Artist: Bernadette Curtin
Do we feel we are entitled to certain privileges, or special entitlements as a grandparent? “I have a right to tell you what to do because I am ‘older’, ‘wiser’, ‘I know better’.” Self-entitlements, rights, expectations and privileges can be perpetuated by family traditions or personal ideals and beliefs, or they may be based on society’s expectations of how the ‘role’ of grandparenting should look.
Grandparents who don’t play by the ‘role rules’ of being the perfect grandparent are often perceived as letting the family down. For example, grandparents are often expected to babysit ‘on call’, and when they either choose not to, or are unable to do so, they can be made to feel guilty. Likewise, there may be a sense of obligation to be willing to go to sporting events, concerts, special events at schools, birthday parties and to give birthday and Christmas presents even if they can’t afford them, and many times these presents are a substitute for true connection and relationship with the grandchildren.
Expectations can cause much conflict and angst to both the grandparents and their family members. So too can any sense of self-entitlement.
Grandparents may feel entitled to offer ‘good advice’. They may believe it is their privilege to be able to comment on what their children do as parents which is often hard to resist when they see the parents making what they judge to be ‘mistakes’. It can be challenging for grandparents to sit back when they feel they have something valuable to contribute to the raising of children especially if there are behavioural issues going on. Grandparents may also have a sense of guilt for how they raised their own children and want to make amends for past mistakes through the role of grandparent. However, parents often perceive this ‘advice’ as judgement, comparison and even interference in the raising of their children.
Anything expressed by a grandparent out of a need to be liked, a need to be seen to be useful, or from an investment in making things better, is likely to be felt as an imposition and not heard or taken up even though it might seem like the ‘right’ action to take.
Imposition is felt when we have an attachment to wanting things to be different rather than just allowing things to unfold. Is it worth considering that grandparents have raised their children and now it is their adult children’s turn to raise their own children in the manner they feel suits their family?
So how can a grandparent contribute to the raising of children without imposing their opinions or acting from expectations?
The art is to stay fully engaged and observe with a sense of poise and authority – our body knows when to respond – therefore we will know if there is something to say or do in the moment. It also helps to have a conscious awareness of any ideals and beliefs that we may hold onto about the grandparenting role, which could then impact relationships within the family.
Are we able to step back and observe the family dynamics without feeling that we are ineffectual when we can’t ‘fix’ the situation with solutions? Are we able to stop the self-blaming, the self-judgement or even feelings of inadequacy when our ‘advice’ is rejected or when we choose to not step in and help out?
The key is to be who we naturally are in our tenderness, sensitivity and authority.
By observing without judgement, we will feel what is needed in the moment. A natural response is not imposing and is more likely to be heard rather than the ‘good advice’ that is often given to better a situation. Be aware if you are trying to fit into the role of grandparenting and be prepared to let go of what we think ‘ought’ to be said.
Playing a role is like being an actor – we step into the role. The role is already written, we just say the lines and we are moulded to become that character. We no longer move in our natural flow.
A role sets up the duality of being ‘right or wrong’, with no equality and no allowance for differences. Roles influence our movements to perform a certain way according to rules and regulations. Is playing a role therefore a true or loving way of relating to others? In role playing, there is no valuing or honouring of another’s choices, or personal experiences and no interest in communicating with understanding and respect for another’s feelings.
If we identify with playing a role, we make ourselves less. We let the role dictate our movements, which impose expectations on ourselves or others, and it may give us a sense of entitlement as a grandparent. If we can have a gracious acceptance of one another, we then respect each other as equals and no longer allow the role to govern our movements.
Grandparents who have a quality of living based on a commitment to life and a foundation of integrity and love have an amazing opportunity to offer true wisdom.
Grandparents just need to be their natural self. When we respond to family situations with no sense of obligation, entitlement and no imposition from any long-held ideals and beliefs or adhering to the ‘expected grandparenting role’ we can then be a true reflection and inspiration of how to ‘grandparent’ in a loving and respectful way.
Then in our elder years, by claiming who we are in essence, we can truly be a Grand Mother or Grand Father.
Lynne P.M., Ruth A, Sandra N,
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read:
Stepping Out of the Many Roles of Motherhood