How can I play an active and positive role in my grandchild's life while still respecting appropriate boundaries with my son and daughter-in-law? I'm excited to help, but I realize how easy it can be for new grandparents to wear out their welcome. Any tips or advice?
Perhaps the greatest gift you have to offer is the gift of your time. New parents need a break every once in a while. This is particularly important for single moms, but it applies in the case of married couples as well.
A baby who cries non-stop can quickly bring both Mom and Dad to the brink of utter exhaustion. Take the initiative to ask how life with the new arrival is going, and in particular if there are any problems with fussing and crying. If you have time, energy and child-rearing skills, offer to look after the baby for a while. You might suggest a specific time ("How about if I come over tomorrow or Wednesday night around six so you can get out for a couple of hours?") rather than something vague ("Let me know if I can help"). Or you can give them an open invitation to call you whenever they feel they've reached the end of their rope.
As a grandparent, you can have a profound impact on the lives and outlook of your children and grandchildren. Your ability to appreciate and enjoy grandchildren is probably much greater than what you experienced with your own kids, for several reasons. Without the relentless "24/7-the-buck-stops-here" duty required during early parenthood, you will have the luxury of greeting your grandchildren with fresh delight each time they walk through the door.
The value of the perspective you've gained after raising your own children cannot be overstated. Whether you realize it or not, it's an incredible gift to help grown children see their offspring through the eyes of a hopelessly love-struck grandparent. When grandparents regard little ones with perpetual awe and wonder rather than seeing them as a source of non-stop responsibility, they are unintentionally (but quite happily) blessing two generations at once.
Speaking of blessing, grandparents also have an opportunity to make a deep spiritual investment in the lives of their children and grandchildren. Perhaps when your children were younger, your faith was non-existent or immature. It's not too late to have some heart-to-heart conversations with grown children about your faith and its importance to you. You might even surprise them by having a candid conversation in which you make amends for your own shortcomings as a parent.
By the way, here's an important piece of advice about giving advice. If you are not in complete agreement with the way your grown children are raising your grandchildren, be very careful about the way you broach that subject, especially with a daughter-in-law or son-in-law. Remember: as parents they have the final say and responsibility for the way their children are reared, and your duty in nearly every situation is to abide by their decisions. The exception, of course, is when an irresponsible parent's behavior or neglect is exposing a child to harm. Otherwise, offer advice only if asked and work at building a relationship in which you can compare notes and share the benefits of your parenting experience.
If you'd like to discuss these points at greater length with a member of our staff, we hope you'll feel free you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.