As our society has become more mobile, extended families have become more fragmented. Grandparents are now having to be involved long distance, and this places a burden on them to learn to know kids they may have never even met.
Grandparents can often provide both a refuge to a grandchild, and a support to the child's parents, by finding a balance between loving the grandchild unconditionally and giving them a break from a stressful situation, while still respecting the parents' authority to set the standards for the child.
In some situations, a grandparent may end up raising the child. Many studies have been done on this, and unfortunately, they tend to focus on the negative aspects. And no one can deny that it creates an imperfect situation, and does place particular stresses on the grandparents. But research has also shown that it is healthier for the children to be raised by loving grandparents than by total strangers. In this situation though, the more joyful position of grandparent disappears, as they re-assume the direct role of parents.
Another aspect of grandparenting is your relationship with your own children. This topic is not one that some parents want to address, but it is important enough that some religious leaders have brought up the issue recently. The rest of this page comes from a chapter in Finding Joy In Parenthood, which deals with letting your children go once they are grown.
Once my kids leave home, their choices are their own. If they need a wake up call, I'll give it if I think it is important, but overall, I don't tell them what to do anymore. I don't remind them of appointments, I don't pay their bills or bail them out if they get in trouble. I won't co-sign on an auto loan, and I won't take out a college loan for them. I feel it is my responsibility to give them the tools to solve problems, to work well, and to be responsible. Beyond that, it is their life, not mine.
I WILL go with them to assess a house or car, take them someplace if they ask me the same as they would any other friend, or help them out in an emergency situation which they did not cause for themselves. I am still their mother, I just have a different responsibility to them than I did when they were home.
I also feel it is very important to not interfere with my children's relationships with others. Sometimes I will offer counsel, but if they choose a spouse that I don't like too well, all I can do is give them a word of counsel if I feel there is a major issue that will be a problem, such as high debt, former children or prior divorce which will cause problems that need to be faced, potential abusive behaviors, potential alcoholism, or other things that are very likely to cause serious problems later. Not to stop them in their course, so much as to help them understand that when they commit to the relationship, they must also commit to working constructively on the issues which pose the problem or potential problem. If I simply do not like the person too well, then I need to stay out of it.
I have no business involving myself in their financial issues, and I have no business criticizing the spouse to my child. Once a marriage exists between my child and someone else, it is my job to offer sound support and counsel that strengthens that marriage, and not to try to keep my power as parent, or to cause friction between them. It is not about who is right and who is wrong, and it is not about my power base. It is about appropriately supporting them in developing a healthy, permanent relationship which is strong enough to withstand the storms that will come for them.
There comes a time when your children move out, that your authority over them is no longer valid. They no longer owe you obedience. They owe you kindness, and they owe you the consideration of listening to your suggestions. They are not required to follow your instructions! For them to choose something else does not mean they do not respect your advice, it simply means they see things in a different way than you do, and that they have the right to choose for themselves. If you try to hang onto that authority too long, you will become a source of conflict for them, instead of the support that you should be.
Your relationship can evolve into a friendship, where you address each other as equals, and develop an interdependent relationship that is on different terms than it was when you had parental authority over them. A more natural give and take develops, where there is more equality on both sides, but it only develops if the parent allows it, and in some ways, requires it by not encouraging behaviors which would keep the child from accepting responsibility for their own lives.
Parents and children are often in a state of conflict when the child leaves home. It can be very easy to let that develop into a control battle which is all about winning, and not about preserving a relationship. You have to let some things go. You may be accused unfairly. Be the adult, and let it go. Make the effort to avoid conflict and repair the relationship if the child allows. It is very important to not let that control battle become an ongoing habit that lasts into the child's marriage and middle years.
Letting go does not just mean letting go of your child, and letting them go make mistakes and discoveries independent of you. It also means letting go of their childhood, and letting go of your behavior patterns where they are concerned.
Consider, in your actions toward them, would you treat a good friend this way? If not, then it is no longer appropriate for you to treat your child that way.
A cool thing happens when we make the choice to acknowledge their independence. A huge load lifts. We are no longer responsible as parents for what they do. We are free to enjoy the good aspects of the relationship. Yes, we will always worry when they choose wrong, and their actions can still cause us deep pain. But we no longer need to keep the same vigilance that we do with younger children.
And friendship with your adult children can be very rewarding. When the relationship becomes more reciprocal, it develops the potential to deepen the respect and caring, so rather than getting further away, your kids still stay close, but with a different relationship basis.