There are grandmothers raising their grandchildren, living with them, feeding them, doing it all. And there are grandmothers simply enjoying their grandchildren from a distance, whether across the country or across town, skyping or picking them up for an occasional fun day.
And then there are the grandmothers in between, stepping in regularly to support and spend time, acting as co-parents without actually living together.
This situation may come about due to divorce, parents working long hours, or other factors creating the need for an extra set of arms. This is my situation, and I wonder if there are others out there like me?
The upside is my closeness with my grandsons. I know their teachers, their friends, even their friends’ mothers. I know their hopes and dreams. I take them on vacations, to museums, hiking, swimming, and fishing. I help with schoolwork.
They turn to me to share their triumphs, their excitement, their happiness. I get to experience the fascinating fun complexity of their growing minds. I get lots of hugs. I know I am enriching their lives and providing a special grandmotherly emotional safety net.
But the downside? Sometimes I find it very difficult to separate my emotions from theirs. I hurt when they hurt. Failing a test, troubles with friends, a sibling fight – all can send me into an emotional tailspin. Trust me, joining teenagers on their hormonal rollercoaster ride of emotions is not a great idea.
Part of the problem is that I know too much. When they feel anxious, insecure, overwhelmed, inadequate, angry, sad – I am one of the first to know.
Sometimes I hear strength, courage and depth, and I believe they will be able to navigate life just fine. Sometimes I hear sadness and worry that can get intense, and it scares me. But my ability to help is limited, because I am a grandparent and not a parent.
And so I listen, I advise, I dispense wisdom by the bucketloads. I cheer them on in their life’s journey with all that is in me.
I pray. A lot. And I worry about the next text message or phone call. Because I cannot always be there, and at times it seems I have very little power.
I’m just a grandmother.
As much as I adore my grandsons, and celebrate them, and feel grateful for our closeness, I also know that I need to find ways to separate from feeling their ups and downs so keenly.
These are the three most helpful strategies I have sifted out from my years of reading and studying about ways to avoid being overwhelmed by my grandsons’ – or any loved ones’ – issues.
To detach and engage is a “practice” because it takes a lot of effort! I visualize releasing them to the universe. I tell myself, “This is their path.” I try to let go of my desire to control their outcomes. I don’t always make myself available. I don’t initiate contact.
Instead, I force myself to put my energy into engaging in my own life, my psychotherapy work and my good friendships, my meditation and yoga, reading and writing, swimming and hiking, and dreamtime. I am more than a grandmother!
I try to remind myself that we all have to go through periods of upset, disappointment, struggles, and sadness in order to grow up strong. I love these words from Glennon Doyle Melton in Love Warrior:
“You are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”
When the distressing texts or phone calls come from them, I use these words to avoid my ill-advised urge to rescue them, to try to fix everything and make it all better. Their struggles are a normal and even healthy part of life.
When they turn to me with their upset feelings, and I know there is little I can do, I can feel flooded with helpless worry or sadness. At these moments, I have learned ways to soothe myself.
First, breathe. Deep and slow to calm my body and slow my mind. Make myself comfortable. Check to see if I need rest, food, exercise, a sweater, or a cold drink.
Then, work on my thoughts. Tell myself they will be okay, they are strong, things always work out eventually. Ask the universe to protect them, to take care of them. Read a good novel, to distract myself. Get into nature, to regain my perspective.
Ultimately, it’s all about balance, and I know these issues are universal, not limited to grandparenting. The challenge is how to be helpful and available to a loved one, and fully enjoy your relationship, without losing your own peace of mind. