How To Start Being An “Outside the Box” Grandparent Today
Guest Post by Lindsay Alissa King
At ThirdPath Institute, an organization dedicated to supporting individuals, parents, and leaders as they develop creative approaches to work-life integration, we have embarked on a new initiative called the Grand Parent Project with the support of DADvocacy Consulting Group founder Allan Shedlin. The Grand Parent Project brings together grandparents around the country to explore, amplify, and support grandparents who want to develop rich and involved relationships with their grandchildren and who play key roles in promoting work-life integration efforts across generations.
During our recent virtual Parents Forum, we hosted our first event of the Grand Parent Project, a panel entitled “Three Generations of Care.” This panel featured a range of participants who helped attendees think through different – and unique – approaches to grandparenting and work-life integration. Among the panelists were grandparents who provide full- or part-time care of their grandchildren, who live in multi-generational homes with their grandchildren, who have redesigned their workplaces to have more time with their families, and more. We explored effective communication across generations, ways to cultivate joy in grandparenting (even in tricky situations), and out-of-the-box strategies for making time for loved ones.
We learned so much! For other parents and grandparents who want inspiration to energize their caregiving, here are four key takeaways from our panel:
Grandparents and parents sometimes have different approaches to parenting – and that’s ok.
Parents and grandparents may differ in the way they would like to care for a child, and when multiple sets of parents are involved – say, for grandparents who care for cousins – this can become even more complex. Yet, while grandparents reported that these divergent approaches occasionally create challenges, they also made the point that, with good communication and mutual trust, these differences do not pose insurmountable obstacles to the deep involvement of grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives. To deal with differing caregiving strategies, some grandparents choose to defer to the parents when providing care. Some parents tell their children that “grandparent rules” apply when children are in the care of the elder generation. Some grandparents make thoughtful case-by-case decisions in individual circumstances. Our panelists’ conclusion? All of these tactics work if paired with consistent decision-making and open communication.
Grandparents can help families celebrate “micro” and “macro” traditions.
With the benefit of hindsight, grandparents often recognize that both the “big” moments and the “small” moments with children are equally valuable for fostering loving relationships and building lifelong memories. When parents are in the thick of it, it’s easy to think that the most effort should go into creating major experiences for your children, but with hindsight, grandparents can now see that a simple moment, such as shared laughter when helping a child get into their pajamas, is often just as rewarding as a more complex experience, such as a holiday gathering. In fact, some of our grandparents reported that they were often able to “be present” with their grandchildren in ways that they found more difficult as parents – and grandparents can serve as a good model for the younger generation.
Some of our grandparents reported that they were often able to “be present” with their grandchildren in ways that they found more difficult as parents – and grandparents can serve as a good model for the younger generation.
Out-of-the-box thinking early on shapes the way you’ll grandparent.
If you are a young parent today, consider recalibrating your approach to work-life to ensure you have the time and space you need to be with loved ones and to cherish those relationships in ways that make sense for you. Grandparents who did this early on in their own lives were significantly more likely to spend ample time with their grandchildren down the line. The good news is that grandparents also told us that they didn’t have to neglect their careers to develop good work-life routines. Instead, they got smart about setting boundaries, negotiating non-traditional work hours, and establishing good communication at work.
As a grandparent, there are many different approaches to giving care.
For the grandparents on the panel and for those we interviewed as part of the larger Grand Parent Project, we found there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to how grandparents participate in the lives of the members of younger generations in their families. Some grandparents provide full- or part-time weekday care for grandchildren. Other grandparents use technology to establish joyful traditions with children and grandchildren living at a distance. In fact, one grandmother reported sending clips of her ongoing house renovation to their grandchildren, much to the children’s delight! Other grandparents call their house the “adventure home,” where their grandchildren come for rare and exciting new experiences, like sledding or visits to nearby train stations. Some grandparents vacation with their grandchildren or provide formal school instruction. In all situations, grandparents can build meaningful, life-long relationships that sustain not only the grandchildren but also the grandparents themselves!
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Lindsay Alissa King is the Operations and Community Relations Manager at ThirdPath Institute, a nonprofit organization that assists individuals and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for family, community, and other life priorities. Prior to ThirdPath, Lindsay earned a PhD from the UCLA Department of History, where she researched the history of masculinity, journalism, and European Jews, and worked for multiple nonprofit organizations. Lindsay lives in Texas with her husband and two young children.