Becoming a grandparent is an incredible gift from our Father in Heaven. In a merciful way, grandparenting extends the time that adults have to be with babies, children, and teenagers. In some ways, grandparenting can give older parents a “second chance” to improve upon some of their previous parenting experiences. Becoming a grandparent is certainly one of the most significant blessings in this life. Some have argued that being a grandparent is God’s reward for becoming old!
Most modern grandparents are fulfilled by their family role. Today, over 72 percent of grandparents report that being a grandparent is the single most satisfying thing in their lives. Grandparents are also younger today than ever before. Presently, 43 percent of the American population will become grandparents in their 50s and 37 percent in their 40s. And 48 is the average age that an adult become a grandparent.1
Like parenting, grandparenting is a “learn as you go” process. Most of us learn to be grandparents by observing other couples, including our own parents and grandparents. With today’s longer life expectancies, many adults will be grandparents for 30–50 years. That is much longer than the time you will or have had with your own children in your home.
Although being a grandparent is a wonderful stage of life, there can be some challenges if we are not careful and aware about what we are doing. Some grandparents can become too involved in their adult children’s lives, while others are completely disconnected from their families. There can be tension as parents and grandparents learn to balance their roles and their involvement with the family.
There are three relationships that need to be healthy in order for grandparents, their children, and their children to live in happiness, peace, and fulfillment: 1) the grandparent-adult relationship; 2) the adult-grandparent relationship, and 3) the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Let’s take a look at how to build each of them.
1. The Grandparent-Adult Child Relationship
It is a wonderful and rewarding time of life to watch your own children grow up, serve missions, marry in the temple, and begin raising children of their own. Sometimes these can be challenging relationships as parents and their adult children must redefine their relationships. Adult children no longer want to be treated as teenagers; instead, they want to be treated as equals.
Brigham Young University Professor, Dr. Richard B. Miller, explained:
“Marrying and leaving the parents’ home requires a fundamental shift in the relationship between children and parents. While parents of young children have a divine mandate to supervise and discipline their children, it is not appropriate for parents to control their adult children. Instead, the hierarchy of supervision and control dissolves so that parents and their adult children are on equal footing. The shift allows parents and adult children to develop relationships that are built on mutual respect and friendship.”2
Therefore, the relationship between adult parents and their adult children can be transformed into a wonderful friendship and mutual admiration society. To help facilitate this transition, adult children need to be independent from their parents. It will be difficult to shift into a more seasoned and mature relationship if parents continue to financially support their adult children or are called upon frequently to solve problems for them.
For the grandparent-adult child relationship to thrive, there need to be healthy boundaries between parents and their adult children. President Spencer W. Kimball taught,
“Your married life should become independent of her folks and his folks. You love them more than ever; you cherish their counsel; you appreciate their association; but you live your own lives, being governed by your decisions.”3
Parents of adult married children should give their children space; allow them to create their own family culture and traditions. Parents of adult children should not be intrusive. For example, parents of adult children should call before they barge into their children’s home or apartment; they should not inquire about checkbook balances, intimate marriage details, or other personal matters. They are there to give their love and support.
One frustrated middle-aged mother related that whenever her parents would come to visit, she was hoping she could relax and get a break. She hoped her mom and dad would spend time with her children—their grandchildren. Instead, her parents always came to her home with another agenda: to clean up their house and to repair what was broken. Therefore, when her parents came to visit, it wasn’t the relaxing experience that this mother had hoped for. She found herself counting down the days until her parents would leave, and so did her husband and children. One great rule of thumb for grandparents: Never dictate to your adult children what should happen in their homes. Instead, ask them what they would like you to do, and how you could best be of help to them.
Another father reported that when his in-laws came to visit, they spent most of their time bossing the children around. These grandparents liked to remind their grandchildren to get their chores done and complete their homework. The grandparents thought they were helping; instead, they were actually driving their grandchildren away from them. These same grandparents wondered why their grandchildren never wanted to spend time with them. Is it any wonder? A second rule of thumb: Grandparents have one main job—to love their grandchildren like an angel would love them.
A middle-aged father recalled, “As I grew up, one of the highlights in my family was when our grandparents came to visit. Even as teenagers, my siblings and I would anxiously wait out on the front lawn in anticipation of their arrival. They loved us, hugged us, played with us, and took us to fun places where we had wonderful experiences together. I never once remember my grandparents scolding me, or disciplining me. They simply praised us and loved us, and made us feel that we were the most important children on the face of the earth.”
Suggestions for a healthy Grandparent-Adult Child Relationship:
- Have a conversation with your adult children. Ask them how you can best help them accomplish their goals and dreams. Find out how you can support them in their parenting. Ask them what role they would like you to play with their children. Let them dictate the rules.
