Note: This is an unabridged article I wrote for Grand Magazine.
Co-grandparenting refers to the relationships between people who have grandchildren in common. Due to divorces, remarriages, and the resultant blended families, the number of co-grandparents can be in double digits for some grandchildren. As one five-year-old gleefully said, “I sure have a lot of grandparents!” Sometimes the relationships between the co-grandparents are easy and comfortable; other times they are uncomfortable or even problematic.
When I am asked for advice on how to deal with challenging co-grandparenting issues — and I am often asked — I offer this advice: overlook or ignore annoying or off-putting behavior from the other co-grandparents. Put aside all your interpersonal differences and focus on the grandchildren. Your primary job as a grandparent is to make your grandchildren feel loved and valued, and you need to do whatever you can to make their environment as conflict-free as possible. One important action you can take to reduce familial stress and discord is to commit to building an effective and enduring co-grandparenting team.
For those grandparents who are reading this and mentally listing the negative characteristics of their co-grandparents and thinking, “This would never work in our family,” here is some welcome news: to build such a team, the co-grandparents don’t even have to like each other! Sure, it helps if the co-grandparents do like each other, but it is not a prerequisite.
What is required is that the co-grandparents use these three Cs with each other: (1) consult; (2) collaborate; (3) communicate.
Instead of making decrees, e.g., “We are taking the grandchildren this weekend,” consulting with the other co-grandparents can go a long way to reduce stress and tension among the involved parties, including most importantly, for the grandchildren. For example, after getting the buy-in from the young parents, a consultative approach works along these lines with the co-grandparents: “We are thinking about taking the grandkids this weekend on a camping trip. How does that work with any activities you might be thinking about doing with them?” This approach sets the stage for a conversation.
When co-grandparents collaborate, they exchange ideas and work together for outcomes that benefit the grandchildren. For example, if a grandparent or set of grandparents is thinking about taking the grandchildren camping, other grandparents might chime in that they were looking for some gift ideas and now they’re thinking that maybe they could buy some camping equipment for the grandchildren. Now, the back-and-forth of ideas can flow easily with this kind of a backdrop.
Another benefit is that in addition to being on the receiving end of a fun camping trip, the grandchildren see firsthand all their grandparents working together harmoniously and cooperatively.
One way for the co-grandparents to stay in touch with each other to plan and share ideas about interacting with the grandchildren is to take advantage of technology, e.g., e-mails, set up a “Family Chat” text thread, conference calls. The goal is to be inclusive with everyone feeling that they have some input into grandchildren-grandparent activities and events, when it is appropriate. This lessens the chances of co-grandparents competing with each other for the grandchildren’s time and attention. (However, one important reminder: The young parents have the final say on anything that involves the grandchildren.)
A Co-Grandparenting Team Can Work!
As I mentioned above, a co-grandparenting team can be effective even in the absence of close personal relationships. Most people have been on various sports teams or teams at work where they didn’t particularly like some of their teammates, yet they could put their personal feelings aside to get the job done. The trick is to always be cordial and pleasant and stay focused on the task at hand. This same attitude can help co-grandparents be successful by staying focused on what is best for the grandchildren.
In those extreme cases where co-grandparents remain distant or removed or difficult, my advice is to carry on with the three Cs to consult, collaborate, and communicate as best as you can. Your grandchildren are observant and aware: they will eventually figure out who has their best interests at heart and is trying to be kind and inclusive. Even young children understand the basics of being a good team player.
I can personally vouch that the three Cs I advocate can work. My husband and I have the good fortune to be on a co-grandparenting team with people who have become cherished friends. In fact, we often spend time together that does not include the young parents or the grandchildren. For example, we dine together, we do shows together, and we have vacationed together.
I close with a shout-out of love and gratitude to my wonderful co-grandparenting team!
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Co-Grandparenting Team:
(left to right) Herb “Papa” Ouida, Andrea “Grandma” Ouida, Helen “Yiayia” Morik,
Karen “Gramma Karen” Rancourt, Gary “Peps” Rancourt
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]