Grandparents have always played a huge role in family life. However, modern families have changed significantly in the last two decades, which leaves some seniors feeling shut out of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Not only is this an isolating experience for senior family members, it robs younger members of valuable emotional connections. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a little creative thought and negotiation, grandparents can become an active part of the family again.
It’s natural for grandparents to share their expertise with their children when they begin rearing the next generation. In most cases, this will be welcomed — everyone feels some trepidation as the realities of being a parent settle in, not just when their children are born but when they reach new milestones such as starting school. Reassurance and advice from someone more experienced can be a tremendous relief. That said, it’s easy for a young parent to feel as if older family members are trying to push them back into a “child” role instead of respecting their authority as parents themselves. Families need to find ways to resolve these tensions peacefully.
Parents are sometimes concerned that the older generation may not be up to speed on new hazards facing today’s children. No matter how beloved a grandparent is, parents need to be certain that their children are safe with them. Grandparents can alleviate these concerns by making a special effort to keep up with current safety norms, such as the proper use of child seats in cars and changes in food safety concerns.
Grandparents with disabilities
A bouncing toddler or energetic school child can be a challenge for anyone, but older adults in particular may struggle to keep up. This can be especially true of grandparents who are differently abled. Visits can be supervised and supported by other family members, or simply kept a little shorter to avoid exhausting a differently-abled grandparent. Some parents fear that their children may be distressed or frightened by family members with disabilities; in general, however, children are very adaptable. It’s often enough to explain that “Grandma needs a chair to help her move around” or “Grandpa needs you to speak up a little” for them to understand and accept an older person’s limitations.
With foresight, negotiation and compassion, grandparents and older family members can once again take their place at the heart of family life.