Becoming a parent was a wonderful, life-changing experience. There is no doubt about that. Yet, as amazing as it was to become a parent, becoming a grandparent is even more so. It represents a new beginning in a new way.
Becoming a parent marked a change from a life of relative freedom to a life full of responsibility and, to a great extent, of being much more restricted in what you could do. Staying out late at night was now less of an option. Holidays became much more expensive. Your circle of friends is likely to have changed; you had little in common with your single friends, any more. And when the school run started, you moved into another new group. You should, however, have had a new, powerful support network.
As part of that network, there should have been your parents and in-laws.
The new beginning represented in becoming grandparents is different. You are not as likely to change your circle of friends; your freedom to travel and party is not as likely to be restricted unless you choose to allow this to happen. You may have less money available as you start buying clothes and toys for the new arrival. You may even find that your time is limited if you agree to provide “free” childcare for your daughter or daughter-in-law to return to work. But, in general, you will not lose as much freedom as you did when you became parents.
Still, becoming grandparents is a life-changing experience. You may have wondered whether your family name will survive your children. I know of a number of people who, for many years, said that they did not want grandchildren because it would make them feel old. They repeated it so often that their children started to believe it and decided that the right thing to do would be to avoid having children. Now, those parents have changed their tune. They have realised that their family name is about to die out; they see the pleasure that their siblings enjoy, now that they are grandparents; and they wish they could have that joy.
As grandparents, you have the pleasure of “borrowing” your grandchildren, showing them off to your friends and relatives, having great fun with them, and then, once the tiredness and grumpiness, or even the hyperactivity, sets in, giving them back!
Another Change in the Relationship
Now things really change in your relationship with your children. Since they became adults, you should have started to be more careful about the advice you give; you should have wanted to let them go, gradually and gently. You will have wanted to retain a good relationship with them, whilst allowing them the freedom to grow and develop their own adult personalities and relationships.
Having children, however, will raise the importance of maintaining that relationship to a much higher level, in the form of what we could call a distant closeness, or a close distance. As mentioned previously, you should have raised your children to develop their own thinking abilities, and that will probably mean that you will not always see things the same way. You also have to consider that your child’s thinking will have been affected by your son- or daughter-in-law’s thinking. This is as it should be. Your child is developing his or her own life. He or she will have to keep that life going, even when you are not around. The new parents will have to make decisions, usually with no time to consult you, even if they wanted to.
Suddenly, you will be faced with the problem of coming to terms with decisions that affect a helpless member of the family; and, at that point in time, all your child’s faults and failings will come to mind. Suddenly, you will remember all the events that strained your relationship with your child; and you will re-align your loyalty with a view to protecting that innocent young grandchild. Your heartstrings will be pulled in all sorts of different directions. You will want to give advice, or even interfere. As mentioned in the previous chapter, this is a danger area.
To repeat, be very careful about offering advice to your grown children. As important as this is when they have left home, it is absolutely essential when they have children of their own. Unsolicited advice is seldom received with gratitude; it is more likely to be seen as criticism. And I speak as one who has experienced both sides of the fence, so to speak. I have received advice, both solicited and unsolicited, and I have offered advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Unless it is offered in the right way, unsolicited advice is often seen as criticism.
So, what is the grandparent’s role?
We will discuss this in the next section.