Q: Our daughter and son-in-law have consented to be the “guardians” of our first grandchild, due in a few months. In preparation for this momentous event, we want to understand what our boundaries are. They will be living fairly close and we anticipate seeing them fairly often. When should we give advice and when should we not give advice? If we see them handling something wrongly, should we mention it? If they disagree with something we do, should we change our ways? Thanks for helping us out with this.
Your first sentence summed up exactly how my wife and I saw the role of our children in our grandchildren’s lives. The young ones were our grandchildren first, their children second. In effect, they acted “in loco grandparentis.” But in all seriousness, you obviously have a good sense of humor, which you will sometimes need, let me assure you.
As you are well aware, parenting is to a great degree a trial-and-error process, and some parents make more errors along the way, and some children make for more parental error. It is difficult, therefore, for those of us who’ve gone through the struggle and emerged relatively unscathed to keep our mouths shut when we see young parents making mistakes we learned not to make (after making them). The problem is, they have to travel the same road in order to learn the same lessons.
Most of us baby boomers have a different parent-view than our children. We understand the pitfalls of trying to be liked by one’s kids. We know that explanations lead to arguments. And so on.
When grandparents try to sow these seeds of wisdom on ground that isn’t prepared, the resulting harvest is likely to be bitter. Many parents and grandparents out there are barely on speaking terms as a result of conflicts over how grandchildren are being raised. You don’t want to go there.
My personal policy has been to give advice only when it’s asked for, albeit there have been times when I’ve said “I have some experience here, so if you want some advice, I’ll be glad to share it.” I have only given unsolicited advice when I truly felt that the health, broadly defined, of the child in question was at issue.
In short, try your best to lead the horse to the water, but stop well short of trying to make it drink.