Navigating the Grandparent's Path


So now you're a grandparent. You think you're prepared for this, having raised at least one child already. You're ready to sit back and . . . what? Enjoy the adorableness of your grandchildren? Lots of luck. Not in the 1990s.

Family life has become so perilous for so many that merely enjoying the offspring of your offspring is not nearly enough. Your grandchildren need you. Not just your money or baby-sitting skills, but very important qualities that perhaps no one else in the family can provide.

Maybe you've had the feeling yourself--that something is missing in the grandchildren's lives, because the parents are both working, or divorced, or, worse yet, suffering from problems (parental drug abuse, collapse of the health care system) that you never could have imagined a few years back. How can you help? Take a look at "The Essential Grandparent: A Guide to Making A Difference," by Dr. Lillian Carson (Health Communications Inc., 217 pages, $10.95).

This paperback guide explains the crucial difference you can make in a grandchild's life. One of your most distinctive contributions, the author says, should be unconditional love and acceptance. "Like sale merchandise that is marked 'as is,' grandchildren need to be accepted with whatever imperfections they may have." This has nothing to do with being permissive, or coddling, but rather with offering a "center of strength" for children who may not find it anywhere else.

Grandparents are also role models, Carson writes, and those who live their own lives with energy and purpose can signal hope for the future; they send a message that life can get better as years pass.

As a grandparent, you are a connection to the past--and that can be empowering and comforting to a grandchild. The author explains how to cement that connection ("believe you can make a difference . . . take risks in your grandparenting relationship").

And then there is the "stability and security" factor that, in many families, only grandparents can provide. Carson explains why, and tells how to make the most out of what you have to offer. She also offers do's and don'ts for every occasion, tells how not to interfere, charts the stages of a child's life cycle and even offers phrases to use so children will feel the enduring impact of your love and care. There's a list of age-appropriate books for your grandkids, and a gift list, too.

This is not a source book for grandparents who need social services or heavy-duty help in caring for grandchildren in their charge. It is instead a perfect reinforcement for traditional grandmas and grandpas who realize that there is no such thing as traditional anymore.

* National Grandparents' Day is Sunday.

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