Resolved: To Be a Supportive Grandparent

By Bonnie Baker Cowan

We can all confess to being critical of the way our grandchildren are being raised. We, of course, would raise them much differently—the right way. While we may not openly criticize their parenting skills or give advice to our grown children and daughters- or sons-in-law, we probably also don’t praise them for the job they are doing as parents.
Isabel of London, Ontario admits she is often short on giving praise. “I have just always assumed my daughter knew I was proud of the job she was doing, until she tearfully told me she needed my approval and didn’t have a sense that I thought she was doing a great job,” she says. “I realized I needed to continue to praise my daughter just as much as an adult as when she was a young child.”
If we’re looking for resolutions for the New Year, we might consider finding ways to be more supportive and appreciate of our grandchildren’s parents.
Mary Jean, a new mom from Red Deer, Alta., confirms the need for praise, especially for new parents who are struggling with their overwhelming responsibilities. She has this advice:

“Praise goes a long way. Our lives are complicated and scary with a first child. We need to hear that we’re doing a good job. It helps if grandparents remember what they felt like as new parents and practice a bit of patience and empathy for how we’re feeling. We don’t really need to hear how they handled certain situations. We may get it wrong, but respecting our parenting practices is important in boosting our self confidence.”

Sarah, a mother of three from Montreal adds this advice: “Our parenting practices have been thoughtfully considered and agreed upon with our spouses,” she says. “We need grandparents who respect the issues that are important to us. We use ‘time outs’ as methods of discipline, for instance. Having grandparents follow that method reinforces our beliefs and provides consistency for our children.”

Most young parents agree that the best support a grandparent can give in the New Year is to offer to babysit. New parents especially will need a break from their duties. They need time to reconnect with each other as adults and as husband and wife. And, with a new baby, the only people they may trust to look after their precious addition is a grandparent.

While Samantha of Rutland, B.C. would prefer grandparents come to her house to babysit her toddler and new baby, she is very willing to have her in-laws babysit in their own home too. “ My mother-in-law has child-proofed her house and has a crib set up for the baby, and I appreciate knowing my children will be safe and well-cared for when we leave them there,” she says.

The most important aspect of being a supportive grandparent is to keep communication going. Ask about parenting rules, safety issues and daily routines. Have a frank discussion about what kind of grandparent they expect you to be. Share your notions too. There’s no medal for being a martyr. If you feel physically or emotionally incapable of taking on certain tasks of grand parenting, make those limitations known. Your commitments and private space are important too, and you have a right to have those respected. On the other hand, share your desire to be included in important events such as school assemblies and sporting activities. A grandparent’s presence gives a child a sense of family continuity and promotes self esteem. Participating in these events makes a grandparent feel valued too.

Raising a family is the most challenging role in life. Parents need all the support they can get. We grandparents are in the right place at the right time to give practical and emotional support.