Editor’s note: This is the eleventh and final instalment in a series of eleven articles on grandparenting which has appeared here in this space every Monday. We thank Richard and Linda for these articles and remind all grandparents that they can view the previous 10 articles by clicking https://www.upliftfamilies.org/blog. For more from the Eyres, go to www.valuesparenging.com .
This article is particularly for grandparents with teen-aged grandchildren.
Let’s start by focusing on two words that describe and define two very different roles: Manager: A person in charge; with responsibility, with authority; one who decides and directs. Consultant: A person who helps other people with their goals; one who advises and assists.
What a difference! With small children, parents and grandparents are the managers. But with adolescents it all changes—not only in degree, but in kind. A whole different type of relationship needs to evolve between you and your grandkids—one where we try to respond to their initiative, to help them with their goals, to back off and give them space to make their own decisions, but to be always willing and ready to help.
Our grandparental instincts are to give them everything and to simply “tell them what they need to know.” But as grandkids reach their teens, what they really need you to be is a reliable consultant.
Consultant-style inputs complement and enhance their growing independence, and will keep them coming back to you for advice.
The most effective route away from managing and toward consulting is to ask questions. That is the prime skill of all good consultants. Ask (with positive interest and with no judgment) every question you can think of. Get inside your grandkids’ heads and their hearts and understand where they’re coming from. And learn to wait for the magic moments when they ask you for advice!
Imagine, for example, that you are concerned about how a grandson talks disrespectfully to his mother. If you confront him and suggest that he change his tone and show more respect for his mom, he is likely to feel defensive, and he is sure to feel that you have judged him and are critical of him. On the other hand if you can get him to ask you about his relationship with his mother, you become his requested consultant rather than his unwelcome, critical “corrector.”
So how do we get our grandkids to ask?
It takes some doing! We have gone so far as to offer a dollar for every good, thoughtful question a grandkid can ask me. We’ve explained to them that in today’s world, answers are cheap and easy, but really good questions are rare and incredibly valuable. As they get older, We’ve tried to give them an introduction of the word “consultant” and why we want to play that role with them. We explain that we’ve had a lot of experience and, believe it or not, we remember when their parents were their age. Thus, we can listen to what they are doing or feeling or needing or trying to decide, and I can give them advice rather than commands, and they know. And we assure them that, whether they follow our advice or not, we will always love and accept them totally.
We even tell them that consultants usually cost a lot, but that they lucky because they can get our for free.
One very direct way to get grandkids to ask you questions is to frame a discussion or a “Grandpa or Grandma date conversation” along the lines of taking turns with questions. First, you ask your granddaughter some questions about her life, taking notes and listening actively. Then, say that it is her turn and that she can ask you whatever she wants and you will try to answer honestly. As you praise their questions and give them other opportunities, the beautiful aspect of “questions for each other” will make your relationship closer and closer.
It’s actually much easier to give advice to our grandkids than to our kids. The grandchildren are generally not trying to prove anything, and they don’t feel belittled or distrusted like our kids often
Sometimes, something as simple as picking up a grand- kid from school for his lunch hour and going to his favorite burger place for a half hour can yield some great interaction. Once you have set up and defined together the “consulting relationship” you are in a position to start asking questions about what interests him most, about friends, about likes and dislikes in school, about goals for the school year, about summer plans, about favorite subjects, activities, movies, music, and on and on. Taking notes makes the conversations feel more serious and consequential and allows you, on a future occasion, to start with something like, “You know, since our lunch, I’ve been thinking about some things you said. . . .” For a more in-depth “consulting session,” take a little road trip together. Car time can be one of the best “opening. Don’t give in to the natural instinct to give advice or input or lecture a bit every time you think of something. Just keep him talking and keep your use of “Really?” coming, and keep thoughts or your notes in your own head until the time feels right to suggest something.
One surefire way to hold a grandkid’s interest is to tell them stories about their parents when they were their age. It’s hard for teens to actually imagine their parents as teens who actually felt and experienced some of the things they are feeling and doing now—but it is very beneficial and reassuring when they do.
Remember that this consulting relationship you try to establish with your grandkids is not just another little phase. It is the kind of communication and trust you want to have with them for the rest of your life.
By Richard and Linda Eyre
Richard and Linda Eyre’s parenting and life-balance books have reached millions and been translated into a dozen languages. As fellow Baby Boomers, their passion and their writing focus has now shifted to the joy of Grandparenting. Linda’s latest book is Grandmothering, and Richard’s is Being a Proactive Grandfather, each of which is now on sale on Amazon. For more on what Richard and Linda are doing, go to www.TheEyres.com.