30% of grandparents are classified as being “remote”, according to an often-quoted study by Cherin & Furstenberg. The remote definition of these almost 1 out of every 3 grandparents is they rarely see their grandchildren and most contact is made on birthdays and holidays.
This same study says 55% of grandparents are defined as “companionate” where they will do things with their grandchildren but have little authority or control over them. The last 15% of grandparents are defined as “involved” where they take an active role in their grandchild’s life.
We may want to rush to judgement and say “what is wrong with our baby boomer generation” that they are not involved in wanting to raise this next greatest generation. But many of these broken relationships may not be caused entirely by the grandparents.
While grandparents are crucial in a grandchild’s development, grandparents can also cause a strained relationship with the kid’s parents. They can facilitate dividing spouses and can cause generational anxiety.
Issues such as giving unsolicited advice by telling the parents what to do; and disrespecting boundaries by dropping in unannounced are just some examples of how grandparents can cause family strife without realizing it.
Now, just like when we were raising our own kids, a bit of head-butting happens when you simply don’t see eye to eye in the best ways to raise and care for children. But too many times grandparents go way far over that line, which does give our children the right to distance the grandchildren from the grandparents. Examples that push grandparents away include:
- Undermining the parents’ authority by challenging what a parent is teaching their children. Grandparents question the parents’ values and family structure.
- Tendency to play favorites and manipulate siblings.
- Transactional control of the kids through money, gifts, and vacations.
- An overall lack of empathy, known as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, which is so crucial in very young children.
- Grandparents who demand that a grandchild comply and respect them.
We cannot lose sight that grandparents help teach kids values, help strengthen their moral compass, and help advance their language skills. We also know that the more social support grandparents can give to parents, the more bandwidth this gives the parent to just be a good parent. Kids assume that whatever environment they grow up in is normal. So, if they see positive and respectful interaction between their parents and grandparents these are the values they learn. If they see their parents push away their grandparents, this is what they will think is normal.
We must now ask ourselves, what kind of grandparent are we really, or what kind of grandparent do we want to become? How will our grandchildren remember us?
A great topic for discussion, Marc, and thank you for raising it.
Because our children grew up on a different continent than where their grandparents lived, their interactions with their grandparents were so different from the playbook any of us adults had.
They missed the regular interactions of just coming over for dinner or having a sleepover when the parents were out partying. They gained that their grandparents visited and stayed for weeks on end and participated in school activities and the daily routines.
As you write – they will see what happens as normal. May normal be loving and collaborative. After all, improving the life of our childbearing children is the reason why humans ,as the only (of among very few) species, live beyond their child raring years.