Grandparenting: Managing expectations about your role and availability

Three generations enjoying each others company

Becoming a grandparent is a wonderful phase of life, but when each party involved in the multi-generational family unit can have their own expectations it can often cause a great deal of unintentional conflict.

What do we mean by managing expectations?

We all have different hopes and desires, live in different circumstances and deal with different situations in our own ways therefore managing expectations can be a very personal issue.

So, how can we manage those expectations and make the most of being the best grandparent we can be?


Let’s talk about being a grandparent

Fundamentally we all want the best for our children, and ultimately for our grandchildren. However, there may come a point where our expectations simply don’t match that of the parents of our grandchildren.

Even though we may have the best of intentions we can so easily cause hurt and upset simply by not communicating effectively, and assuming too much. During our research we came across Arthur Kornhaber, MD, who is a psychiatrist, researcher, founder and president of The Foundation for Grandparenting in Ojai, Calif., and author of several books. These include The Grandparent Guide, for grandparents, and The Grandparent Solution, for parents. On the foundation’s web site, Kornhaber lists 20 questions to help grandparents understand and define their role. Among these are seven questions regarding the indirect relationship you have with your grandchild as a result of supporting the parents:

  • Have you talked with the parents about what kind of grandparent they would like for you to be for their child?
  • How you can be supportive of them?
  • Have you told them what kind of grandparent you would like to be?
  • Can you communicate openly and freely with them?
  • Can you listen to what they say with an open mind?
  • Are you making an effort to be up-to-date with parents and grandchildren, being familiar with the world they live in?
  • Is your advice well received?

These are questions that deserve to be revisited from time to time. Grandchildren get older, parents’ divorce, your financial situation changes — multiple factors will affect the relationships, and your role will change based on your family’s needs and your abilities.

Mum and son are cozy on the sofa in a Snuggle Sac

What can being a grandparent mean?

We loved this quote from Dr Cheryl Wu, paediatrician, parenting expert and mother: “The grandparent- grandchild bond is perhaps the purest kind, where the two parties are completely okay with each other’s differences and come to love the other exactly as they are.”

Surely that is a good enough reason to ensure parents and grandparents discuss their expectations about the role of a grandparent!

Your own expectations and maybe the need to say no!

While there may be a huge expectation from the parents that you will want to spend all your spare time, energy and money on your new grandchild there could be many reasons why this isn’t possible or even desirable. You may have been a very young parent, and becoming a young grandparent, while a privilege, could be the first time you’ve been financially stable, have more free time, have new hobbies and could be in a new relationship. It will be even more important to explain very early on the time you can make available for your grandchild and, although you’d do anything in an emergency, you do have your own life too. Becoming a martyr and resenting being an unpaid childminder won’t endear you to anyone as you won’t be in the best frame of mind to enjoy the experience.

Once the expectations have been aired – what’s next?

We thought it was a good idea to highlight some basic pointers to help ensure the relationship gets off to the best possible start.

Remember who is in charge

It may sound obvious, but grandparents need to remember it is their children who are in charge, and they are responsible for the raising of the grandchildren. Providing you know the grandchildren are being properly cared for and they are safe, you can just accept decisions with a smile. It may be infuriating but keeping quiet and not offering unsolicited opinion and advice will help build those relationships.

Think back to how you felt as a new parent. Did you make mistakes, feel vulnerable and incapable at any time? How did you feel when people offered well meaning advice which felt like criticism? It is always useful to bear those thoughts in mind. If you want to help boost self esteem and self confidence then ask permission, seek the parent’s approval and congratulate them on their parenting decisions.

Asking Permission

This may seem trivial, but it is only showing respect for the parents. Even if you want to do something, take your grandchild a special treat, or show them how to do something new, it is always worth remembering it is not your role to do that without permission. Imagine how you would feel as a working parent who was looking forward to a special outing on your day off, to find one of the grandparents had taken your child there the day before. Even though it may have been done with the best of intentions it can undermine the parents and won’t help your relationship.

Asking and accepting advice

Little girl sleeps well in her Snuggle Sac

If your grandchild is coming to stay, it is Ok to have your own rules in your own home, but it is helpful to the parents and the child if the home routine is requested and adhered to. This will help the parents relax and feel comfortable their child is going to be well cared for.

For example, consider the lack of sleep that young children, and their parents, face so often. We’ve spoken to lots of grandparents at the exhibitions and shows we attend, who tell us they can see the family is struggling with sleep deprivation but have to be careful about introducing something new. A new mum struggling with a lack of sleep is going to be extremely sensitive to ideas and potential criticism. That is why a lot of grandparents buy Snuggle Sacs as gifts, telling the parents they were recommended by their own friends who had grandchildren who struggled to sleep. If they initially have them at their own home, the parents have a chance to see how the child develops a sleep association with their Snuggle Sac. When the child wants to bring it home, it is treated like a favourite teddy or comfort blanket. As soon as the family start to get some sleep the gift is seen as thoughtful and very welcome. We’ve heard from many grandparents who were so delighted with the response they went on to buy one for each of their grandchildren!

Special role

The bottom line is, being a grandparent is a special privilege and a wonderful role to have. It is worth taking the time to open effective lines of communication to make sure those years are truly memorable for everyone in the family.

Here at Snuggle Sac, we hear often from grandparents and their experiences with young children. We are grateful for what you do and proud when our Snuggle Sacs help you out even a little bit. Sign up to our mailing list below for our Snuggle Sac for Grandparents newsletter, full of helpful articles and ideas for activities with your grandchildren.

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