the tears, tantrums, joy and laughter all over again as they grow up before your eyes.
In this article, we’ll explore what it takes to be a grandparent and how best to tackle the role.
But first, the following quotes may sum up your contribution as a confidante and conspirateur.
When they’re young:
What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humour, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies. Rudolph Giuliani
As they grow up:
Grandparents are there to help the child get into mischief they haven’t thought of yet. Gene Perret
And into adulthood:
If nothing is going well, call your grandmother. Italian proverb
Becoming a grandparent is one of life’s ultimate satisfactions, seeing your grown children embark on the same journey that not so long ago, you undertook.
Spending time with grandchildren without the responsibility you faced as a parent helps you act as a guiding force, supporting your children in raising happy, healthy and responsible young adults.
The love that grandparents can provide is usually distinct from that of parents and often exactly what eager young minds and precocious teenagers need.
At Mirthy, we organise many social clubs and events for retirees and find that grandparents make for some of the best public speakers, with their stories of intrigue and adventure in younger years.
No doubt, this is why so many of us have such fond memories of our parents parents while growing up.
And although the role isn’t without its pressures, most grandparents derive so much from the experience that in many cases, it helps them remain active, engaged and possibly even younger, for longer (at least at heart!)
Becoming a grandparent often serves to strengthen the relationship with our children, especially if you can provide much-needed emotional and practical support.
Many children will appreciate such sacrifices, whether that’s covering a school pick up or looking after the children for a date night or extended break.
However, your new role can simultaneously lead to tension. If you have pre-existing issues with your children, becoming a grandparent might magnify the problem.
While grandparenting might feel like a second chance and way for you to make amends for any parenting problems you faced, it can also re-open old wounds, especially if you overplay your role.
You might also have to factor in sons and daughters in law, where your involvement in child-raising sometimes seems like a delicate balancing act between offering help and assuming too much responsibility.
You might reflect on the way you raised your children and feel strongly about the best methods and styles of parenting.
Even if you harbour strong opinions on the way your grandchildren should be raised, you must be careful in communicating your thoughts.
If you’re too vocal in advising your children on their approach, it can quickly lead to acrimony.
After all, there’s no right way to raise a child. Upbringing decisions ultimately rest with the parents, and it’s vital not to undermine their wishes.
If you hold particular cultural or religious beliefs that aren’t shared by your children, it’s important to respect their worldview and how they intend to educate their children.
Communicating with the parents and setting clear boundaries and expectations will help navigate this seemingly tricky relationship.
After all, as a grandparent, you have an important educational and emotional role in nurturing the family unit.
Babysitting is a function increasingly undertaken by grandparents, especially considering the economic climate and costs of daycare and nurseries.
Being able to babysit one or two days a week might allow the parents to return to work earlier to support the family financially.
Often this is a win-win, allowing grandparents to spend more time with the children while providing extra flexibility for parents.
Even collecting the children from school or taking them to extracurricular activities can be a huge help to parents.
Indeed, grandparents might often sell up and relocate to another area of the country to support their children in this critical phase.
As a grandparent, it’s tempting to spoil your grandkids with sugary treats, presents or simply staying up past their bedtime!
This is particularly tempting if you don’t see them often.
However, the urge to treat must be tempered with a balanced approach to upbringing and conforming to the wishes of the parents.
Although your surprises might seem innocuous, young children can develop expectations, which can be difficult for parents to manage when they get home, especially if gifts are more frequent.
As a result, babysitting can be a minefield for grandparents, who often have to respect certain ground rules. Let’s take a look.
Kids can easily act up during granny and grampy’s babysitting duty, so it’s important to establish an early set of ground rules.
Ideally, guidelines have been agreed with the parents before time to ensure a uniform approach in dealing with common behaviour patterns.
With a united front against bad behaviour, children can learn how to conduct themselves more easily.
Simple measures like having a set bedtime may avoid issues when the children return to their parents.
Inevitably, tantrums occur and likely at the most inopportune moments.
Although such behaviours are given, the management of these outbursts varies hugely.
While some grandparents might have experienced a stern word (or worse!) in their day, parents may now choose to discuss the situation calmly and provide various options for their children to decide upon.
