5 Ways to Be an Involved Grandparent without Overstepping



“Put it back. It doesn’t work!”

I had just put my favorite moisturizer into my buggy with my five-year-old granddaughter. She was just learning to read.

“What?”

Carson pointed to the card. “See. It says ‘Gets rid of wrinkles in just two weeks.’ You don’t need to buy this. It doesn’t work.”

My granddaughter didn’t even crack a smile as she assessed my impending purchase. Why? Because it wasn’t funny to her. It was matter-of-fact. I had been using this wrinkle cream for a long time, much more than two weeks, and Carson was right. My wrinkles were still there.

But the greatest thing about that conversation was that none of my wrinkles mattered to my granddaughter. 

Grandchildren love their grandparents no matter what. They are aware that grandparents move a little slower, can’t jump very high (if they can jump at all!), don’t see much without their glasses or hear much without their hearing aids, and more.

But the unconditional love between a grandparent and grandchild is a bond that will only grow stronger as their relationship grows. The grandchild-grandparent relationship is special and unlike any other.

Grandparents can be a tremendous source of support for the parents. But in order for them to not overstep their roles, they must know where the boundaries are. Both parents and grandparents want only the best for the same children.

So how can they work together to make sure they are working to accomplish the same goals?

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1. Communicate with Your Kids

1. Communicate with Your Kids

If communication is open, parents and grandparents are able to discuss the parents’ goals for their children and how to accomplish them. Some questions that you might ask include:

  • What is the most important thing for your children to know? Parents may answer in several ways but many may answer that they want their children to know they are loved unconditionally and supported in all they do. That is a great goal and one grandparents can help with.
  • What do you want your child to eat? There may be food allergies involved or just a preference for their children to make healthy eating choices. If you are unsure you can remember or if the list is long, ask the parent to write out a list of approved foods. Tape it to the inside of a cabinet door in your kitchen where you can refer to it easily.
  • When the children are disobedient, what should you do? Should you put your grandchild in time out? Should you wait until the parents return and “tattle?”Or should you as the grandparent deal with the behavior immediately after it happens? 
  • What is the children’s daily schedule? When grandchildren spend the weekend with Grandma and Grandpa, parents don’t want their children to come home whining at bedtime that they stayed up as late as they wanted all weekend and they didn’t have to take a nap there. Keeping the children on their usual schedule results in everyone being happier and more rested, and for parents, eager to send them back again!

Every grandparent probably has his or her idea of  the best way to deal with grandchildren’s behavior. However, many grandparents would argue that, of course, their grandchildren would never misbehave!

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2. Define Appropriate and Inappropriate Boundaries

2. Define Appropriate and Inappropriate Boundaries

Grandparents can easily succumb to the magic grandchildren bring to their lives. And because grandchildren are so cute, grandparents can easily overlook behavior that parents may think is undesirable. Having the parents set behavior boundaries gives grandparents concrete guidelines to follow.

It is always a good idea to ask the parents if there is a certain behavior they are currently working on. Then you can reinforce those things during the time the grandchildren are with you.

For instance, your children may be working on table manners with their children. If you know that the youngest two are having trouble not speaking with their mouths full, you can pay special attention and watch for that as you eat your meal or snack.

Or, if your children are working on being polite and considerate, they can let you know to remind their children that ladies always go first and for the boys to be sure and open the door for their sisters.

This is a great way to be involved in how your grandchildren are being raised without taking the reins. Your children will be so appreciative to have extra eyes and ears on their kids, and it's an amazing way to show you trust their parenting--so much that you want to reinforce it.

This will also help your grandkids to feel supported by you. Even if in the moment they'd rather you just be "the fun ones," it's that type of hands-on interaction that shows how closely you pay attention to them and how much you care.

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3. Offer Up Your Available Time

3. Offer Up Your Available Time

It may appear to the grandchildren that grandparents have all the time in the world to spend with them and they are just sitting around rocking on the porch waiting for grandchildren to call. Many grandparents these days continue to work so that is not entirely true.

But because grandparents can be more flexible with their time choices, when they get the call that they are needed to help with the grandchildren, they are excited for the chance to be with them.

Time translates into many things. It may be that the grandchildren just need rides to their extracurricular activities. Or in some cases, they may need to be babysat for several hours or a day or two. Either way, this provides quality time for grandparents to spend with the grandchildren. 

