Navigating Three Grandparenting Landmines

Larry and Sarah sat in my office, visibly frustrated. Tears came to Sarah’s eyes when she spoke, “I think the discipline of our grandson has driven a wedge between us and our son. We used to be close, but that has changed.”

Larry began to explain what happened, “Our son and his wife went away for a seven day vacation to Hawaii and we offered to take their three children. We thought it would give us some extended time with our grandchildren.”

Sarah chimed in, “Yeah, but instead it’s caused a lot of problems. We learned we were not prepared to deal with media and food choices as well as discipline.” Larry stated, “There was some misbehavior from our oldest grandson Nathan and I had to deal with it. Nathan snuck out in the middle of the night and was out half the night. Someone called me and made me aware that it happened.”

Sarah jumped in, “We never expected to have to deal with this sort of thing as a grandparent. It kind of caught us off guard.” Larry continued, “When I found out it happened I sat him down and told him he betrayed our trust and that he was not going to be able to go out with his friends until his parents got back.”

“And that isn’t all,” Sarah added, “We were shocked how much time our grandchildren spent on their phones texting friends and watching stuff, so we had them put their phones away after dinner each night. Two of the three grandchildren were picky eaters and refused to eat half of the meals I served. I wish I would have known about their media and eating habits before they arrived.”

The frustration was evident on Larry’s face, “The most difficult thing was when Nathan texted his mother, who said he was allowed to go out with friends and use his phone. It caused a big disagreement. I told Nathan that his mom and dad had given us the authority while they were gone and we were going to stick with our decision. We were given the responsibility and authority and we acted upon it. We had hoped to build memories with our grandchildren, but instead we experienced conflict that’s caused division in our family.”

Larry and Sarah’s boundaries were appropriate, but they were not on the same page as their children. Grandparents are partners with parents working together to encourage a child to know, love, and serve Christ. In order to successfully partner together, parents and grandparents must be on the same page regarding numerous topics including how and when grandparents are to enforce boundaries while watching a grandchild. This article will equip you to partner together by having a conversation with your adult child that focuses on three sticky subjects grandparents often face: discipline, media, and food.

Discipline

The first topic to discuss with your child centers around what to do when a grandchild is under your care and is disobedient. The more time you spend with a grandchild, the more important it is for clarity around this topic, especially if you watch grandchildren weekly or for an extended period of time. Here are two examples of questions you might consider asking your child.

How would you like us to navigate discipline? In general, you want to learn if your child wants you to administer some form of discipline or wait until the grandchild goes home and allow the parent to deal with the child’s disobedience. If a child prefers that you do not discipline a grandchild, then ask your child how he or she envisions boundaries being enforced at your home. If your child wants you to administer discipline, then it may be helpful to talk about specific examples such as what to do if a child refuses to go to bed or is repetitively disrespectful. Ask a couple of questions about “What should I do if…?” The goal is not to insinuate that grandchildren have behavior problems, but rather to communicate expectations and reduce surprises.

What discipline methods do you want us to utilize? Your aim is to arrive at an agreement about the methods you can utilize to discipline a grandchild in your care. What is your child’s preference about time outs, grounding, taking away a personal item like a phone, or other methods you might use? Do you have the freedom to spank a younger grandchild or does your child view this as their responsibility? Most grandparents do not want to spank a grandchild, but some grandparents watch grandchildren on a weekly basis and have been asked by their children to do so in order to maintain consistency in a grandchild’s life. You want clarity about how you should discipline a grandchild at your home.

