Third wheel

Being grandparents has its disadvantages

By Barbara Pierce

My new granddaughter was here. My life changed; I loved her intensely. You know what that’s like if you’re a grandparent.

I loved her more than anything or anyone else. That was on one hand. The other hand, belonging to her parents, held all the cards.

I soon learned that I could love my granddaughter fiercely, but I had no say — not in anything. My suggestions were not even heard, not wanted. Though when the exact same suggestion came from my daughter’s best friend, it was an awesome idea promptly acted on.

Submitting to the rules and wishes of our adult children and their partners is humbling. Now my grandkids are teens. Here are some guidelines that have kept me in the good graces of my daughter and her husband over the years, so that I can have a good relationship with them and my two grandchildren.

I have incorporated Barbara Graham’s “7 Unbreakable Laws for Grandparenting” from

• Seal your lips. Even if you’re a psychotherapist who many look to for parenting advice and people read your articles on childrearing, and you successful raised your own children, your adult children will assume you know nothing about childrearing.

Your advice and opinions will not be welcome, unless they ask for it. They seldom do that, and even then, it’s questionable as to whether they really want to hear your answer.

• Tread lightly. “Ah, my poor tongue is sore from being bitten,” Roxana Robinson wrote in the book “Eye of My Heart,” describing the pleasures and perils of being a grandparent.

You may love your grandchild as your own, but never forget that they are not your own. I was there when both grandchildren were born. I was there from their moment of birth. I thought we were all one big happy family. I was wrong.

The parents were skeptical if they could even trust me with their precious child. Did I know how to hold her the right way? Did I know when to burp her? Did I know watching her means I cannot take my eyes off her, even for a minute?

It took me a few blunders to secure their trust — which must be renewed fairly often. Making sure I’m still with it, I guess.

• Abide by the rules of the parents. “The dos and don’ts of childrearing change with every generation. If I had listened to my mother, I would have held my son only while feeding him (every four hours) — and not one second longer, lest he turn into a ‘mama’s boy,’” says Graham.

Whole new world

These days, with all the latest information on childrearing online, and the practical wisdom shared by my daughter and her friends, most new parents are up to speed — and beyond — but we grandparents most definitely are not. Baby slings? Co-sleeping? The Mutsy Slider Stroller? Who knows what these things are or how to operate them?

• Accept your role. All grandparents — whether on the maternal or paternal side — are at risk of being shut out if they fail to observe any of these commandments. Try to think of yourself as a relief pitcher in a baseball game: You’re on the bench until your adult children call you up and then you must do exactly as they say if you want to stay in the game. (I’ve already said this, but I think it’s essential.)

Graham adds: “If you’re the mother of a new father, you may not have the same access to your grandchild as the maternal grandmother does, at least in the beginning. New mothers are often the primary caretakers of babies, and they tend to lean on their own mothers for support. This is not a problem — unless you think it is. Your grandchild will love you too.”

• Get a life. Don’t let your desire to be an important part of your grandchildren’s lives take precedence over your own life. Have an active life of your own; have your own interests. You have your life; they have theirs. You can be close, yet you are separate — boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

• If your grandchildren don’t live near you, figure out how to keep a connection with them. They do need you in their life; you bring a dimension they can’t get from their parents. Learn to Skype and do it regularly.

As grandparents, we must be cheerleaders for our grandkids — always believing in them, supporting them, taking their side.

I asked my grandson what makes a good grandparent: “Bring me money or candy!” was his answer. But he’s only 12. So I’ll bring him candy though I believe that the greatest gift we can give our grandkids is the gift of wonderful memories. Shared experiences are what they’ll remember as adults, not the expensive gifts.

I love Robinson’s description of being a grandparent: “It’s like being told you no longer have to eat your vegetables, only dessert — and really only the icing!”

• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at