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Diplomatic Guide for Grandparents

Grandparents have a role in the lives of their grandchildren, but what exactly is that role? Let your adult children take the lead and discuss your expectations with them.
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WebMD Feature

Becoming a grandparent changes everything. Coupled with incomparable joy is uncertainty about where you fit in. Your role -- not always appreciated by society -- is vitally important in shaping a grandchild's life. You and the parents want what's best for the child. But you discover you don't always share the same customs and language. You've entered their world, sometimes feeling like a foreign ambassador. What you need is a diplomatic guide.

Remember Who Is In Charge

Grandparents must remember that their children are the ones responsible for raising the grandkids. "There's a fine line between showing your interest, being involved, expressing your wishes and needs, and being just plain overbearing," says Susan V. Bosak, national chairwoman of the Legacy Project in Washington, D.C., which has online resources for grandparents, parents, and kids. She also conducts Grandparent Connection workshops. "There are bound to be things you'd do differently, but accept parents' decisions with a smile and grace."

With the arrival of a second grandchild in Denver four years ago, Andrea Gross and her husband, Irv Green, moved there from Asheville, N.C. at the request of their son and daughter-in-law. Gross tells WebMD, "I don't criticize. I had my turn to raise kids. This is my son's turn. Sometimes he drives me nuts, like rushing in if the kids can't entertain themselves more than 30 seconds and get bored. It's OK to be bored. But it's his turn. As long as I'm convinced that he and his wife would lie down in front of an oncoming train to keep those kids safe, which they would, that's all that matters."

What to Do When Expectations Meet Reality

Gross is a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher who was eager to teach her grandkids. "I adore those ages. I picked up different teaching things at Goodwill. I drove halfway across Denver and spent $25 for a Judy Clock, where kids turn gears and learn to tell time." She eventually realized that her grandkids weren't around long enough or frequently enough for her to teach them effectively. What they wanted was for her to play games, color, and draw with them. "Teaching isn't my role anymore. Also, I used to buy educational toys instead of candy. Now I buy candy, and everybody is happier."

Tap In to Your Past

Remember your relationship with your parents and in-laws when you were a young parent? Those experiences provided lessons that can influence your grandparenting style for better or for worse. Maybe your mother had a habit of giving your child treats after you had said "no," and you've vowed that you will never challenge your daughter's authority in front of your grandchild. Smart decision. But what if your parents surprised your child with his first bike, and you do the same without knowing that your son thinks his child is too young for a bike? Ask questions first, before you assume that what you want for your grandchild is what his parents want.

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