“I Just Miss Her!”

These four words captured the heavy sadness that Maria* felt as she grieved the death of her grandmother. Even though her grandmother had died several years earlier Maria was still experiencing the impact of the loss. She grieved the loss of the close relationship that they had enjoyed with each other. Maria deeply loved her grandmother and appreciated her positive qualities that influenced and shaped Maria’s character and lifestyle. After seeing the tears and hearing many glowing descriptions of her grandmother I was not surprised to hear Maria say, “I just miss her.”

Maria’s story is not unique. On any given day many individuals share her experience in that they also are grieving the loss of a special grandparent. The loss that is experienced and the grief that is felt testify to the positive impact that grandparents can have upon grandchildren. The extent of loss is clearly correlated to the type of relationship that the grandparent and grandchild had with each other. Tragically, too many grandchildren do not acknowledge or appreciate the specialness of a grandparent until a funeral occurs and good-byes are said. Thankfully, other grandchildren are fully aware of the special meaning the grandparent has for them, and they actively seek ways to maintain and enrich their intergenerational connection.

What determines whether the deceased grandparent is missed or not? The level of loss is determined by several factors. In all probability a grandparent will not be missed if the relationship has been shallow or nonexistent. Unfortunately, many grandparents do not want connections with their grandchildren and therefore intentionally keep an emotional and physical distance. In other situations a grandparent might work very hard to reach out to and connect with a grandchild, but the grandchild is resistant and unreceptive to the grandparent’s efforts. In either case there is no solid relationship to be missed and grieved when the grandparent dies. In contrast, the loss is heavy when the grandparent maintains a positive and consistent connection with the grandchild who wants and welcomes the relationship. Such was the case with Maria, and the loss of her special relationship with her grandmother was deeply grieved.

However, grief is only one aspect of the loss process. As time passed and as Maria grieved the loss of her grandmother she discovered an increased ability to celebrate her grandmother’s life. To some extent the two processes of “grieving the death” and “celebrating the life” overlapped each other. The grief component was stronger at first but gradually gave way to a growing sense of life celebration. Maria’s ability to celebrate her grandmother’s life was a clear testimony to the type of person her grandmother was as well as to the kind of positive relationship she tried to have with Maria. Their example is worth imitation by other people who desire to have a healthy grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Let’s face one reality: with some exceptions grandparents die before the grandchildren die. That being the general case, let’s consider an important question for grandparents. How do you want to be remembered and missed by your grandchildren when you die? That question might generate additional questions. For example, has your personal influence or practical impact on them been more positive or more negative?  If you continue to relate to your grandchildren in the same way you’ve been relating to them will they mourn and miss you when you’re no longer physically alive? If you want them to miss you what changes do you need to make in the way you interact with them? Perhaps a more basic question might be “What kind of ongoing relationship do you want to have with your grandchildren?” That relationship will determine the reactions you receive from your grandchildren both while you’re alive and after your departure.

 These questions and the issues they involve are relevant to all of us who are grandparents. Like other grandparents I’ve pondered the questions and theGrandparentingKind related issues in regard to my five grandchildren. I’ve asked myself a key question, “What kind of grandparent do I want to be?” Frankly, I want to be a good grandfather. I want to have a good relationship with my grandchildren, and I want to provide a positive influence on their lives. My desires are challenged by the fact that they live twelve hours away in another state. The geographical separation represents an imposing difficulty—but not an impossible dream. The relationship I desire to have with them requires both positive intentions and practical efforts. A good relationship with grandchildren never happens magically or by chance. As with the development of any healthy relationship a great deal of heartfelt desire and consistent effort is required for effective grandparenting. This requirement is true for me and for anyone who aspires to become a successful grandparent.  

Our journey on the Grandparenting Highway involves the roles we fill and the rules we follow. During our journey we might encounter several roadblocks that must be faced and resolved. If you share my desire to be an effective grandparent please travel with me as we explore the roles, rules, and roadblocks that are a part of our journey along the Grandparenting Highway. So as to include you in my personal travels I will use the words “we” and “you” at times in our exploration. Feel free to apply the ideas to your personal situation as you prefer.


Effective grandparenting means that we fulfill the roles that have the best impact upon our grandchildren. As I’ve pondered my personal situation I’ve boiled down a variety of roles into five roles I want to fill. These five roles are built around the word “grand” since grandparenting should be a “grand” experience. Using the word “grand” (G.R.A.N.D.) as an acrostic I’ve identified five roles that are very important to me as a grandfather.


