As your children take that giant step of becoming parents themselves, what do you feel about how they are doing? Some grandmothers are highly impressed with the way their grandchildren are being brought up. Others are disappointed or even distressed.
It is very difficult to avoid thinking about your children’s parenting skills in the light of your own – whether the comparison is favourable or otherwise.
Were you one of those parents, like me, who felt inept and clueless when your children were born? Did you make it up as best you could as you went along? If so, you may now feel real pleasure and pride in seeing how competent they are in the same role. They have so many more parenting books than we had. They have websites where they can learn the latest ideas and social media platforms where they can exchange notes with each other.
Or you may have felt you were a good parent and are somewhat concerned about your children, or their spouses or partners, as parents. Times have changed, they may tell you, but you may not be happy with what you see.
Do they give their children too many things and not enough time? Are they too strict or, perhaps, not strict enough? Do they intervene too much in their children’s lives, or not often enough? Are they loving and calm or always tense? There are so many aspects of good or bad parenting that there can be no single point of comparison.
Because you have been through it all before as a parent, you know bringing up children entails a lot of different stages. You may think your son or daughter was great with a new born baby, for instance, but not so confident when it comes to a teenager.
It is when babies are first born that many patterns are set. You may find it particularly difficult to watch your children make what you see as mistakes in those early days. They may be too anxious about feeding their baby or establishing good sleeping behaviour. Perhaps they are not able to cope with the antics of toddlers or sometimes, not watchful enough.
It doesn’t really get any easier as children age. Are they relaxed about their children’s school reports or constantly pressing for better results? How much effort do they make to interest their children in new activities or to win new friends? The vexed issue of screen time causes many a family argument, what with electronic games, computers and the inevitable mobile phone.
Then there are so many decisions about what children are allowed to do and when, such being allowed to cross a road, go into town or, later, drive the family car.
I am not for a moment suggesting here what should be seen as good parenting, but raising issues on which you may have strong views.
And you may think they are brilliant at navigating all these difficult waters – better than you and better than ever expected. Some grandmothers feel there is a much more enlightened approach nowadays. My book Celebrating Grandmothers explores what it feels like to be a grandmother at this new time in history.
However happy or unhappy you are, you will know there is always room for improvement. Offering advice is, to say the least, a difficult task to manoeuvre. Its success will depend on your tact, their receptivity and the nature of your on-going relationship.
It is generally easier when your grandchildren’s mother is your daughter. You have watched her grow up and you know each other well. You have commented over the years on her decisions. Perhaps you are best pals. In this case, it is so much easier to suggest ideas to her, even if it has to be done diplomatically.
But when the mother is your daughter-in-law (or partner equivalent), you will undoubtedly need to tread carefully. You may get on well, but you will always have that lurking spectre of the dreaded mother-in-law. It is no accident that this role is the butt of many an awful joke.
Just to complicate matters, with fathers taking an increasingly involved role with child-rearing, you may have equivalent issues with your son or son-in-law.
In any case, you know you don’t want to be annoying. Indeed, it is often counter-productive. It is, after all, the grandchildren’s interest which is at stake.
You will undoubtedly try to find ways of offering advice in a sensitive manner. We all feel our way and hope to get the right formula early on. You can say the issues are difficult for everyone and give examples of your friend down the road. You can put your ideas as questions like “Have you thought of…?” You can note that if you were in this situation, you would tend to try a particular solution.
At all times, it helps to add something to the effect that, of course, it is up to them. If your relationship is good in the first place, such suggestions should be received with ease. If it is not, you may decide not to say anything at all.
And if they are not keen on your advice, stop for a moment and think how keen you were for parenting advice from your mother or mother-in-law.
There may also be times when you are genuinely worried about your child’s parenting, fearing that it might be close to neglect. This is another story and you may wish to call on professional advice regarding what you should do.
It has been said that every grandmother, to ensure that she keeps her mouth shut, should be issued with a zip! I’m not so sure, as I think your experience and wisdom may often be welcomed. Sometimes, a grandmotherly intervention can diffuse an awkward confrontation between parent and child. But family relationships are notoriously tricky and only you will know how to proceed.
Are you happy with the way your grandchildren are being brought up? Have you found good ways of offering advice to your children about their parenting approach?