Cecilia Benson currently serves on the National Board of American Mothers. She offers suggestions on how to set boundaries and define your new role.
After a great deal of thought and preparation, I found the wonderful comments I gathered could formed the acronym GRAMA! They are:
1. Give them time.
2. Remember your role.
3. Ask what you can do.
4. Mend Relationships.
5. Allow them to serve.
Give them TIME!
It is time to put your planner down and relish this wonderful new role. The best grandparenting activities will come naturally as you simply focus on the interests of both you and your grandchildren. Your best bonding will come as you sharing the things you both love. This new role of helping a child to grow changes because, most likely, you are not involved in the day-to-day chores of child rearing, and now (finally!) you can just “come out and play!” That makes it so easy to bond. What are you passionate about? Camping? Music? Gardening? Traveling? Humanitarian opportunities? Take them along – share your passions with them. What do your grandchildren love? Get down and look at the world again through their eyes. You will learn a lot more than they will.
Remember your Roles!
What is your role? 6.3% of all children under 18 are being raised by grandparents. That is a huge number. Some are step-grandparents. There are many resources for you to go to if you are in this category. AARP online (www.aarp.org) is a good place to go for assistance. In most cases, we just need to give our children the space to be a parent. You have moved into a supporting role and you need to honor that as you continue to love, encourage, and support your children as they face this new and challenging role. It seems a shame that we are now so smart from our years of mistakes and learning—but they deserve that same opportunity. Hopefully they will call and ask you if advice is needed, but unless the child is truly in danger, we need to bite our tongues until they fall off rather than interfere and make them feel inadequate. We need to know what their parameters are when we are acting as guardians of their children, so as not to “undo” what they are trying “to do.”
Ask what you can do. Also, ask what that child would like for birthdays, etc. They might not need another stuffed animal, and they really don’t like Grandma to give them socks or underwear. Try to aim for a gift with meaning – a keepsake they will enjoy and even treasure. Books with a note about the year’s events with some cash, Ornaments for their own Christmas trees someday—keep in mind, grandparents are the glue that binds the generations and builds traditions. It is very easy now to even publish a book with pictures and stories of family members, and children love to connect. Share verbally, as well, because that is truly who the child is.
Sometimes in the course of living and raising children, feelings have been wounded and relationships are strained. It is worth everything you can do to mend them so that your grandchildren can have the support of all significant adults in their lives. Most human relationships are not beyond repair if there is a desire, dialog, and a forgiving heart. This world is sometimes not kind. Gone are the days of multi-generational households of people who are working together to sustain the family. More often than not, we are long distance grandparents and we need to connect by the means available to us. Don’t hold grudges (holding a grudge is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die). Make today the day you decide to mend the bridge to make it possible for the children to walk back and forth upon. This can be a life-changing lesson for children to see.
Allow them to serve you.
Being a powerful influence for good in your grandchild’s life doesn’t depend upon your financial reserves. The most powerful lessons in life are taught by allowing others to serve. I think of my little Swedish Grandmother who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and never did get to “come out and play,” but every time I see a pink sponge roller, I think of the times I got to do her hair as a young girl, or her appreciation of my services, and of the stories she told about the old country she loved and left to marry my Grandpa. He died just weeks before I was born, and her words made me love him and made him live in my heart. Never think that your influence is tied to wealth or to health.
Cecelia J. Benson was born and raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She graduated as a registered nurse in Denver, Colorado and specialized in newborn ICU. She and her husband, Vaughn, are the parents of 8 children and have almost 13 grandchildren. After raising her family, she worked as a hospice nurse and with Alzheimer patients.
She has composed hundreds of songs and has CDs that are marketed nationally with songs such as “You Don’t Have to Can To Get To Heaven!” Cecelia has presented numerous musical workshops throughout the United States on the topics of humor therapy, stress management and family relationships.
She has served as the Utah President of American Mothers and is currently on the National Board of American Mothers. She was the co-chair of the national family conferences held in Salt Lake City in 2005 and 2007 at the Conference Center.