By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
Grandparents are supposed to be kid experts. We’ve raised our own children and by now should be seasoned and mellowed-out enough to roll with the ups and downs of our grandkids’ lives. Those of us with new grandbabies harbor visions of becoming the perfect, loved-more-than-anybody-else Mimi, or Lolli, or Pops, or whatever cute name we’ve decided to be called.
Then the pre-teen and teen years come along and our bubble bursts. Oh, our grandchildren still love us bunches—and we still can’t believe the overwhelming love we hold for them—but their struggling hormones make them difficult to live with at home and even at our house.
We want to carry on rational, adult conversations with them, yet sometimes struggle with what to say. And sometimes we fail to say the right things and we know it.
To help identify quagmires, what types of conversations should we definitely avoid?
1. Insulting words about their parents
Lighthearted stories about the antics and pranks of your own children can be entertaining for your grandchildren. These are fine, and even lend a sense of pride at being old enough to hear them along with learning family lore. But if you still feel unhappy or sad about the behavior of one of your grandchild’s parents, she doesn’t need to know—unless she expresses the same emotion first in a conversation.
Even then, she needs your guidance to navigate toward an effective and positive way of dealing with her feelings. It’s not your place to confide in your grandchildren about the failures of their parents.
Another sticky area is when our grandchild’s parents are divorced. No matter how the custody is arranged, and no matter how dysfunctional we might think our kid’s ex-spouse is, the child does not need to hear it from us. They love Mom and Dad and are trying to work out their own thoughts.
We don’t have to praise that parent, but it’s important to speak carefully when the subject comes up. In our case, we simply choose to keep busy with other topics—there is plenty of activity in our grandson’s life to talk about. When he mentions the other parent, we listen, comment in a way that lets him know we heard and value his words, and then move on to another subject.
2. Stories about how much worse you had it as a kid
You know how these stories go. “I had to walk two miles in the snow to school every day—uphill both ways!” Or, “We never got to wear pants to school, even though I walked three blocks to the bus stop in sub-freezing weather.” And then there is this one, “We only had one family car, and everybody shared it. I never had my own car.” Actually, the last two examples were from my personal experience.
While it might be okay to tell these stories, they should never be used to make a child feel as if she is taking things for granted or like her feelings aren’t valid. Maybe she is being ungrateful but helping her identify her blessings might be a better way to approach the subject.
While you may think you had a really tough life as a young person, your difficulties didn’t seem any worse to you than your grandkids’ do to them. Yes, they have different problems, but that doesn’t make theirs less painful.
The grandparent who constantly tells stories to “one-up” their grandchild runs the risk of never being taken seriously, or worse, being viewed as an old, out-of-touch person who doesn’t understand modern life—and is therefore irrelevant.
3. Negative bias about the younger generation
I used to hear this from an elderly aunt every time our family visited her. She was convinced the reason for the increased crime rate in her city—and the unemployment rate, and every other social ill—was teenagers and their bad behavior.
Admittedly, teen gangs were becoming a problem at that time, but the reasons for the rise in gang activity were, and still are, complex. All her problems were not due to teenagers!
A doomsday view of society is not only unhelpful but can frighten our grandchildren. Placing blame on a particular generation merely perpetuates stereotypes. It doesn’t solve any problems. Do we have issues facing us today that were unheard of in our youth? Certainly. This is always going to be true, regardless of the decade.
Unfortunately, a downward spiral of society is the natural trend of mankind apart from the intervention of God. So, if there is any blame, maybe we should look at ourselves to see how often we pray for a spiritual awakening, and how open we are to the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
A great conversation to have with our grandchildren might be about finding ways to make a difference in their world. Do you know of any kids who are doing something special? Can you brainstorm with your grandkids possible options for them?
Maybe offer to take the oldest on a mission trip with you to work with children in a third-world country. Such an experience can change a teenager’s life and possibly their career choice. And it can make the problems at home seem less daunting for both of you.
I know of one family whose son became interested in local politics. He began writing letters to the editor of the newspaper, and eventually wrote articles they printed. He’s in college now preparing for a future in policy making. He was encouraged by his parents and grandparents to help change what he saw as problems.
I would have benefitted from my aunt’s concerns if she had encouraged me to volunteer serving meals at a homeless ministry instead of listening to her berate those homeless people for daring to sleep on her street.
4. Condemning all electronics and social media as evil
Different families allow differing amounts and types of screen time for their children. It’s important that as grandparents, we don’t criticize the rules our grandkids have at home. We might think they spend too much time on their phones at home, and they might bring them to our house. But we can set our own rules.
Banning cell phones from the dinner table and limiting other screen time is reasonable, and can be discussed without condemning the devices.
Refusing to acknowledge the reality a child lives in, and limiting conversation about it to negative comments, only serves to drive him away. He won’t want to go to Nanny and Papa’s house if all they do is nag him about putting away his phone.
There are plenty of activities in which to engage with your grandchildren that keep them moving and thinking and talking. Be creative in discovering things you can do together. This will naturally lead to less screen time.
But if a child wants to talk about a video game she plays, make an effort to educate yourself about that game so you can talk intelligently about it. And when a rainy day comes along, enjoy a movie or play a video game together. You can even text silly memes across the room to each other.
Relax, Grandma. The world won’t end if you join Snapchat with your grandchildren. It might even help you keep up with their lives.
5. Any comment that degrades their worth
Sometimes, the birth of a grandchild doesn’t happen in happy circumstances. Many different issues might be the reason, but the result is a child who bears no responsibility for any of them. And any associated drama can spill over onto this precious one. So let’s be conscious of our words so we don’t add to it.
The child might act out his frustrations in behavior that grabs our attention. This does make our lives more difficult. But we need to remember that bad behavior does not equal a bad child. Separating the behavior from our emotions helps us deal with it appropriately. Then we can express our love more easily—because unconditional love is what we as grandparents need to offer.
Many grandparents even gain custody of their grandkids in order to give them the best chance at a hopeful future. If this is you, please know you are my heroes. But your stress level may be extremely high. That’s when it’s easy to let it slip just how hard life is because of the child.
And we all know that pre-teen and teenage kids are simply a pain sometimes because of their tumultuous hormones and chaotic social lives. Life is more challenging with these kids than with younger ones.
However, these years also present opportunities for fun along with meaningful experiences. Attending any event your grandchild participates in means more to them than they may ever express. And some of the best conversations that build lasting relationships and trust can happen late at night when your grandchild sleeps over.
These categories are all negative in tone, and that’s why we should avoid them. While we shouldn’t shy away from difficult subjects, we need to keep our tone positive.
Every topic can have an upside and we need to help our grandkids find it. They are bombarded daily with negativity, but we can point them toward the bright view.
Kathryn Graves, author of the book Fashioned by God, is a style expert, fashion coach, and Premier Designs jewelry consultant. She is also a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher. Kathryn helps women discover the source of real beauty in Jesus, freeing them to gain confidence in their personal styles. She is Mimi to three grandsons, and loves to play with color, both in fashion and interior design, and painting with pastels.
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