When you listen to people talk about their relationship with their grand kids, it is usually in glowing terms. Most that discuss it say there is nothing like it. They say they like their grandchildren much better than they ever liked their kids. They say that there is something special about the bond that materializes between themselves and the children of their children.
But the view of a relationship with a grandchild can vary a great deal, depending on many factors. Of course the relationship the grandparent has with their kids is important. If there is a lot of tension, it can reflect on the grand kids. Worse, if the parents of the grandchild are estranged from the grandparents, the relationship with the grand kids is almost impossible.
There is also one more factor. What was the grandparents relationship with their grandparents like? Did they have a close relationship with many good memories, or are those memories of good times and warm loving grandparents non-existent?
I have often wondered about all these things. Maybe it's because I never had a close relationship with my grandparents and that has made me wonder about why this bond is so special.
In my case my grandmother on my fathers side died four years before I was born and my grandfather on my mothers side died when I was two years old, hence I have no memory of him.
What remained was a grandfather and a grandmother without spouses who both were very distanced from me. My fathers dad lived until I was nine years old, and he actually resided on the farm I grew up on with my two uncles who ran the dairy with my dad. However, other than to say Hi, I have no strong memories of him ever doing anything with me. Mainly I remember him working in his garden two days before he died. That's all I have.
As for my mother's mom, she lived some distance from us, but came to visit when one of my uncles would bring her to see us. I still remember her small house near downtown Salt Lake, and that it smelled, well, funny. She had big velvet sofas and a lot of stuff sitting around that was from Holland, where she and my grandpa had immigrated from in the 1920s. She was kind, but never close to me. At times later in her life when she needed help to get around she would come an live with us for a month at a time, and then be whisked off to one of my mother's brothers or sisters houses for them to take their turn caring for her.
What I do remember best is that she was always trying to give me money; quarters mostly. She would slip them to me when my mother wasn't looking, which kind of put a wedge between my mother and I when I wanted to keep the money and she said my grandmother couldn't afford to do that.
But the reason I never got as close as I should have was language. She spoke Dutch and very little English. My mother did not want me to learn Dutch because, an immigrant herself, she said that I would speak only English because I was an American.
My grandmother died when I was 14, and basically I hardly knew her.
Now compare that with my wife's experience. While she knew neither of her father's parents (they died long before my father-in-law and mother-in-law were even married) she was the apple of her mother's parents eye. She was the oldest grandchild and they always brought presents and had her stay at their home. In fact there was a rift in my wife's family because they seemed to favor her so much, especially over her brother, who was the only boy in the family. My wife's grandparents had raised many, many boys but were short on daughters. They said they had raised enough boys and needed a grand daughter to dote over.
Consequently, my wife and I came from different positions concerning grand children when our first was born in 1998. Then the second came in 2001. The third was born a year and a half ago. Now, along with the three actual blood grandchildren, we also have six step-grandchildren, whom we value every bit as much as the others. All have been a joy, but at times also a trial.
Having raised kids we thought we were very prepared for grand kids. But we also found that dealing with them is an entirely different ball game, in fact a different sport, than dealing with our own, whom are now the parents of these ones we love so much.
How we have approached this challenge brings us to the point of this article. How have our backgrounds, in relationship to our own grandparents prepared us for this. What have we brought to the table, and what are we missing?
There has been a lot written over the years about grand kids and how grandparents deal with them. So much of it is glowing, it is hard to find things that are negative about it. That's a good thing, but life is not the proverbial bowl of cherries for many people, even when it comes to good relationships between grandparents and grandchildren.
And if one looks at the facts and the many scenarios that can appear in those relationships, it is not surprising that "happy ever after" doesn't always exist.
Life throws some real curve balls everyone some times. Grandparents face all kinds of obstacles in dealing with grand kids. Those roadblocks can range from disagreements with the grand kids parents about how they are being raised to grandparents who bite off the job of raising grand kids themselves.
In the past few weeks I have been doing some personal research with friends who have fit into various kinds of scenarios with their grand kids.
One extreme case is a friend named Richard who after he retired, had to raise an eight and a 10-year-old after his 35-year-old daughter died of cancer.
"My relationship with those boys was one of a good grandfather before she died," he told me. "After I had to become a parent, an old one. It changed everything."
It didn't help that one of the boys already was a behavior problem. It got worse after the daughters death. Richard found himself spending a lot of time in the local elementary school's principals office, working out one problem or another. Not a place a 63-year old man thinks he will find himself at that age.
Now Richard was the parent. His wife was ill with cancer herself, so he had to be the main provider of everything to the two boys and also the disciplinarian.
They eventually moved from the city they lived in and to a small town, near to where both he and his wife were raised.
both he and his wife were raised.
The father of the boys eventually appeared (he had not been heard from for years) and took the youngest boy off to the mid-west. But the oldest remained with Richard and his wife until he was 18. Then he left home and they only see him once in a while.
"In some ways I became closer to both of them, but the relationship, because of the trouble, put a wedge between he and I," said Richard. "It will never be the same."
Richard was never able to be a "Disneyland" grandparent to these two grandsons because of the situation. He has other grand kids from other children with which he has great and fun relationships, but these two since they lived with him are still his favorites, despite the trouble and the distance between them.
