I never knew either of my grandfathers or my paternal grandmother, but my mother’s mother was an inspiration and a strong influence in my life. She lived a long life and died walking to church. When I worry about my health, as everyone over 50 does, I look in the mirror. If I see my grandmother’s face staring back at me, I take comfort that I am aging as expected.
I always wondered why I got along so well with my grandmother while my mother and I often found ourselves at loggerheads. Speaking with parents and youth in my practice, I realized that this happens in many other families also. Instead of contemplating why this is the case, I wanted to share with you how we have used this fact in my practice to help children and parents get along better during the teen years.
Many teens who adore their grandparents believe that they couldn’t possibly know about their constant fighting with their parents. Many parents would never share with their own parents the difficulties they are experiencing with their children. Both are usually surprised when they learn that grandparents knew all along what was happening and wanted very badly to help, but not to interfere. Some grandparents will interfere but, again, most grandparents I’ve known seemed to have a very good idea of how disruptive interfering can be in a parent-child relationship. This is the first step in being helpful to your children and grandchildren: learn how to help, without interfering. Be ready to hear from either your child or your grandchild if your assistance is seen as an interference and STOP.
The next step is to use your leverage as someone your grandchild respects to bring them closer to their parents. Stories from your child’s youth – funny stories or heart wrenching stories might help your grandchild to understand more about their Mom’s or Dad’s worries or motivations. It might help them to understand why certain situations make them so angry. This can be a bridge to better understanding between teens and parents.
I recall distinctly that my grandmother used to tell me that my mother worried that I was much smarter than her. My mother was dyslexic. She was educated in an era when how well you could spell was considered an important indicator of how smart you were. My mother couldn’t spell to save her life – she even struggled to spell her own name. I have written about this before. However, my mother was a proficient mathematician and had sharp observational skills. Nothing ever got past her, even when she was very elderly. I swear she had eyes in the back of her head! Learning all these things from my grandmother helped me to fight less with my mother.
Finally, there is a rule for writers, “Show, don’t tell” that often works well for grandparents. Lecturing is often tempting, but it’s much more effective to be the person you’d like your child and grandchild to emulate. I recall my grandmother’s gentle, nonjudgmental and gracious approach to people and strive to be like her. At the same time, there are days when this approach has its drawbacks. My mother was much more authentic than my grandmother at times. So were my aunt and uncles, who would say, ”Mother wouldn’t say sh*t if she had a mouthful!” Sometimes that direct approach is more effective. But, in either case, showing can be more effective than telling. Children learn by example, not from lectures.
Most days, I do succeed at emulating my grandmother’s approach to life. Somedays, however, I wish I had watched my mother better.
(My Mother and my children’s Nana, who knew my children especially well because she looked after them when they were young and I was working.)