Q: Our daughter died last year – long, sad story – leaving behind a 2-year-old boy. The father – not named on the birth certificate – is not and never has been a factor in the child’s life and gave us permission to adopt without any conditions. He simply has zero interest. We did not anticipate becoming parents again, but “grandparents have got to do what grandparents have got to do.” Our new son, whom we love dearly, is about to turn 3. Do you have any advice for how to properly parent a grandchild?
A: First, I am truly sorry to hear about your daughter’s passing. I’m sure I speak for many in saying that I cannot imagine anything more devastating than a child’s death, no matter how problematic said child may have been. More specifically, my professional experience had led me to the general observation that the more difficult the child, the more guilt the parents find themselves having to deal with at the child’s passing.
I say that because if you are dealing with a good amount of self-blame for your daughter’s problems, you are very likely to overcompensate with your son in those parenting areas. For example, if you feel that you were too strict with your daughter, you are in danger of becoming too lax this time around. If you feel you were too lax, you’re likely to be too strict, and so on.
The fact is that parenting is an influence; it is not the be-all-end-all determining factor in how a child “turns out.” Consider that children raised very well by solidly moral people sometimes turn out badly; and children raised very badly by unquestionably bad people sometimes turn out quite well. In the final analysis, a child’s free will trumps any other influence.
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With that in mind, the first bit of advice I have for you is to embark upon this adventure as if it were exactly that – an adventure – rather than a chance for you to make up for past mistakes. Parent in the present, not in the past.
Second, understand that you cannot successfully be both parent and grandparent. While it may be tempting to exercise the prerogatives appertaining to the latter role, all three of you need for Mom and Dad to be the operative, day-to-day condition.
Third, the fundamental understandings and principles are the same regardless of the actual biological relationship between parents and child. Parenting does not take on a new meaning when the parents are a child’s biological grandparents. To wit, your marriage trumps your relationship with him and you are the center of attention, not him; he obeys the rules and does what he is told or there are consequences; the answer to “why?” is “because we say so,” and so on. Keep it simple, always.
To sum it up, lead as well and as much as you love. Therefore, you are going to have to focus purposefully on the former, because grandparents always want to emphasize the latter … which is why God made grandparents.