Another scenario I talked with another friend about is what happens when grandparents find themselves estranged from their children and therefore banned from seeing grandchildren.
Take the example of Brent, a mild mannered grandfatherly type guy who, along with his wife, would love to see their grandchildren.
Problem is, they never have. They only know that their son has three kids and a wife through friends who have told them so. Over 30 years ago their son moved out of the house (when he was 20) and he has never talked to them again.
"I have never figured out what we did that caused him to act the way he has for all these years," said Brent. "We don't even know where he lives anymore. Through friends we have invited him to come to our house for Christmas and holidays and he has ignored the invitations."
Ten years after he moved out of the house, Brent ran into him in a grocery store and tried to talk to him.
"He said that he did not want to talk to me and that he was moving away and out of town and that I would never have to worry about seeing him again," stated Brent. "I have had no direct contact with him since."
Brent and his wife wonder about the grandchildren from their son's marriage. He was their only child so there are no others. They know the kids are in high school and junior high now, and hope when they get to be adults they will look them up.
"We don't even know if those kids know we exist," stated Brent. "All we can do is hope."
Then there is Dan. Dan has four grown children who revered his wife greatly until she died a few years ago. They loved him too, and probably still do. But when he decided to remarry, a couple of them got very upset about someone taking their moms place. This has placed a strain on relationships and now that grandchildren have arrived there is still a rift.
"I think my daughters always liked my wife better than me, and now it is really showing up," he said. "Now that there are grand kids I am finding restrictions on what we can do with them, especially when it involves my present wife. How can I just do things with the grand kids and not include her?"
The remarriage of a father of adult children can be difficult for those children, and when grandchildren are involved it can become even more complex. Just as in a divorce when one or both parents try, maybe not even consciously, to poison one against the other, this kind of situation can be devastating to a grandparent/grandchild relationship.
Dan says he takes it in stride though. Since the grandchildren live across the country from him, it's not like he has to deal with it physically every day.
"Even when we Skype with them I can't have my wife in the camera's range," he said. "I think we will work this out eventually, but it will probably never be very comfortable because of what has been said and done for the last few years."
Dan has hope his sons will soon have grandchildren. They seem to have no problem with his "new" wife. Still, as everyone knows, one child or grandchild for that matter, never makes up for another that is missing.
I also asked all three of the people I interviewed for this article what kind of relationship they had with their grandparents, just to see if that had any bearing on how they treated their kids or grand kids. Richard said his was good and he knew his grandparents well. However he also said his one grandfather who was a rancher "was pretty tough on him."
Brent reported good relationships with grandparents and that his son also had a good relationship with them. They had died before the son had moved out.
Dan said he adored his grandparents and two were still around when his oldest daughter was a child. They doted over her continually, but there was a lot of competition for attention by the great-grand kids because he had many older siblings.
So what can be done about these sticky situations? Experts agree that reconciliation is difficult. But they do have a number of things that parents, children and grandchildren can do.
-Try to understand their point of view. In Richard's case he needs to find himself in his grandson's shoes and view the family the way he has. Brent probably can't because he has no understanding of why his son even distanced himself. Dan does have that opportunity and actually is presently trying to do that.
-Acknowledge the cost of the estrangement for everyone. In these three cases, what has been the emotional cost of the problems. In Brent's case his grandchildren have not know their grandparents at all and in Dan's case, the situation has hurt everyone.
-Explore the problem, make the call and apologize, even if you think you are in the right. Richard has tried to do this, but the grandson is still very cool to him saying that his grandfather was the cause of his problems. Brent doesn't even know where to call. He has considered hiring a private detective, but feels it would be money wasted at this point. As for Dan at this time both daughters still have a hang up about their lost mother. Time well could heal that if Dan and his wife play their cards right and continue to talk with the women.
-Let it go and forgive. Let the past be the past. No apology from the parents of the grand kids may ever be forthcoming, but if the grandparents cannot let go of the feeling of being right, then things may never get solved.
-Make things right. Find out what the children need to get things back on track. The grandparents need to listen and tell their children they will think about what has been said. Grandparents shouldn't act impulsively and say they will accept anything they want, but they also shouldn't argue with them. Grandparents should think about the parameters of what the children say before committing in any way.
Luckily for us, our grand kids and their parents are on good terms with us. However never think that you are going to be the perfect grandparent.
Last summer we began a new family tradition by having the all the grand kids come camping with us for a week in the Uintah's. The parents were there at the beginning of the trip and then came the last day or so. The rest of the time we had the grand kids to ourselves. My wife had always prided herself in not being a "yelling" grandma, one who got after the kids all the time. Once the kids were turned loose on us however, and they began to fight and get into scrapes with each other, yelling happened more than she wanted.
After the trip was over she was disappointed in herself. She was no longer the grandma who didn't yell, and she doubted our family tradition would not go on. She felt the kids would never want to go camping again.
In January while visiting with most of the grand kids I mentioned we were planning the week long trip once again and the kids became excited and wanted to know all about where we were going and when it was.
Adversity can be overcome. Time, patience and love can overcome almost anything that happens, at least most of the time.
Some source material: Grandparents.com.