GRANDPARENTS AS POSITIVE ROLE MODELS
I’m writing this article not only from a psychological perspective, but also as a personal perspective. I am grandmother to four grandchildren and five step-grandchildren, all unique and special. I can honestly say the changing of the guard (going from parenting to grandparenting) takes on a new perspective which is rewarding, fun and interactive, and sometimes challenging trying to provide the needed support and relief for parents. I thought it would be interesting to ask my husband what his thoughts are concerning the influence of a grandparent as a positive role model in today’s society. Jokingly his response was something like “Grandparent’s role is to help their grandchildren create new mischief and have fun doing it!” This approach is an actual psychological style of grandparenting. If you’re that kind of grandparent, you are what is called the “fun-seeking” grandparent. The fun grandparent only wants to make sure grandchildren have fun! Reinforcing parental structure and teachable moments is not top priority with fun-seeking style of grandparenting. Although my husband was joking, this is a common approach today. By the way, my husband thought that idea was funny and he is definitely a fun grandparent, however he is very much a grandparent who interacts, encourages, and is an extension of family structure reinforcing what parents want and will allow children to do when they visit. When grandparents keep a balance between being the fun grandparent and the formal grandparent, they are an extension of the parental structure. These two approaches combined enhance greater emotional support and cohesiveness for the family. The “formal approach” or style is showing strong interest in their grandchildren, leave parenting to grandchildren’s parents and are careful not to give uninvited advice.
Key to being a grandparent who reinforces the structure of the family unit is communication with parents, and mutual respect. Parents should initiate the communication with grandparents letting them know what their expectations are while grandchildren are in the care of their grandparent. The expectation of a grandparent is then out in the open and grandparents can openly say what they are comfortable doing or not doing. This initial open communication with respect is a way to avoid possible future misunderstandings on expectations.
Grandparents are observed and watched by little ones making the influence tremendous and rewarding in life of a grandparent. Grandparents teach just by spending time with their grandchildren, not ever having to verbally teach anything. Grandparents influence the way grandchildren view the world around them, so much so there are times children want to grow up to be more like their grandparent than anyone else.
Grandparents wear many “hats” in the family when it comes to relationships with grandchildren and their own children. Grandparents can provide support emotionally or physically for grandchildren and children. In today’s society both parents typically work and the ability to rely upon a grandparent for help in caring for physical needs and emotional needs of grandchildren is such a stress release for the parents, at the same time rewarding for the grandparent.
Studies have shown grandparents that see their grandchildren frequently and interact with their lives seem happier with life in their older age and have less depression. They feel needed, wanted and a part of the family unit. One of the strong benefits of being an interactive and available grandparent is building relationship with grandchildren who someday may need to talk with a loving, listening grandparent as opposed to talking with a parent. When those special moments occur, the years of interaction as grandparent will pay off. How important is it in today’s society to have someone who you know loves you and wants the best for you give you sound advice who has wisdom beyond your youth? I would say extremely valuable. To all the parents, make time for grandchildren to know their grandparents. Grandparents, don’t be too busy or unavailable. This is your legacy and grandchildren need your input. Their parents need your support. Connection and cohesive loving, warm family environments promote secure children who then turn around and give the security and safe environment to their children. For those who are less fortunate to have grandparents, or grandparents who for whatever reason cannot help, there are plenty of elderly who would love to take on a supportive grandparenting role. They probably need the family as much as you would need them!
By Georgia Smith-Lyle, MA, LPC-S