Gigi and Grandpa, Nana and Pop, Mimi and The Chief … these are just some of the names we elect to be known as when we step over that awesome, life-changing threshold of becoming a grandparent.
Most first-time grandparents admit that they feel unprepared for the role. They are unsure how to approach it, and some are anxious about stepping on the toes of their kids, the new parents.
Psychologist and author of Grandparents – A Guide, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg was recently a guest on ABC Brisbane radio, where he shared some of his conversations with those who found themselves ill-prepared for grandparenting.
“I get the feeling that many Australian grandparents just white-knuckle their way through, learning as they go along,” he said.
“But as with all major life transitions, becoming a grandparent is an invitation to grow, and the secret to success lies in the preparation.
“It’s a relationship based on love, appreciation, fun, and pure joy. Becoming a grandparent is one of the key transitions of a person’s life and inside every transition is an invitation to grow and devote yourself to the role.”
Australia’s rising life expectancy means it is now very common for a child to grow up with grandparents, which brings new opportunities and challenges for intergenerational family relationships.
In addition, socio-economic changes mean that there are more mothers in paid work, greater labour market instability, and higher rates of divorce and relationship breakdown – all of which can mean an increasing role for grandparents in family life.
Dr Carr-Gregg said he learned from talking to more experienced grandparents how intense the relationship with their grandchildren can be.
But he said many new grandparents were delightfully surprised that being part of the lives of grandchildren was an equal sequel to the joys and rewards of raising their own children.
Grandparents are vital to the emotional care of grandchildren from infancy to adolescence, but also as sources of social and economic support as their children attempt to balance work and family responsibilities and deal with the financial difficulties associated with precarious and/or low-paid jobs.
Dr Carr-Gregg said first-time grandparents need to decide what their role is in the family and how involved they wish to be. Many grandparents can end up having to change their retirement plans to support their children and grandchildren.
Here are some rules for new grandparents to follow to reduce potential conflicts:
- Do not offer unsolicited advice to the parents. Wait until asked.
Make time to play with the grandchildren from the earliest age and go out of your way to play the games they want, even if that’s on the computer or done remotely.
Be on the same page as the parents when it comes to screen and technology time.
Teach grandchildren about their heritage and extended family.
Try to be neutral in family disputes. Support your grandchildren and be a positive role model.
In other media interviews, Dr Carr-Gregg said some of the most amazing stories he’d heard were from grandparents who had figured out by themselves the right path to take.
“All the grandparents I’ve met professed a desire to be helpful and significant to their grandkids, to be effective and to make a difference,” he said.
Dr Carr-Gregg said when it works well, parents get support and more time for themselves, and the young people get the emotionally uncomplicated love of a grandparent.
“Everyone benefits,” he said. “From the hugs, the sleepovers, your new name, and general silliness, to the extra source of love, this bond is special and unbreakable.”