Article by Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.
As the offspring of Baby Boomers marry and start their own families, the responsibilities of the Sandwich Generation grow. You're already in the middle of your family in flux – between growing children and aging parents. Now the sandwich adds another layer, the grandchildren. It's sometimes harder to eat, but definitely quite appetizing.
It's often said that you don't experience perfect love until the birth of your first grandchild. Baby Boomers describe this event as an opportunity to slow down and savour one of life’s most precious gifts. Iris put it best: "For too many years I've been caught up between the dramas of my grown children and aging parents. My new grandson has been a welcome distraction – and I am enraptured by him. Believe me, this whole experience – seeing my son as a dad and getting to know my grandson – is by far the richest part of getting older."
Do you have mixed emotions about this new chapter in your life, with feelings of eager anticipation yet some trepidation? Perhaps you're not sure what to expect – from the baby, your children, your co-grandparents or even from yourself. Here is a compilation of suggestions for grandparents-to-be, and reminders for you veterans – honour your children, stand up for your own needs, and make the most of this unparalleled opportunity.
1. Enjoy the process. Don’t worry about the old stereotype of "grandparent" – it needn't define you. You can add to your self image without subtracting all that you have created and gained over the years. Allow yourself to accept and take pleasure in your insights about yourself and your relationships.
2. Be helpful, especially in the beginning. Think ahead about the ways you can assist your children and offer to do them even if they are not your first choice – run errands, do a middle of the night feeding, baby-sit early on a weekend morning. You will feel closer to your grandchild after putting in the effort and your children will be more relaxed without having to do these extra chores.
3. Try not to offer advice unless asked. You don’t have to say whatever comes to mind. If your suggestions are requested, present them in an open-ended way so that your children are free to accept or reject. Remember how you felt when your mother or mother-in-law shared their opinions about how to raise your children.
4. Talk about the challenges. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your children in a non-confrontational way. You will all be more comfortable and appreciative of your relationship if you don't let issues fester. However, don’t expect that the results of your talk will follow a pre-determined path. Often the fact that there is conversation is more important than the outcome of any one particular discussion.
5. Be aware of your feelings. You may be ambivalent about babysitting often when it begins to impact the pursuit of your personal interests. Choose a balance between your own needs and the responsibilities of your grand-parenting role. It is important to set the limits that work for you.
6. Respect your children. You have spent years raising your sons and daughters and now allow them to raise their own children. A lot has changed since you began to parent – new theories of child-rearing, new equipment, new techniques. Don’t assume that, just because you did things in a certain way, it's the best. Your relationship with your children will change as you begin to see their capabilities in a different light. When you hold back, you will notice how naturally and competently they love and care for your grandchildren.
In valuing your children’s parenting style, you will realize that the benefits can be immeasurable. Mark said he was happy that, "By taking our cues about the grandkids from our daughter-in-law, we've earned her confidence and trust. We've been given our stripes and the reward, an on-going relationship with our grandchildren, benefits everyone." Herein lays a second chance to make a difference. And a fringe benefit to consider is seeing these relationships as an investment in the future – your grandkids may eventually be taking care of you.
© 2007, Her Mentor Center
About the Author:
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are co-founders of www.HerMentorCenter.com, a website for midlife women and www.NourishingRelationships.Blogspot.com, a blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomers' family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website. As psychotherapists, they have over 40 years of collective private practice experience.