Role #1:  “G” = Guard—A Source for Protection

The first letter, “G,” in the word “G.R.A.N.D.” suggests a significant role for grandparents: GUARD. As a guard we become a source for protection. At a basic level our job is to protect our grandchildren from harm.  The protection assistance we provide as grandparents is in addition to what is done by the parents. We form an extra line of defense around the children for their personal welfare. We become the primary line of defense when we are keeping them and the parents are not physically present. This guard-duty role can be challenging when our grandchildren’s energy level and their running speed are much greater than ours. Physically it’s hard to keep up with younger children so we have to be creative in how we provide appropriate supervision. Effective guard-duty means that we may have to say “no” to our grandchildren for their own well-being, even when we prefer to be liked by them. The ability to say “no” is usually harder for those individuals who keep their grandchildren infrequently or on a limited basis. Hard or not, we must fulfill our role as guard to the best of our ability. Without doubt we would feel highly complimented if our grandchildren someday would think of us and say, “My grandparent always protected me and made me feel safe.”  


Role #2:  “R” = Roadmap—A Source for Guidance

The second letter, “R,” in the word “G.R.A.N.D.” suggests another important role of grandparenting: ROADMAP. We need to be a type of roadmap that will serve as a model worthy of imitation. As a roadmap we become a source of guidance that can help the grandchildren in their decision-making and problem-solving as they travel the Highway of Life. By the time we become grandparents we should have developed a level of wisdom about life that could be of great benefit to the grandchildren. We provide this much-needed roadmap in two ways. First, we set a good example in our personal lifestyle of integrity, morality, and maturity. Secondly, we serve as teachers in that we provide specific instruction and guidance that may be relevant to the grandchildren’s needs and circumstances. Indeed, it would be a high compliment to us if our grandchildren look back on us and say, “My grandparent was a great roadmap for me to follow in my journey in life.” 


Role #3:  “A” = Anchor—A Source for Security
The third letter, “A,” in the word “G.R.A.N.D.” suggests the role of ANCHOR. In that role we provide a source of security for our grandchildren. The core message we give them is “You can always count on me.” We want them to know that we love them and have their best interests at heart. They grow to understand our anchor role through the repetitive and consistent efforts we make to be a meaningful part of their lives. The anchor role begins with our physical presence when they are born. Later they can see photos and videos of their being held by their grandparent when they were still in the hospital as a newborn. Additionally, they will see other pictures and videos of interaction at special events like holidays and birthdays, and they will know that the grandparent was physically present during the early childhood years even when the child was too young to remember the special occasions. As the years pass by and as the child grows toward adulthood this anchor role is reinforced consistently by our personal interaction with the grandchildren.  We will be highly complimented when our grandchildren remember us and say, “I always knew that my grandparent was an anchor who was always there for me.”

Role #4:  “N” = Nurturer—A Source for Growth

The fourth letter, “N,” from the word “G.R.A.N.D.” suggests the role of NURTURER.  In this significant role we become a source of growth for the grandchildren. Basically, we work hard to nurture them or “feed” them on every level. We want them to grow physically so we encourage them to eat nutritious food. We promote emotional growth by doing what we can to build them up emotionally, and by helping them to learn how to experience and regulate their emotions. We also nurture them in terms of mental and social development. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we provide nurturing in terms of their moral and spiritual growth. Hopefully, our grandchildren will compliment us by saying, “My grandparent really helped me to grow as a person in many positive ways.”

Role #5:  “D” = Discoverer—A Source for Self-discovery
The final letter, “D,” in the word “G.R.A.N.D.” suggests the role of DISCOVERER. As grandparents we become a source for self-discovery within our grandchildren. Our goal in this role is to help them discover who they are and what their personal talents and special gifts might be. Sometimes grandparents are able to detect or recognize specific abilities that the GrandparentingRolesListgrandchild’s parents have not seen. Some children choose to be more verbal and open with a grandparent than they are with their biological parents; thus, the grandparent could encourage self-discovery at times when the parents are less able to do so. At other times the grandparent can try to reinforce a particular ability in the child that the parents have seen and are trying to cultivate.

These five roles are also inherent in the work of the biological parents. The grandparent’s job is to augment the parental efforts with helpful reinforcement and creative insights. Hopefully, the grandparent’s efforts will complement and encourage the positive work that the parents are already doing. Admittedly, the biological parents bear the bulk of responsibility in the parenting process. If done effectively, the efforts of the grandparent will be a gift that the child’s parents will welcome and appreciate.  In implementing these five roles the grandparent needs to practice good self-caring and effective stewardship of his own health and resources.  In this regard the grandparent may need to set and enforce specific boundaries which could involve a refusal to provide childcare on certain occasions or a decision not to grant certain requests from the parents or grandchildren. Even though the grandparent tries to be appropriately involved in the lives of the grandchildren he also must take care of himself, for he has his own life to live.


