During this time of COVID-19, many grandparents have stepped in and expanded our roles as caregivers to help support our families. This has brought with it many joys. The happiness of being able to see our children and grandchildren regularly, being part of their lives, influencing their growth, and feeling needed are all food for the soul.

Nurturing our multigenerational relationships provides benefits to our collective mental, physical, and emotional health. Yet, along with these delights come challenges that are amplified when grandparents step in to help with childcare.

Grandparents are concerned about their own health, strength, and stamina, as well as how to manage limit-setting and consequences for the grandkids. They are also grappling with the differences between their own style of raising kids and that of their offspring.

Meanwhile, while they absolutely appreciate the help, parents are feeling that follow-through of their parenting choices on issues such as rules, food, screen time, schooling, and safety around the pandemic (to name a few) are often ignored or challenged.

So how do we address these concerns while fostering our important relationships? First, it would be helpful to find a time to communicate when things are calm, rather than when conflict is occurring. Having the intention of checking in with each other in order to promote mutual wellbeing will help set the tone for future communication and harmony. Here are some questions that may be helpful for family members to consider for themselves and ask of one another.

For Parents:

  • What are your expectations for the grandparent caregivers?
  • What are you flexible about? What is not flexible?
  • What do you need from the caregivers to feel comfortable?
  • Are the grandparent caregivers aware of the expectations that you have for your child?
  • Have you decided and communicated what you want to know from your helpers so you get updates about how the day went (challenges and successes of the kids as well as the grandparents)?
  • Have you checked in with the grandparent caregivers to see what they need to feel comfortable in this new role?
  • How are you sharing your gratitude?

Many grandparents have their own ways of doing things, but it is helpful to focus your communication on the importance of consistency, as it relates to both your wellbeing and your child’s. Know that this is a shift for many grandparents who perhaps in the past saw their role as the happy spoiler and the respite from “rules”, rather than a partner helping to raise your children.

For Grandparents:

  • How much time are you comfortable giving?
  • What are you flexible about? What is not flexible?
  • What do you need from your adult children to feel comfortable?
  • Have you checked in with your adult children to find out what they need from you in order for them to feel comfortable leaving their kids with you?
  • How are you sharing your gratitude for this opportunity as well as their trust in you?

I urge you to honor your child’s role as a parent. If you disagree with their choices, ask questions. The goal in questioning is not necessarily to agree, but simply to understand. This process will not only help you gain insight into where your kids are coming from, but will also help focus your adult child’s thoughts and intentions about the subject. Also, be aware that your adult kids often hear suggestions and comments as criticism, so don’t forget to offer praise and take note of their strengths.

Start from the idea that both parents and grandparents share the common goals of wanting to nurture and support their families. Acknowledge the struggle and participate in gaining clarity through open and non-judgmental communication. Ask questions to broaden understanding and, above all, listen.

Wendy Poore is a grandparent of four and has been a parent/child educator for over 30 years. She has spent her professional career working as a classroom teacher from pre-school through 5th grade and working as a parent educator in the evenings.