By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


As our society changes the family changes. In the past most children have had a handful of siblings and a dozen or so aunts and uncles, to say nothing of endless cousins. Among large, close knit families there was bound to be one close friend for each parent, and at least one mentor for each child. But today's relatives live so far away our children rarely see them, and because today's families are smaller, with few aunts and uncles, grandparents often bear the emotional weight of being the extended family.

What can grandparents do to foster a sense of family? What role should the grandparent play in their children's and grandchildren's lives? Today's article will attempt to address these questions.

Although grandparents, in the past, played an important role, the role they play in the modern family is probably even more critical to a sense of family. It is the grandparents who have the maturity, experience, time, and sense of history that can bind the family together. The following are some suggestions to grandparents on how to accomplish this feat.

Plan family gatherings. Grandparents should not do all the work involved in such an endeavor, but they could provide the leadership. This will assure that such events occur. It is at family gatherings that memories are created and time is taken to reestablish relationships. These gatherings can take on many forms. Christmas or Thanksgiving gatherings with all the holiday foods are a traditional way of getting together. Camping together is another way to create choice experiences. When resources are available a trip to an amusement park together is another way to build memories.

Grandparents may publish a family newsletter that can be sent out monthly or quarterly. You can include a variety of things in the newsletter such as announcements of coming family birthdays or special events. Each family unit can be given a spot in the newsletter to report significant family events. Humorous events can also be reported. Memories from the past can also be included in the newsletter to preserve a family history. Grandpa or Grandma may even want to share some of their wisdom on a certain subject such as canning, diet, human interest articles, or sage wisdom.

Grandparents can also assure that every family member is called or sent a card or gift on their birthday or on special occasions. Doing this will maintain regular planned communication with all members of the family unit.

Special time with grandma and grandpa that is designed as focused time for one or two grand children can be a helpful tool to maintain family ties. These times should not be planned as baby sitting experiences but as special times for grandparents and grandchildren. They may include special experiences such as going to the zoo, a play, or some special event that the grandchildren and grandparents can enjoy together.

But special times together and special activities do not automatically assure close family ties will develop. These experiences are only the mechanical means to bring families together. The "magic" that exists in close families develops in other ways.

The term "magic" is used because for close family ties to develop both grandparents and their children must have the courage to close the rest of the world out and have faith in the family unit and its members to accomplish what, at first, may seem impossible. Hurts from the past must be given up by individual family members. To hang on to yesterday’s mistakes does not free the family members up to create new and special family experiences that are the foundation for lasting family ties. This brings us to the special and perhaps most important role that grandparents play in our modern society.

Children, in today’s world, grow up confused because of all the competing standards of conduct and behavior. Try as they will, parents have a rough time of guiding the child through this sea of conflicting values and ideas. As the child matures they sometimes come to believe that their parents are trying to "hold them back." Anger and resentment can build up with emotions becoming so strong that it is difficult for parent and child to find common ground on which to discuss conflicting views.

Enter grandpa or grandma. Grandparents, who have developed a close relationship with a grandchild, can assist the child gain a clearer perspective of the conflict between themselves and their parent. Grandparents are one of the few people, in or out of the family, who may be able to help the child understand where his or her parents are coming from.

The Grandparents most important role is to help the child understand his or her parents so that the child can benefit from the parents' wisdom and concern. To do this the grandparents need to understand the grandchild while at the same time supporting the parent. If grandparents do not support the stand taken by the parents they undermine the parents and confuse the maturing child. If the grandparents do not form a supportive bond with their own children by effectively communicating with them, they run the risk of being manipulated by the grandchild. Grandparents and parents, who are united in their effort to help the growing grandchild, give the maturing child a strong message relative to family unity and standards.

Grandparents are the glue that holds the family together. They are the natural family leaders. Grandparents need to possess the maturity to learn from the past, let go of the hurt, and support their children in their endeavors to build their own separate families. The bonds between grandparents and their posterity must be strong and supportive. The grandparents provide the model for love and understanding that makes being together something that all members of the family look forward to.