Therapist Julie Hanks, LCSW, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, joined by her Mother and Mother-in-Law, discuss what makes grandparent relationships so unique and how to be an involved grandparent!
"The reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy"
There's something unique about a child's relationship with a grandparent. When my grandmother, Alyce, passed away over a decade ago, I felt as though I had lost the only person in the world who unconditionally loved me. Though I had grown up with loving parents, my Grandma "LaLa" seemed to overlook my flaws, and focus and express only on my positives qualities. Because of her stage in life, she seemed to have more time for me with me than my parents did because they were busily engaged in providing for the physical and practical needs of their growing family. Instead of teaching me, guiding me, and correcting me, like my parents frequently did, time with my grandmother allowed me to just "be", however "unproductive" or "unhealthy" it was. At Grandma's house there were more treats, more TV time, a later bedtime, no chores, fewer rules and expectations. I saw, reflected in my grandma's eyes, my value just the way I was at that moment, that day, with no expectations attached. In addition to reflecting on my own experience with grandparents, I asked several friends what makes their relationship with their grandparents different from relationships with parents and noticed 3 themes surfaced.
How Grandparent Relationships Differ From Parents
Perspective: With more life experience, grandparents are better able to see the "big picture" because they are less concerned with the day to day details of parenting and managing a family household. Many people in my unofficial poll shared that grandparents were able to engage with them for hours and hours, and "really listened" to them.
Security: Grandparents provide a sense of security by providing an experience of life at a slower pace. My friend Tammy said, "Grandma's house was relaxing and quiet...much different than a house with 8 people in it!" Additionally, as reflected by the following quote, grandparents expression of unconditional love that provides emotional security. "Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild" ~Welsh Proverb.
Predictability: Grandparents offer a sense of continuity and predictability that is enduring, even after they have passed on. I had a "cookie grandma" and a "cracker grandma", based on what treats they always stocked. Grandparents solidify family traditions, especially around holidays, that grandchildren can rely on year after year. Many of my friends reflected fondly on playing games like "Clue" or "Monopoly", or doing consistent activities with grandparents like baking or making crafts or listening to stories.
Two grandmother's that I admire are my own children's grandmothers: my mom, Linda de Azevedo, and Mary Ellen Hanks, my mother-in-law. Though their grandparenting styles differ (one likes to go with the flow, and one likes to plan events and activities) they are both actively involved grandmothers. Here are a few suggestions based on their many years of experience being involved grandparents!
Steps to Being An Involved Grandparent:
1) Be interested in each child's life at that moment
2) Be the link to your grandchildren's heritage
3) Celebrate each grandchild's important milestones
4) Engage with each grandchild at their developmental level
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, specializes in psychotherapy with women and couples. She is passionate about women's self-care and emotional health and frequently presents workshops to women's groups around the country. Visit www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com to learn more about counseling services or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also know Julie as an award-winning singer and songwriter. Visit www.juliedeazevedo.com