Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of Meridian Articles to and about grandparents. See the first five articles at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. A new article runs each Tuesday. Richard and Linda, who spend more and more of their time these days writing and speaking to Grandparents, would appreciate your feedback (via comments) on each of these articles.
Questions: (respond by Commenting). 1. How does knowing that your grandchildren came from a Premortal existence affect how you treat them and how you respect them? 2. How can we come to know each of them as unique individuals and treat them accordingly?
As Church members, we believe that these wonderous grandchildren of ours come not only from the genetics of our children, but from the premortal existence—not only children and grandchildren of ours, but literally children of God. So the core challenge of good parenting and grandparenting is to discover as much as we can about who each of these children really is—what his or her gifts and propensities and needs are as a unique individual, and to avoid treating all of the same or of having rigid policies or standards that don’t take into account how unique each of them are and what an individual relationship we can have with each one.
Now, with that in mind, think about this: If you are an average baby boomer, you will be a parent for sixty-plus years of your life, and only about twenty of those years will be spent parenting your kids while they live with you. You’ll spend two-thirds of your parenthood as an empty-nest parent, and much of that time you will also be a grandparent.
There are two perfectly predictable ways to fail at empty-nest parenting and at grandparenting, and, frighteningly, most of us are headed directly for one or the other. Ironically, they are the exact opposite of each other—yet each is a virtual guarantee of the deterioration of our relationships with our grown children and grandkids
One way to fail is to abdicate—to simply quit parenting once your kids leave home, and to leave the grandkids entirely to their parents. This option, obviously, eliminates any meaningful role you would play as a grandparent, and you will fail by default.
The other way to fail is to arbitrarily lay down a pattern or set of standards—how much financial help they’ll get, what responsibilities they’ll take, and what ones you’ll keep—all without the input or agreement of your kids.
Most grandparents don’t pursue either of these extremes intentionally or directly, but most do gravitate gradually toward one or the other—to abdicate or to arbitrate. What is needed instead is a carefully planned and communicated middle course involving a well-discussed and agreed-upon strategy of how the relationship, the independence, and the assistance will evolve as your children leave your house and have children of their own.
Remember that when your children marry, they’re not just under a different roof; they’re part of a whole new and different family of their own.
You and your child are now parts of each other’s extended families. And your now-married son or daughter will (and should) devote most of his or her family time to the new spouse and new family.
As we grandparents see this process clearly and accept it, we can be happy in our evolving role of involved, supportive, proactive grandparents who don’t overstep.
The best way we know to get going on this consulting role and to make it positive for your children, as well as for your grandchildren, is to invite your child and his or her spouse out for dinner at a very nice restaurant (your treat) and to have a very specific agenda that we like to call a “Five-Facet Review.”
Pick a classy place to eat that is quiet and conducive to conversation, and in that environment, steer the discussion along the following path:
- We love your kids (our grandkids) so much and want to be a positive influence in their lives, as well as a support and supplement to you as their parents. You are in charge, you have the stewardship, and we just want to explore ways that we can help that will fit in with your goals. Where would you like our help and how, at your direction, can we be part of your parenting team?
- We know it all starts by really knowing the kids and understanding what they need and what you are concerned about, so we wanted to just sit here with you during dinner and take notes and have you teach me more about my grandkids. Then, I hope you will share with me what your worries are and how I might help.
- If it’s okay, can we talk about each of the kids, one at a time, and in a framework where we can organize our notes? Something of a “Five-Facet Review.” Starting with James, can you just tell me what comes to your minds about how he is doing physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually? Just stream-of-consciousness about James, and maybe allow us to ask a couple of questions here and there so we really get up-to-date.
- So, first, how is James doing physically? …(go on and ask the same question with each of the five facets, How is he doing mentally? Etc.)
Take notes, ask questions, and focus your thought on each facet of each grandchild. Avoid giving any advice, and certainly no criticism. Draw the parents (your child and in-law child) out and try hard to grasp not only where each grandchild is, but how the parents feel and where their concerns lie.
When you finish the Five-Facet Review, express your appreciation and compliment the parents on how well they know their children. Ask about their goals with each child and about their biggest challenges and frustrations. Reiterate that you don’t want to interfere—on the contrary, you want to support them and see if there are areas where you can help with their parental goals or help out in areas of concern.
Make these 5-facet reviews a pleasant and regular occurrence—maybe every quarter or so—in a nice setting and with no abdicating. Let your parent-children feel your concern and appreciate the fact that you are not judging them or wanting to interfere—that you only to support and help.
How much you can do and how often you can do it will be partly determined by how far away you live from your kids. If they are far away, you may have to have much of your contact be electronic, but we live in a world of FaceTime and Skype and Zoom, where being close is much more a factor of desire and determination than it is of distance. The Five-Facet Review works nearly as well on screens as it does in person.
Richard and Linda Eyre’s parenting and life-balance books have reached millions and been translated into a dozen languages. As fellow Baby Boomers, their passion and their writing focus has now shifted to the joy of Grandparenting. Linda’s latest book is Grandmothering, and Richard’s is Being a Proactive Grandfather, each of which is now on sale on Amazon or in Deseret Book.
The Eyres have 31 grandchildren and counting, so they have an ample laboratory to test their grandparenting ideas. Their Mission Presidency in London also resulted in another 500 “children” so if you count the children of those missionaries, Richard and Linda may actually have thousands of grandchildren. At any rate, they want to share thoughts from you and hear thoughts back from you, so please comment on this and future articles.