When the grandchildren are young, time is spent caring for their basic needs. They must be fed, diapered, dressed, napped, and the like. But even while doing those types of “chores,” grandparents are building a relationship with their grandchildren.

As they attend to those needs, they can tell stories, sing, and smile while making fun sounds and interacting.

Once the children get older, grandparents may become their sounding boards. Be sure to have your listening ears on when you go to pick them up.

What a joy and privilege it is to have older grandchildren confide in you. Many times all they need is for you to listen. No advice needed.

If you do feel it is a time when you can share a little advice, make sure it is in keeping with the advice you know your children would like them to hear. One way you may continue the conversation going is to ask the question--What do you think Mom/Dad may say about that or tell you to do about that?

That would prompt more discussion without your having to be the chief advisor in that situation. Also remember, when your grandchild confides in you, they don’t expect you to share your conversation with Mom or Dad. If it is something that could get them into danger would be the only time you should feel free to share grandchildren conversations.

Sharing cute things they say or some evidence they have taken to heart the instruction of their parents is an encouragement for your children.

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4. Get Excited about Being Family Historian

4. Get Excited about Being Family Historian

As you get older, grandparents become the family historians (and look the part, too!), and are a great resource to learn about the family tree.

Grandchildren especially love to hear stories about their parents when they were younger--it's so funny to them to think of their parents as kids! Tell them stories often. Make their parents the heroes and heroines of the stories.

Better yet, pull out a few stories of when you were growing up. They will learn more of how things were during that time and probably ask lots of questions. “You really didn’t have a television, Grandma?” “Papa, you had a party line phone? What in the world is that?” “Outhouses had no lights? How did you find your way to the bathroom?” “Did you read books by the fire like they do on Little House on the Prairie?

If you are not a good storyteller, why not start a journal for your grandchildren. Write the family stories in a special book that will become a keepsake for future generations.

Talk about traditions that have been in the family for generations. Share recipes and talk about the ancestors who loved to cook. Play oldies tunes or watch movies that were your favorite as a child to give your grandkids a glimpse into your life and what was special to you when you were their age.

Learning that certain traditions have lasted the test of time gives grandchildren a connection to the past and a sense of belonging. 

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5. Leave a Good Inheritance to Your Grandchildren

5. Leave a Good Inheritance to Your Grandchildren

When we think of inheritance our thoughts usually go to financial inheritance and the passing down of family heirlooms. But if you still have grandparents in your life, you are enjoying the presence of a good inheritance.

Proverbs 16: 31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” Grandparents, have you ever thought of your gray hair as a crown?

Have you considered that everything you have done in your lives has come by way of righteousness and all the wrinkles (even if the wrinkle cream doesn’t work) and your gray or graying hair is a crown for those around you to see?

The legacy of faith that you pass to following generations is the greatest inheritance available to generation after generation. Deuteronomy 4:9 instructs you to not let the things you have experienced fade from your heart, and for you to teach them to your children and their children.

This passing down the faith from generation to generation is the most important legacy. Do not fail to do that.

How many times have you heard in a testimony “my grandmother prayed for me” or “the prayers of my grandfather kept me in line.” Don’t ever stop praying for your children and grandchildren. It is the most important thing you can do for them. When you don’t know what to do or what to say, pray more and say less.

When my oldest granddaughter was barely two, she loved saying the blessing. After every “Amen,” her response was “P’ay mo.’” Yes, sweet girl, we all ought to pray more.

Being a grandparent is not always easy but is well worth the work it takes. Respecting the boundaries of your children is the only way to create loving access to your grandchildren. Maintaining a good relationship with your children (and I include my in-law children as my own here) creates positive interaction for the whole family.

Don’t even think about offering unsolicited advice to your children about their childrearing because if they haven’t asked for it, they probably don’t want it. Work hard to stay in your God-given role of grandparents and you will bless the entire family.

I wish there was an easy way to do this, but it all hinges on unconditional love and prayer. Be liberal with your praise for their parenting and forgiveness if you feel slighted. We can only control our actions and reactions, not those of anyone else.

Above all, thank God daily for the privilege of being a grandparent and for His provision in allowing you to be part of your grandchildren’s lives. You are a treasure to them as they are to you. Make the most of that amazing, life-giving relationship.

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