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A Stronger Marriage When You Parent Grandchildren

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Many grandparents are assuming parental roles, which can mean huge lifestyle changes. Don't allow these disruptions to bring discord; instead, address issues before they became major hindrances.

The drunken intruder lay sprawled unconscious on our daughter’s bedroom floor. A trail of destruction wound through her ransacked apartment: kicked-in front door, smashed artwork, glass shards embedded in the carpet.

Thankfully, our daughter Patty and grandson Asher were away when the break-in occurred. But after the incident, our formerly independent 11-year-old grandson refused to stay in the apartment alone. Patty, a single mother, worked a grueling schedule alternating from day to night shifts. My husband, Jake, and I offered to watch Asher while Patty worked.

Like us, many grandparents are assuming part- or full-time parental roles. Some grandparents step in temporarily during military deployments or family calamities, such as incarcerations. Others help because their children face serious health issues or lack the funds for proper child care. When adult children struggle with drug dependency, many grandparents are compelled to take in their children’s children.

Asher is currently living with us five days a week. Although Jake and I are glad to assist our daughter and grandson, it means dramatic lifestyle changes. We realized opportunities for marital discord could creep in if we didn’t set boundaries early on. We resolved to identify and address issues — even minor ones — before they became major hindrances in our marriage.

We asked each other, “How do we safeguard our marriage and intimacy levels when we step into a parental role again?” After much discussion, prayer — and some arguments — Jake and I strategized for each of the following concerns.

Money

Raising grandchildren can seriously affect a retirement budget. Although our daughter Patty works diligently, she receives no child support or alimony. Rent, car payments, health insurance premiums, food, utilities — for these she shoulders the financial responsibility alone.

Jake and I wanted to help by taking Asher back-to-school shopping. He grabbed a pair of brand-name athletic shoes. “Grandma, these are perfect.” I glanced at the $90 price tag and choked out, “No,” before Jake could say, “Yes.” After that eye-opening shopping trip, we discussed how much we’d pay for food, clothing and medical expenses as well as extracurricular activity costs. Jake and I willingly cut out nonessentials, such as restaurant meals, to accommodate Asher’s needs.

Transportation

“Are you picking up Asher from school today?” Jake asked. I clutched the overflowing laundry basket and rolled my eyes at my husband’s innocent question. “Can’t you see how busy I am?” I snapped. Jake replied, “No problem, I’ll get Asher.” After Jake left, I looked around and realized he’d mowed the lawn, watered the garden and done the dishes. After my snarky outburst, Jake and I took turns driving Asher to school and other functions. By deciding in advance who would drive grandchildren to and from school, sporting events, dance practice, piano recitals and youth groups, we can avoid surprises.

Energy levels

Grandparents often lack the vigor of younger parents. It’s easy to pour all our energy into the grandchildren and have little left over for our spouse. Jake and I found that exercising together to praise music boosted both our stamina and our moods.

Discipline

What is acceptable at Asher’s home isn’t necessarily appropriate in ours. Jake and I want to be united about potential disciplinary problems to protect our marital unity. The two of us addressed issues like TV and social media limits in our home. We wrote down the rules and consequences to prevent confusion for Asher and ourselves. Afterward we relaxed with Asher over pizza and shared the information. Knowing the established boundaries helped Asher feel secure and prevented marital disagreements about disciplinary issues.

Time away

A friend asked tongue in cheek, “Does the sitter get a sitter?” If needed, yes. Dating enhances marital closeness. For those with school-age grandchildren, try a daytime date.

Jake and I find that movies, strolls in the park and picnics provide delightful romantic opportunities. Couples need time alone to strengthen their marriage.

And what do vacations look like while raising grandchildren? Jake and I toured the Texas Hill Country while our grandson was at summer camp. But we brought Asher along on a visit to see my sister in Chicago.

Sex

Jake and I made deliberate choices to enhance our physical relationship. Energy depletion often hinders romantic spontaneity, so we schedule times for intimacy, literally writing it on the calendar. Knowing when we’re going to make love holds frustration at bay and gives us something to look forward to.

Allowing an adorable young grandchild to cuddle up and fall asleep in your bed is tempting, but that’s a difficult habit to break. I’d recommend you establish a “grandchildren sleep in their own beds” rule and stick with it.

Benefits

Despite the complications of parenting a new generation, our marriage is reaping unexpected benefits. Living out a godly example for our grandson motivates us to display greater love, patience and kindness to each other.

Jake and I not only enjoy a closer relationship with Asher, but we’re also experiencing a deeper relationship with each other, and with the Lord. We’re experiencing the beauty of Psalm 145:4 (AMP), “One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty and remarkable acts.”

We pray that in the midst of parenting their grandchildren, and perhaps repairing the breach between parents and children, others find blessings in their own marriages as well.

Jeanie Jacobson is the author of Fast Fixes for the Christian Pack-Rat.

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