Safe travels along our literal highways require that we follow the rules of the road. For example, we respect and follow rules about speed, passing, right-of-way, and emergency vehicles. A refusal or failure to follow these rules will invite roadway problems that will hinder or prevent safe and successful travel toward our destination. Likewise, an effective journey on the Grandparenting Highway requires respect for and adherence to relevant rules that promote successful travels. While specific rules often vary from family to family some rules seem to be basic to every family unit. Let’s look briefly at three of these basic rules of the road that grandparents need to honor.


Family Rules:  Submit Instead of Compelling.

One important rule to follow relates to the family structure that our grown children have established for their children. Simply put, we must submit to their rules instead of compelling them to accept our preferred structure. We got to establish the family rules for our personal family, but we don’t get to set up the rules for our grown children in reference to our grandchildren. Our job is to understand their rules and to submit to them when we are at their house. In other words we need to “yield the right of way” to our grown children in regard to how they choose to rear their children. It is not our place to compel the parents and the grandchildren to use our personal rules. To put it another way, we need to respect the boundaries our children set regarding the grandchildren. Submitting to their rules might cause us to “stretch our comfort zone” a bit through increased flexibility. Effective grandparenting means that we remember and practice the beatitude “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”


Family Resources:  Supply Instead of Competing.

A second basic rule deals with the provision of practical resources (money, clothes, etc.) to our children and grandchildren. Our purpose is to supply the resources in order to be helpful, but not to compete in some unhealthy manner. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned grandparents generate stress through the unwise giving of resources. Before extending help we must survey the situation to determine what needs exist with which we can help. When we supply practical resources we must do so in a manner that would not place us in competition with the parents, as if we’re competing to gain the favor of the children. The goal is to combine forces in a cooperative effort so that more positive things can be accomplished.  We should refrain from doing so much for the grandchildren that they think less of their own parents. Additionally, it is not wise or respectful to try to compete with our grandchildren’s other grandparents. Hopefully, all of the respective grandparents will practice mutual respect and sincere appreciation for the resources provided for the grandchildren. Essentially, in terms of supplying resources let’s strive to combine without competing.


Family Reinforcement:  Support Instead of Compounding.Grandprenting3Rules

A third rule deals with reinforcement through emotional support.  Sometimes our grown children will encounter “bumps in the road” that bring various levels of stress and strain to the entire family. As grandparents we want to help relieve the stress as much as possible through the provision of emotional support. As in the case of practical provisions we may be tempted to jump into the emotional arena too quickly without accurate or adequate information. In our haste we could compound the very problems we’re trying to resolve. We need to inquire about the needs that exist and offer the emotional support that the parents actually need. If we’re uncertain about the specific support that is needed we can express our concern and raise the “perfect question.”  For example, we might say to our son or daughter, “I’m very concerned about the stress you and our grandchildren are having at this time. I want to be supportive, but I do not want to compound the stress. So, please tell me:  ‘What’s the best thing I can do for you right now?’” Then we can provide the reinforcement that they tell us they really need.


When no major obstacles are disrupting travel our journey along the Grandparenting Highway is usually enjoyable and satisfying. However, the journey can become challenging and stressful when we face various roadblocks that affect our pattern of grandparenting. These roadblocks must be faced with wisdom and courage, especially if we want to continue our GrandparentingRoadblocksgrandparenting efforts in the most effective way possible. Let’s look briefly at three situations that often become significant roadblocks. Regrettably, space does not allow for a full exploration of these roadblocks or the search for workable solutions. At least we can introduce the struggles.


