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The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

Updated on September 20, 2017

Becoming a Grandparent

I have now been a grandparent for 10 years, with two grandchildren. At the same time I have only been a grandparent for two years, with grandchildren of 8, 7, 2 and 1 year old. Different circumstances. One of my children had two children of his own some 10 and 8 years ago, but long distance grandparenting just didn't seem to work for me. I saw my grandchildren perhaps once or twice a year, and while I spoke to them on the telephone as they grew up and have always sent birthday and Christmas gifts it has been very difficult to maintain a grandparent - grandchild relationship.

Then, nearly 3 years ago, my other son married into a family with 2 children, and has had 2 more since then. These 4 grandchildren live close by and I see them at least weekly and often nearly daily. It is with considerable sorrow that I realize what I have missed with my first two grandchildren; at the same time I have considerable joy as plans are being made for them to move into the area where their cousins and I live.

I am slowly learning the art of grandparenting on the fly, as it were. It really has been a learning experience and not at all what I expected. I have had failures and successes, joy and disappointments, but would not give up my grandparent - grandchild relationship for anything - they are part of my extended family and I would not give up that family relationship for anything.

Teaching Granddaughter to Ride a Scooter

Grandparents are great teachers
Grandparents are great teachers | Source

The Rirst Few Months - a Grandparenting Disaster

The first few months of being a grandparent with new grandchildren nearly brought disaster. My son had moved away from home, but soon after being married he returned, now with a new wife and two new grandchildren. My new daughter was pregnant, with all the hormonal changes that brings and in a new home with a new husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law to deal with. My son had lost his job in the recession, we knew my wife's job would end soon, and my own was shaky.

Needless to say tensions were often high and despite our best efforts occasionally boiled over, and that tension was communicated to the children, then 5 and 6 years old. My wife and I had had years of living with just the two of us and the noise and commotion from two rambunctious children was nearly overwhelming. Nevertheless, they were our grandchildren, and we tried to be good grandparents to them. We just didn't realize that we were doing everything wrong; instead of being grandparents we tried to be a second pair of parents, running the household as we thought best, and this concept simply didn't work. With all four adults trying very hard, we managed to hold it together but all of us were happy when our son found more work and bought their own home just a few miles away.

A four Generation Family Together


Grandpa and Grandaughter

The Favorite by Georgios Iakovidis
The Favorite by Georgios Iakovidis | Source

A grandparenting Turnaround

With the removal of the excess tension from our home and some realization of what we had been doing wrong, my wife and I have worked hard to improve our grandparenting skills, with some success. Our relationship with our son and his now not so new wife have improved enormously. Our grandparent - grandchild rapport has grown as well and they now seem to enjoy our company as much as we enjoy theirs.

We have learned that we are not parents; that honor, along with the responsibility of setting limits and most discipline, has reverted to where it should be in the parents. Some discipline is necessary from grandparents, but it should be quite minor and infrequent when compared to that administered from parents; this is natural as grandparent time should be fun, not day to day humdrum activities.

We spoil the grandchildren sometimes now because as grandparents we are free to ignore the limits set by Mom and Dad in small things and small amounts; "Sure, you can have a piece of candy, but only one!". By now the grandchildren know we are a soft touch, but only to a point, and they seldom push the issue. It is important to both the child and we grandparents that we keep our personal integrity with regards to our word. Our little two year old will usually ask for another piece of candy, but then accepts it and moves on when told "No"; and everyone is happy that way, plus the child learns that grandpas word is good.. The grandparent gets to sneak their grandchild a small candy or toy, the grandchild gets a goody and Mom and Dad don't really care.

We try hard to have time for our grandchildren as there is nothing they want more than our time; it is the most important thing that grandparents have to give their grandchildren. That has been a problem in the past in that while the two year old is often content to have the grandparent simply sit beside him while he plays with his cars the older two grandchildren want more participation from the grandparent and are usually more active than we can ever be again. We have had to scratch our imagination hard at times, but have provided such fun activities as origami, coloring or painting, and asking for help rebuilding a fence or making a pie even though those activities take even longer with the "help" of the grandchild. Learning is naturally fun to a child and a grandparent has a lifetime of knowledge to impart to his or her grandchild in the form of fun things to do.

Grandparents will always have skills, abilities and interests that parents don't; perhaps Grandpa likes to fish and can teach a grandchild to do that while Dad is better at baseball and can help a youngster learn to catch a ball. Grandma might sew, while Mom might be an artist - grandchildren can learn both skills that way. An additional one or two people with their own interests can broaden a grandchilds horizons enormously.

In even the best of families every child will occasionally find themselves at odds with either their siblings or parents and stress can build to high levels at those times. Grandparents can provide a safety valve for distraught grandchildren; at times a simple hug and a heartfelt "I love you" is all that's necessary to set things right again, at others a short time away with perhaps a careful discussion with the grandchild will help them cope with life's pressures.

One last thing that grandparents can offer a grandchild is time alone, away from their siblings. To be alone with grandparents can be a very special time for a grandchild; don't always see your grandchildren as a group, instead make some time for them individually as well at the same time as their siblings. Take a child to the zoo or a ball game or perhaps go camping with your grandchild. Work on your grandparenting skills; it is well worth the effort.

Learning From Grandma

A woman peeling apples; Pieter de Hooch, circa 1663
A woman peeling apples; Pieter de Hooch, circa 1663 | Source

Grandparents Benefit Too

The benefits of a good grandparent-grandchild relationship are hardly limited to the grandchild; grandparents are blessed by a good rapport as well. When I watch my two year old grandchild as he becomes fascinated in an ant crawling on the ground it re-awakens the wonder of the world in me, too. Everything is new and interesting to him and it causes me to also see the world as new each day; I find that I can learn a lot from my grandchildren. He is endlessly happy as he skips about the house and that, too, is reflected in my own attitude - the old grouch is gone for good, I think, because of that little bundle of happiness and joy. Even his tears don't upset me too much as I know they will soon be gone and the joy of life he exhibits will return.

I simply enjoy time with the older grandchildren, whether they sit quietly on my lap watching a movie or I am spending time teaching them something new and different. I enjoy hearing of their day and what they have learned; it reminds me what fun it is to learn and that there is so much to learn yet. I am even learning, however slowly, to accept the noise and commotion from rampaging children. I still have limits that are too narrow here, but they are broadening.

The love of a small grandchild is a reward beyond compare. As I sit and cuddle or hug my grandchildren I realize just how true that is and how much I value it - it is like no other love in the world. Even the love from my own children at that age is different somehow, or maybe I'm simply older and wiser, but it is a very special gift to receive. Don't let your life pass it by.

© 2010 Dan Harmon


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