Grandfamilies: Handling the Contested Crisis


Ayden, Doubtful. September 2009.

A few years ago, one of our grandlittles was expelled from school. The transgression occurred just before his birthday; his parents advised that he was not to receive birthday gifts that year. Canceling a birthday seemed oh, so harsh to my tender Lala’s heart. But his parents had dictated their disciplinary choices from their privileged position on the front lines of parenting. What does a grandparent do in a case like this?

Last week, we talked about how to be helpful when tough times come calling.  But what about those times when you’re positive you know the best possible solution to the current quandary, and your children have other–even opposite–ideas?  These waters can be tough to cross–full of uncharted hazards to navigation and hidden undercurrents that threaten to pull everyone further off course. Here are suggestions to keep the passage from becoming treacherous.

[BIG disclaimer: If you believe your grandchild’s health and well-being is in immediate jeopardy, these suggestions don’t apply. Seek professional guidance.]

The first thing to do is to pray. I must remind myself all the time that prayer should be my first resort (usually, I’m ashamed to say, I remind myself after I catch myself holding it out as my last resort). And no sneaky prayers-to-people, either: You do not get to sit down with your son-in-law and pray, Dear Lord, help this young man to see my wisdom in this matter. 

Next, think back to when you were raising your own children. Did you welcome constructive criticismWere your parents or in-laws meddlesome? Did you long for guidance that never came? Please, reflect on your personal history. Discuss this history with your spouse. It colors our responses more than we realize–especially in cases where we sense urgency and/or high stakes. Understanding our personal historical influences is powerful stuff. 

Here’s the thing, and it’s a tough thing to chew up and swallow: You are not responsible for your grandlittles’ upbringing. That responsibility and privilege belong to their parents. So, provided nobody is being harmed by the parental choices, take a deep breath, step back, and let your kids be parents.

But but but you say. I know how to handle this, you say. I have experience. Might I gently, humbly, invite you to recall that you are undoubtedly the world’s foremost expert on raising the child you raised. Only you know that funny little whistle-exhale that means she’s not really sharing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Only you know the way he chews his lip in his sleep. Nobody knows your children like you do. You see what that means, don’t you? By the same token, your children are the world’s foremost experts on the children they’re raising.

Still feeling compelled to speak up? Okay then. Call, text, or email your child: I have some thoughts about your current parenting situation with little Gertrude. Would you like to know my ideas?  If your child responds, oh yes, please share, wonderful. Let fly all your ideas. But if the response you get is no thank you, or the Deeply Meaningful Silence, then rest in the quiet.

You flailed and foundered and made your way through parenting. And you’re probably pretty proud of the grownups who resulted from those efforts. Give your kids room to do the same. When you don’t second-guess their decisions, you show them you trust them. Don’t deny your children this gift as they make their way, blind and groping and stumbling along as we all did, and do, along the grand, challenging, royal road of parenthood.

rabbit conga

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, OLord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8 (ESV)

rabbit conga

On Tuesdays, we’re talking about families and the joys and challenges that arise when we stretch across three (or more?) generations (child, parent, grandparent). Everyone is welcome, and I hope to hear each generation’s perspective.  Being family is by turns effortless, impossible, blessed, challenging, hurtful, joyous . . . . Let’s talk about it.
Please join us.


Leave a Comment