The Relocation Roadblock: When Parents Move Far Away
One roadblock to effective grandparenting relates to relocation. The parents choose to relocate to another city or state, creating a geographical distance between the grandparent and the grandchildren. The primary result is a significant reduction in the amount of personal presence that the grandparent can have with the grandchildren. Personal visits might be limited to once or twice a year, perhaps less often when finances and health issues are prohibitive factors. The grandparent might have to forgo personal items in order to have travel money for visiting the grandchildren. In these long-distance situations the grandparent has to become very creative and assertive in maintaining contact in ways other than physical presence. Basically, we have to love from a distance. Current technology has provided marvelous opportunities in terms of email and telephone interaction. Skype and FaceTime are two of several new avenues for grandparents to consider. For example, I’ve been using my IPhone’s FaceTime feature with three of my grandchildren who live in another state. The ability to see each other as we talk is a tremendous boost to the time together. Texting is another way to touch base with the grandchildren, depending upon their age and their access to texting privileges. Most grandkids love to receive greeting cards, so “thinking of you” cards and special-occasion cards can help to bridge the geographical gap. Even preschool grandchildren like to “write” to grandparents and send their best artwork for the grandparents to enjoy. I’ve treasured the various pieces of artwork my grandchildren have made for me. Their written notes are priceless. When my oldest grandson was a preschooler he told his Mom that he wanted to send a letter to Daddy Bill (the name my grandchildren use for me). She responded, “Well, you don’t know where Daddy Bill lives.” His response was interesting: “Yes, I do. Burger King, Alabama!” He might have confused Birmingham with the hamburger store, but his heart was definitely in the right place!  The bottom line for grandparents is simply “Stay in touch!”


The Manipulation Roadblock:  When Parents Practice Blackmail
Another difficult roadblock deals with manipulation. In this situation the parent wants something (such as money) from the grandparents and uses the grandchildren as a bargaining chip or a form of emotional blackmail. The basic message is “If you don’t give me what I want, you’ll never see your grandkids again.” Hopefully, this threat would not be implemented if the grandparents refuse the demand. However, the withholding of the grandchildren does occur as a means of manipulating or punishing the grandparents. Many grandparents choose to give in to the demands in order to see the grandkids; other grandparents resist the manipulative behavior and suffer from the fact that their grandchildren are being held hostage by selfish parents. When facing a manipulation roadblock grandparents often have to make some very difficult choices in their efforts to practice effective grandparenting.


The Abdication Roadblock:  When Parents Are Absent

A third roadblock occurs when negligent parents abdicate their responsibilities to their children through absence, abandonment, or abuse. In these situations the grandparent becomes concerned about the physical and emotional safety of the grandchild. In their efforts to protect the grandchildren the grandparents might resort to legal action to have them removed from the abusive home and placed in the custody of the grandparents or perhaps in another appropriate setting. This legal action is usually very expensive and stressful, and, when custody is accomplished, the action places the grandparents in a full-time “parental” role. In choosing to “raise the grandkids” the grandparents take on a level of responsibility that can present many challenges and pose serious threats to the health and well-being of the grandparents. The term “abdication” refers to parents who are negligent and irresponsible in their parent work. They allow selfish interests to take priority over their responsibility toward their children.  However, in some situations the circumstances are very different. For example, the biological parents might be killed in an accident, leaving the grandchildren without adult supervision. The grandparents are awarded guardianship or custody, and they become “parents” again on a full-time basis. In other situations the parents experience an unexpected financial crisis and they “move in” with the grandparents for a period of time. In this multifamily scenario involving three generations the grandparent faces unique challenges with daily co-existence and boundary issues. Hopefully, the “move in” arrangement will last only a short time, just long enough for the parents to regain enough financial stability to “move out” into their own place.    

Other roadblocks can be encountered as people travel the Grandparenting Highway, some of which are might seem to be variations of the three roadblocks already identified. They all represent significant stress for the grandparent who loves the grandchildren and who strives to fulfill the five roles described earlier. These loving grandparents deserve a great deal of respect and appreciation for the work they do in the midst of hardships and challenges.

Concluding Thoughts . . .

GrandparentHwyGrandA journey along the Grandparenting Highway is indeed a grand experience for most grandparents. They gain a great deal of joy and satisfaction as they strive to fulfill their chosen roles as grandparents. They give a great deal which benefits the grandchildren in many positive ways. The whole experience is at its best when the biological parents function effectively as parents and when they welcome the involvement of the grandparents. This involvement is more productive when the grandparents strive to fulfill positive roles and when they follow the established “rules of the road” conscientiously and consistently.

I congratulate you if you are currently traveling the Grandparenting Highway. I hope that your chosen roles are very positive and clearly defined. I wish you the best as you respect and follow the “rules of the road” and as you struggle with various roadblocks that generate unwelcomed hardships and unwanted stress.  I celebrate with you the joyful satisfaction that you feel as a grandparent and also the positive influence you are extending to your grandchildren. I trust that your journey along the Grandparenting Highway will be for you a grand experience.

Parenting/Children Blog #410


*MARIA: The name “Maria” is fictionalized and does not refer to a specific person. Instead, Maria represents all of the individuals who grieve and struggle over the loss of a beloved grandparent.


VIDEO:  To see a short television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses the issue of "Grandparenting:  A Grand Experience!" please click on the image to the right or just click here.

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