- Love your children and grandchildren unconditionally. Give affection freely and don’t try to control or manipulate them. Do not play favorites.
- Your job is not to discipline your grandchildren—that’s what parents are for. Grandparents can negate their influence on their grandchildren by being to mean or harsh.
- If you live nearby, ask your adult children if you can watch their children (your grandchildren) and give them a break. Encourage your children to get away occasionally so they can renew their marriage bonds while you connect with the grandchildren.
- Don’t ever say anything negative to your grandchildren about their parents; and don’t say anything derogatory to your children, or other adults in the family, about your grandchildren. Build a spirit of unity and love in your family.
- Always support and reinforce what your children are doing as parents. Don’t ever encourage your grandchildren to do things that their parents don’t allow them to do. You are there to support your children in their parenting, not to undermine it.
2. The Adult Child-Grandparent Relationship
Often, adults are defined by their children. As their children began to “leave the nest,” it’s easy for older parents to lose their identity. Consider that when they had a home full of children, their lives were full and rich. Besides work and church callings, there were also ball games to attend, practices to shuttle children to and from, musical performances, church activities, dates, and even Eagle Scout projects. As their children leave home, many parents find less purpose in their lives. Grandparents still have the need to be needed, but they often find that fewer people need them, or are too busy to think about them.
Often, adults become so busy with their own lives and their children’s schedules, that they discover that it’s easy to neglect their aging parents. Sometimes grandparents can become frustrated by this and end up inserting themselves into their families lives—often where they are not wanted.
Adult children would do well to occasionally ask their aging parents for advice and counsel. They are probably going to give it anyway, so why not initiate it and make both parties feel good! Adult children should check in with their parents often to see how they are doing. Call them often just to talk. Show interest in their lives. The older generation has much to offer. President Boyd K. Packer admonished: “We must teach our youth to draw close to elderly grandpas and grandmas.”4
Suggestions for a healthy Adult Children—Parent (Grandparent) Relationship:
- Occasionally ask your parents for advice in counsel. Ask them how they raised their children and what beliefs they have when it comes to child rearing. Ask them about other significant areas, such as purchasing homes, finances, leadership roles, church callings, and home repairs and improvements.
- Have your children call their grandparents weekly. Especially if they live far away.
- When in family gatherings with your children, always invite your parent to share a thought or testimony, teach a principle, or relate an experience to your children so they can learn from their grandparents.
- Help your parents write their family history; work with them on family records. Involve your children in this worthwhile project.
- Record your parents’ testimonies and life experiences to share with your own children.
- Make sure you remember to invite your parents to family activities, performances, and ball games.
3. The Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship
Grandparents can serve as spiritual pillars to their families, especially their grandchildren. In order to influence their grandchildren significantly, grandparents must have solid and healthy relationships with them. This means calling them by name, spending one-on-one time with them, writing letters and emails, and remembering their birthdays. Sometimes, grandparents wait for their children and grandchildren to initiate contact with them. Grandparents would do well to initiate contact with their busy families. Be proactive! Organize spiritual events, such as going to the temple, and fun events, such as lunches, picnics, and other outings. Other grandparents have complained about technology, refusing to enter their children and grandchildren’s world of social media and smartphones. If grandparents want to be involved with their posterity, they will need get up to speed on technology and speak the language of the younger generations. For example, Katie Owens, the granddaughter of President Russell M. Nelson, related that her grandfather taught her how to “airdrop” photos.5 That is certainly one way to stay young.
Suggestions for a healthy Grandparent-Grandchildren Relationship:
- Share your testimony with your grandchildren. Reinforce what their parents are teaching in the home. It’s wonderful to have fun with your grandkids, but you can also be a strong influence for good by living the gospel and teaching it.
- Teach your grandchildren sports, skills, or hobbies.
- Take them on outings to give their parents a break.
- Every year or two, create a “Grandma” or “Grandpa” camp where the grandchildren come to visit and the grandparents spend a week with the children, having fun, exploring, learning, and growing together.
- If you live a long distance from your grandchildren, call or Skype them often.
The psalmist said, “Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6).
1. “Surprising Facts about Grandparents,” grandparents.com, accessed 4 April 2014.
2. Richard B. Miller, “For Newlyweds and Their Parents,” Ensign, January 2006.
3. President Spencer W. Kimball, “Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, October 2002, 45.
4. President Boyd K. Packer, “The Golden Years,” Ensign, May 2003.
5. Whitney Evans, “The Man Behind the Calling: Who is President Russell M. Nelson?," KSL News
Lead image from Shutterstock
For more from Mark Ogletree, check out Just Married, available on deseretbook.com.