Again, while this approach might seem incomprehensible to many later lifers, consistency in caregiving is more important when dealing with any meltdowns.
In the world of emerging technology, children are spending longer on digital devices than ever before.
iPads and phones keep kids entertained for hours and frequently provide a much-needed break for tired adults!
However, overusing apps and games produce negative side effects, especially if children sit all day instead of interacting with one another or spending time outside.
If parents have rules about how much screen time children are allowed, it’s important to stick to these guidelines, even if a computer game seems like the only way to avert a tantrum.
Diet can be a particular area of contention between grandparents and children.
Even if you believe children require a certain amount of milk and meat to develop strength, in the case of vegetarianism or processed foods and sugars, it’s important to abide by the family diet.
When grandchildren are exposed to certain food groups and treats, it may be hard for them to resume their regular diet.
As children grow, it’s vital to teach them the skills they’ll need to navigate the world and it doesn’t get much more important than bathing and toileting.
Schools may require children to be potty trained before they attend, so as a grandparent, it’s important to adopt the family approach to help kids get out of nappies and avoid sending confusing signals.
It’s also important to stick to the usual bathing, tooth cleaning and handwashing routine so children learn the habits they’re parents attempt to instil.
Keeping grandchildren safe while under your care is obviously the number one priority and taking preventative measures ensures peace of mind for parents.
The level of intervention expected may have changed over the years and whereas previously it might have been acceptable for children to run or play outside unattended, many parents might wish closer supervision to avoid potential accident or injury.
The younger a child is, the more attentive you may have to be, especially when they’ve graduated from crawling to walking!
Simple measures like childproofing your house for sharp corners, gating dangerous areas and placing toxic substances out of reach goes a long way.
Otherwise, using a modern car seat is a must and making use of baby monitors for alerts is useful.
Putting pressure on grandchildren to pursue certain educational paths or extracurricular hobbies is often a recipe for disaster and may go against the wishes of the parents.
While you can always encourage children to try new things and expose them to different activities, it’s important to let their parents and inherent interests guide their attention.
Indeed, rediscovering the world through your grandchildren’s eyes can be hugely satisfying and rather than forcing them into certain pursuits, you can enjoy the process of discovery together.
While as a grandparent, you’re theoretically one-step removed from child-raising responsibility, you may find yourself drawn into more of an active caring role than you intended.
Perhaps you regard your retirement as a time of freedom and leisure, whereas the parents might see you as a resource for school runs and babysitting.
Establishing clear boundaries ahead of time is essential to avoid becoming overworked and overburdened with responsibility.
Even though your own children may not be satisfied with your level of support, it’s essential to offer only that within your capability.
This ensures you maintain a balanced life and can give yourself enthusiastically to your family when you do see them.
Although in some instances you might wish to reduce the family reliance on your support, at other times, you may need advice on gaining access to your grandchildren.
In instances of family dispute or divorce, it can be difficult to maintain contact as a grandparent.
This is because currently, even if grandparents are heavily involved in the upbringing of grandchildren, they’re not automatically entitled to any visitation rights under UK law.
As such, there’s a specific process that must be followed if you wish to re-establish relations.
The first is usually to try to reach an informal agreement with the parents, which may or may not be possible depending on the state of the relationship.
The second step would be to arrange meditation, where an independent, family mediator would interview all parties and help decide what’s best for the grandchildren.
This is a good option if you think that everyone will participate and you’ll be able to reach a consensus.
If not, you’ll have to apply for permission (leave) from the court to apply for a contact order.
The court will take the child’s best interests into consideration and can decide on the level of contact, who a child spends time with and when and where grandchildren live. For more information, visit the gov.uk website.
Seeing their family blossom through future generations is something many later lifers eagerly anticipate.
After all, watching your grandchildren grow is a magical experience, one that you can enjoy without some of the pressure and responsibility you faced as a parent.
Grandchildren are often drawn to their nan and papa for this very reason, and in a more impartial role, you’re frequently able to provide the love and support they need.
And it’s this kind of attention that helps children thrive into adolescence and adulthood.