Q: Our daughter died last year, which in itself is a long, sad story. And she left behind a two-year-old boy. The father, who is not named on the birth certificate, is not and never has been a factor in the child’s life. He gave us permission to adopt his son without any conditions. He simply has zero interest. We did not anticipate becoming parents again, but grandparents have got to do what grandparents have got to do. Our new son-grandson, whom we love dearly, is about to turn three. Do you have any advice for how to properly parent a grandchild?
A: First, I am truly sorry to hear about your daughter’s death. I am sure I speak for many in saying that I cannot imagine anything more devastating than a child’s death, no matter how problematic said child may have been. More specifically, my professional experience has led me to the general observation that the more difficult the child, the more guilt the parents find themselves having as they try to deal with said child’s passing.
I say this because if you are dealing with a good amount of self-blame for your daughter’s problems, there is a great likelihood that you will try to overcompensate with your new son in those parenting areas. For example, if you feel that you were too strict with your daughter, you are in danger of being too lax this time around. On the other hand, if you feel that you were too lax, you are likely to be too strict, and so on.
The fact is that parenting is an influence. It is not the be-all and end-all determining factor in how a child “turns out.” Consider that children raised very well by solidly moral people sometimes turn out badly, while children raised very badly by unquestionably bad people sometimes turn out quite well. In the final analysis, a child’s free will trumps any other influence.
With that in mind, the first bit of advice I have for you is to embark upon this adventure as if it were exactly that—an adventure—rather than a chance for you to make up for past mistakes. Parent your new son in the present, not in the past.
Second, understand that you cannot successfully be both parents and grandparents. While it may be tempting to exercise the prerogatives pertaining to the latter role, all three of you need for mom and dad to be the operative, day-to-day authority in the child’s life.
Third, the fundamental understandings and principles of parenting are the same regardless of the actual biological relationship between the parents and the child. Parenting does not take on a new meaning when the parents are a child’s biological grandparents. Which is to say that your marriage trumps your relationship with him, and you are the center of attention, not he. He obeys the rules and does what he is told or there are consequences. And the answer to
“why?” is “because we said so,” and so on. Keep it simple, always.
To sum it all up, lead as well and as much as you love. Therefore, you are going to have to focus purposefully on the leading, because grandparents always want to emphasize the loving . . . which, of course, is why God made grandparents.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.