Tips for parents from grandparents

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

We admit it! Grandparenting is far less anxiety producing and much more fun than parenting, and we are loving every minute of it! We are blessed to have our two grandchildren living close by, and savor every minute we spend with them.

As we enjoy the time with them, we can’t help but reflect back on what it was like being parents and what we experienced then and what we wished we knew then as we tried to figure out how best to parent our kids. So here are some suggestions from grandparents that might be helpful in the midst of the stress of parenting:

  1. Savor the time with your kids! We know, that sounds obvious! But time goes quickly - very quickly. Parenting is exhausting, anxiety producing, and frequently you are doing it while balancing two careers, keeping up a house, all with not enough sleep, and frequently not enough extended family support. In the midst of stress and exhaustion, it is sometimes difficult to savor the moments with your kids and enjoy them. Without minimizing the stress, be intentional about setting aside time to play with your kids, and track carefully what they enjoy. Experiment with a variety of activities so as to expose your kids to many options. Most importantly, though, enjoy the time with your kids both as a family and individually with each of your children: brief periods of individual time with each child go a long way. In the end, the time spent enjoying your kids has far more value then anything you will accomplish at work or anywhere else for that matter.
  2. Don’t take yourself so seriously. This is the age of the helicopter parents, and the snowplow parents, and all manner of over-involved parents who are convinced that there must be a perfect plan to guarantee success. Despite that, know that there is no perfect book, DVD, or parenting course that will guarantee your children are successful! No one has all the answers to doing it right, and don’t trust anyone who says they do. You will not do it perfectly no matter how hard you try. Every parent we have ever talked to wishes they could do a few things differently: us included! So, learn from your mistakes, but be easy on yourself. Keep a sense of humor and find ways to laugh at yourself. Share your “mistakes” and anxiety with someone you trust and grow through the mistakes. Obviously, if you are stuck, don’t be afraid to get help from a certified family therapist. At the end of the day, parenting is an exercise in humility.
  3. Nothing changes children's temperament! All the research says no matter what kind of parents we are, our kids have unique temperaments and nothing will change that. We learned that experientially, with two kids with very different temperaments. A strong willed child will always be strong willed, and a compliant child will typically try to please. Find ways to understand your children’s temperaments and work with, not against, them.   For example, rather than trying to change your strong willed child’s personality (unless you enjoy being frustrated), present them with choices instead of arguing with them. You will do better giving a strong willed child two or three wardrobe choices rather than just telling them to get dressed. Always be careful of the interactional sequences you get into: getting into arguments with certain temperaments will always guarantee you lose.
  4. Make sure your alliance with your partner is solid and you are on the same team.  Children love to divide and conquer, and if your marriage isn’t strong, and you don’t cultivate your relationship with quality alone time, parenting will be even more difficult. Make sure you are preserving couple time to keep your marriage strong with time to relax and enjoy each other. Process your frustrations with each other to make sure those frustrations don’t get projected onto your children. Brainstorm together what you are observing in your children and how best to respond. If you are not meeting each other’s needs as a couple, it becomes too easy to hope that your kids will meet your needs. A marriage that is not a strong partnership, makes parenting even more exhausting.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Parenting is difficult work and taps into deep fears, especially when we want to change history. Having close friends or confidants who understand that struggle is invaluable. You need others to laugh and cry with who have been through it, or are going through it too; where you can share your hopes, dreams and frustrations.

What grandparents know is that in the end, nothing has more value and creates more meaning than spending quality time with your children and watching them grow and develop. It is so easy to get caught up in the business of life, and forget what is most important. In the end, part of the meaning of life is taking satisfaction in launching the next generation, and changing history for the better.