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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.

Tap In to Your Past continued...

Similarly, your relationship with your grandparents is likely to have been vastly different from what you want your grandchildren to experience. Today's grandma is more likely to go inline skating with grandkids than to bake cookies, and granddad might like video games better than fishing.

The years after World War II saw the scattering of extended families and the beginning of a new institution: the nuclear family. Mom and Dad were the be-all and end-all. "Forty years ago, grandparenting was viewed almost as a 'frill,' a role not essential to the functioning of the 'modern' family or the growth and development of children," says Bosak, author of How To Build the Grandma Connection. "Grandparents feared 'meddling' in their children's lives." She says today's families are under increasing stressstress, and grandparents are often the ones who save the day. "New research shows that grandparents are indeed significant in their grandchildren's lives, but there are no clearly defined expectations or roles. Grandparents increasingly play an important and often unrecognized role in the functioning of the modern family. Relationships are negotiated on a family-by-family, individual-by-individual basis." Consider yourself a 21st century pioneer.

Grandparents Shouldn't Have to Compete for Access to Grandkids

Personality, geography, and available time are just a few of the factors in the complicated matter of balancing grandparents' access to grandkids. "The tricky part is to make sure that all grandchildren know they are loved by all grandparents," says Bosak.

She describes a set of grandparents who felt excluded. They negotiated a new tradition with the parents. At nine years of age, each child would be eligible for a special two-week summer visit with the grandparents. "This became something all the children looked forward to, almost a 'coming of age' ritual that the grandparents helped guide the grandchildren through."

In another family, one set of grandparents resented the fact that the grandkids spent every summer at the cottage of the other grandparents. So they all sat down to talk. "The parents had recently divorced, and they decided the children needed the stability and memories of summers at the cottage," says Bosak. "It was agreed that the grandparents who felt left out would get the grandchildren during Christmas and Spring break for short excursions."

Spoil the Child

Spoiling grandchildren a little is a good thing, says Bosak. "Maybe you weren't able to spend as much time as you wanted with your children when they were young, and having grandchildren feels like a second chance. Children know that being with you is special, and they don't expect the rest of the world to treat them that way, so it's not really spoiling. It's the kind of positive attention that builds self-esteem and helps children resist peer pressure as they get older."

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