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50+: Live Better, Longer

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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

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.

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.

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