Written by: Dale A. Hicks, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, Certified CEO Effectiveness Executive Coach
Throughout human history, though varying across cultures and time, grandparents have played an important role in their grandchildren’s lives. Over the past half century, extended life spans, a significant increase in the number of dual-career couples, higher divorce rates and single parenting have resulted in even greater opportunities for active grand-parenting. Whether grandparents play an active role in childcare or simply enjoy occasional visits with their grandchildren, they can have an important influence on their emotional development and in shaping their mental models. Grandparents are in a unique position to recognize multi-generational patterns, stretching from their own grandparents and parents through their own generation and onto their children and grandchildren.
There is, however, no assurance that multi-generational patterns will evolve in a healthy manner. As a clinician, I have witnessed the detrimental impact of multi-generational patterns of parenting beliefs and behaviors. In my work with adolescents, their parents often refer to the parenting they received while growing up. Presenting their teenager for treatment of “behavior problems,” they explain ”this is the way I was raised and I turned out just fine!” Usually, they are referring to practices that might be considered psychologically or physically abusive. Some of these parenting practices and messages may have made sense in another age or place, while others never made any sense. Yet, they have passed from one generation to the next, without question.
On the other hand, grandparents who have pursued self-knowledge will be rewarded with more healthy lives of their own, as well as better relationships with their children and their grandchildren. The greater their own self- knowledge, the greater the opportunities they can provide for their children and grandchildren to benefit from their wisdom and life lessons.
Often, grandparents can interact with their grandchildren on a very different level than can their parents. They can offer a moderating impact on negative messages and reinforce positive and healthy messages, they can model problem-solving strategies rather than worry or blame, foster open and honest communication, and contribute to the creation of a stable and safe environment in which their grandchildren can express their feelings and better negotiate the developmental struggle to know their own true selves.