One of the issues I hear my clients talk about most frequently is the issue of grandparenting.  It may seem surprising that being a grandparent can be fraught with distress and disappointment for so many people, but these are common presenting problems among my older clients.  If we look only at media representations of the grandparent/grandchild relationship, it seems so straightforward and joyous. However, media representations tend to leave out one important element: the adult children and their spouses who are the parents of these grandchildren.

Relationships with one’s adult children can be exceedingly varied and complex and these relationships are shaped by many factors.  The tone and quality of the earlier parent-child relationship, unresolved conflicts between parents and children, individual personalities, and differences in expectations about grandparenting are only a few of these factors.

The quality and level of involvement your relationship with your grandchildren may also be influenced by your relationship with your adult child’s spouse or life partner, the involvement level of the other grandparents in the children’s lives, and external variables like geographic proximity between your family and theirs.  If you throw divorces, step-parents, and new spouses into the mix, you can begin to see the potential for conflict and complexity in these relationships.

Navigating these sometimes tumultuous waters requires thoughtfulness, understanding, and flexibility.  The more complicated the situation with your adult children, the more you will need to examine and re-examine your role and your expectations in relation to grandparenting. Getting clear about your own desires and expectations is an important first step.

Discussion questions for the group:

  • What are the variables impacting your grandparenting relationships?
  • How do you see your role as a grandparent? Are you the fun grandparent that gets to love your grandchildren without taking a lot of responsibility for their care? Are you the type of grandparent that wants to babysit and have a lot of involvement in the family’s day-to-day lives?
  • How do your expectations match or fail to match your adult children’s expectations?
  • Share some strategies you have used to navigate the tricky waters of these relationships.
  • How have you had to adjust your expectations and/or behavior to make it work?
  • What are your hopes for your relationships with your grandchildren as they grow into young adults?