Media

When my oldest two sons were in preschool, they were blessed to spend a couple afternoons each week at their grandparent’s house. One day, they came home and begun talking about a Star Wars movie that they had seen at grandma and grandpa’s house. I was disappointed because I had envisioned watching Star Wars at some point in the future as a fun father and son activity. I asked their grandparents if the boys had watched Star Wars at their home. As it turned out, the boys had only watched a commercial for a new Star Wars movie. It reminded me not to jump to conclusions and helped me realize I had expectations about television and movies that I had not communicated. It led to a productive conversation about media usage when grandchildren were at their home. If you have never discussed this topic, here are some questions you can ask to clarify media expectations for a grandchild:

  • What movies and shows is a grandchild allowed to watch?
  • What video games can a grandchild play?
  • How much time do you allow your child to spend on devices such as iPads or smart phones?
  • Would you like us to ask permission before watching something a grandchild has never seen?

If parents are conservative in their media choices, air on the side of caution with the use of technology in your home. If parents are liberal in their media consumption, do not speak poorly to a grandchild or be condescending to adult children about their choices. If you are going to establish media boundaries that a grandchild doesn’t have in his or her own home, you can do this by stating that at grandma and grandpa’s house we only watch television for an hour per day because we want to spend time having fun together.

Your goal is to learn parent preferences, discover unstated expectations, and arrive at an agreement about what is acceptable and unacceptable regarding screen usage at your home. For younger grandchildren, invite your child to provide a list of parent-approved shows or send movies that a grandchild can watch. For older grandchildren with a phone, ask your child to share how the phone is used at their home. Is the phone allowed in the bedroom at night? Can the grandchild text or call others? Is the grandchild allowed to go on the internet? You will build trust if you let your child know that you want to honor his or her media preferences when a grandchild is at your home.

Food

Craig approached me with a big smile on his face and asked if I wanted to see a picture of the vegetable drawer in his refrigerator. His mischievous smile told me that I wouldn’t see carrots or lettuce. “Sure,” I said, intrigued by what I would find. Craig pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of a fully extended vegetable drawer that was halfway filled with full sized candy bars of all varieties. “I love to feed my grandchildren vegetables and they love to eat them,” he said with a chuckle.

While there is nothing wrong with feeding grandchildren “vegetables,” have you ever asked yourself where this idea of grandparenting comes from? Who decided that a grandparent’s job description includes spoiling grandchildren with large amounts of sugar?

The truth is that Craig longs to be a good grandparent. He’s doing what he thinks grandparents do and that comes with a daily quota for sugar distribution. Craig loves his grandchildren and he wants them to love Jesus. But without realizing it, Craig’s approach to grandparenting created frustration because his son purposefully limits the amount of sugar his children consume.

Craig’s experience with sugar and Larry and Sarah’s experience with picky eaters is not uncommon, which is why a third topic to discuss with your child revolves around mealtime and food preferences. For some parents, food is a major issue due to food sensitivities, allergies, or eating habits. Generally, if there are food issues that matter to your child or grandchild, it should matter to you. Here are a handful of questions that you can ask your child to gain clarity about what food to serve to a grandchild at your home:

  • What are your food preferences?
  • How can we accommodate specific eating habits?
  • Are there any special diets, allergies, or sensitivities we should be aware of?
  • What meals, snacks, and drinks are your children’s favorites?
  • How much sugary foods and beverages are allowed?
  • What would you like us to do when a grandchild refuses to eat a meal or does not eat everything on his or her plate?

If your adult children or grandchildren have different eating habits or preferences than you, accommodate as possible. One of the secrets to making grandma and grandpa’s house special is food that everyone enjoys and feels good about.

Initiate a conversation

Larry and Sarah were not prepared for some common problem areas that grandparents often experience with grandchildren. I hope that Larry and Sarah’s painful experience encourages you to initiate a conversation with your adult child about some sticky subjects that often are overlooked, but are important to discuss so that you can be on the same page with one another. You can do that by simply inviting your child to grab coffee or casually bringing up one or more of these topics on the phone.

God designed parents and grandparents as partners working toward the same biblical goals, but with different and complementary roles. Wise grandparents do what they can to learn parenting expectations and implement parenting preferences. These three topics should help you get on the same page with your adult child, avoid common problem areas, and strengthen your family by being a disciple-making grandparent.

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