Written by Joannie DeBrito from Focus on the Family
Some dear friends of mine have not seen their grandson since he was about 9 months old and he just passed his third birthday. I believe a valiant effort has been made to reconcile with their son and his wife, even though they’ve never been given an explanation about why they’ve been cut out of their lives.
In my mind, this is tragic because they aren’t able to be available to provide support to their son and daughter-in-law. Additionally, their grandson is missing out on the love, kindness, and compassion that he would most certainly receive from my friends. In this case, there doesn’t appear to be a way to resolve conflict due to no mention of a problem or precipitating event. These situations call for intense and fervent prayer that God may intervene to bring wisdom, discernment, and healing.
When there has been an obvious disagreement between grandparents and their children, it’s important to seek reconciliation for the benefit of all. Difficult relationships between grandparents and their children are painful for both parties and interfere with grandparents having nurturing relationships with their grandchildren. If this describes you, there are some steps you can take toward healing relationship hurts.
Let go of past disagreements
It’s best to take a “that was then, and this is now” approach, making every effort to avoid letting previous conflicts impact current circumstances. Take the initiative to go to your son or daughter. Suggest that you move forward with the goal of encouraging and supporting one another and their child(ren).
Recognize your role has changed
Your children are and need to be the primary parents to your grandchildren. That means they need to be given the freedom to parent according to their beliefs and values, set the rules of the household and establish rewards for following them and consequences for breaking them. You need to remember that it’s likely that you won’t be the primary caregiver for your grandchildren long-term, so you would be wise to empower your children to be good parents.
If your children are young, inexperienced, and/or clueless about how to care for your grandchildren well, you can certainly serve as mentors to teach and encourage them. But you should also bear in mind that many things have changed since you were raising your own children. What worked for you as parents may not work for your children and grandchildren.
In other cases, there may be legitimate concerns about actions your children are taking with your grandchildren that could have long term negative consequences. For example, you may observe harsh verbal and physical punishment that appears to be related to your granddaughter showing signs of depression. Or, your son may be encouraging your grandson to pursue changing his gender.
We are called to nurture our children and grandchildren and to share our wisdom with them so we shouldn’t shy away from discussing significant concerns with our children. However, there are some ways to talk that are likely to encourage open dialogue and conflict resolution, rather than create more problems.
Ask questions about issues that are causing you to feel concern for your grandchild(ren). Then listen carefully to your child’s answers. You may find out that your child shares your concerns and has already begun to address them in some way. He or she may have already contacted a counselor, pastor, or another professional to get some help. Or, you may learn that your son or daughter is allowing your grandchild to explore some areas of life that are outside of your and their comfort zone while also providing very strict boundaries about how far that exploration can go. For example, one grandfather I know was appalled to hear from his 11-year-old grandson that his son had supposedly given the young man permission to “pursue homosexuality.” What he learned when he gently asked his son, was that his grandson had asked his son about homosexuality and the father had suggested that the two of them explore the topic together learning more about what homosexuality is.
Finally, if you’re still really concerned after hearing from your son or daughter, try the SOLVE plan:
S – Set up a time to talk that is most likely to be a non-conflict time in a place with few distractions. These conversations are usually best had away from the hectic pace of a busy family and the interruptions that often derail discussions.
O – Offer some specific reasons why you are concerned and one suggestion for how things could be improved. The way you offer a suggestion is especially important. Do you hear how the following two statements might be heard very differently and encourage defensiveness or consideration?
“Miranda is out of control with vaping. You should search her room, purse, and belongings and take that stuff away from her!”
“I noticed that Miranda is vaping a lot and I am concerned about how that might be affecting her health. I’ve heard you say you’re concerned too. Have you thought about sharing your concerns with her and setting some boundaries around vaping?”
L – Look for agreement where you and your son or daughter agree and talk about how you can support one another for the good of your grandchild(ren).
V – Volunteer to be a part of the solution and vow to work with your son or daughter to resolve the problem
E – Execute the first step of the agreed-upon solution and evaluate how it’s going in a few weeks. If nothing has changed, continue to talk. If things have changed, move on to the next suggestion that may bring about more change.
If you follow these steps, you will achieve two things. First, by working collaboratively with your son or daughter, you will resolve some of the conflict in your relationship, and second, you will hopefully be a part of helping your grandchild.
The opportunity to shape the hearts, minds, and souls of grandchildren is a privilege that must be taken very seriously. Parenting is an exhausting journey with rich rewards when children are provided with a loving environment in which to grow and develop. If you establish a cooperative and collaborative relationship with your children and are able to contribute meaningfully to that environment, you’re likely to see the benefits of your teamwork in grandchildren who feel safe, secure, loved, and valued.
As you journey on the road of co-parenting with your child, may you find inspiration in these words from Scripture:
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others (Colossians 3:12-13 NLT).