This past week I was 'welcomed to the club' by friends who are already grandparents. It was wonderful to have a new family member , a little boy 3.556 kg , a pretty calm little fellow just like his father. (grandfather )
I heard it been suggested that we should first be grandparents and then parents. My understanding is that being a grandparent is all about bonding and relationship. I have seen how grandparents who get this right have a more respectful style of communication, ask questions , try to stimulate interest and curiosity and hear what the kid has to say , encourage him to express his opinion , give reasons for his choices, express motives behind behavior . The art of communication is in the listening . Grandparenting is being a good listener trying to see the world through the young kids eyes , and just directing conversation with dialog questions.
These grandparents understand that trust and bonding is the cornerstone of the relationship. Parents get it wrong by thinking that the relationship is about setting boundaries and limits, getting compliance and having control over the child. For many parents it takes time to realize that we are very much limited on how much we can control kids and even if we do succeed it is at a cost.
Alfie Kohn recommends that when we reflect on how we should respond to our kids , we should put the relationship first. This is the litmus test of any response - did any learning take place , was trust , bond and relationship enhanced . Sometimes we have to say No and make a decision that our kids are not so happy about , then we need to work very hard and securing and mending the relationship.
It is generally accepted that the reason that grandparents have a better relationship with kids than do parents is that they don't have to discipline or educate them. This is faulty thinking. Parenting is not a choice between authoritarian/authoritative or permissive approaches. In order to deal with issues or teach a kid , you don't have to make them feel bad. In any case feel-bad education might get short term compliance , but does not facilitate intragration and commitment to values. Because there is no emotional baggage in the relationship , grandparents are in a better position to deal with problems in a collaborative way and find solutions. Grandparents can set limits but the question is how do they do it? They invite the kid to participate in cps which results in a kid committed to the values underlying the boundary or limit.
One of the problems of parents having a ' united front ' against the kid is that we put obstacles in the way of dialog and communication. When one parent is struggling with a kid ,has reached a dead-end with emotions and tension a little high , the other parent can step in, and from a more neutral place continue to work with the child on the problem.
Grandparents can fill this role as well. Recently a dad gave a kid the ultimatum ' my way or the highway ' . His wife supported her husband. So like in war when a kid is faced with a ' united front ' , he had 2 options ' fight or flight ' , so he took off and went to his grandparents. If his grandparents would not have accepted him , he might have run off to friends . Even if he went back home and suffered the humiliation , his parents might have won the battle but have lost the war for the heart and trust of their son. Fortunately the grandparents were able to reconcile the kid with their parents and all learned an important lesson , that ' might' is not right , but just makes things worse.
I would like to end off with an answer given to what is so grand about grandparenting ?
In no particular order grandparenting is an opportunity to play, to 'fall in love' again, and to appreciate the magic of a developing mind. Grandparents can share the things they're passionate about with a new audience; see the world in a new way through younger eyes; experience music, nature, reading, gardening, theater and other interests in conjunction with a curious young mind.
And this is what collaborative problem solving is all about - appreciating the magic of a developing mind.
So the bottom line is – emulate grandparents and enjoy the magic of a developing mind.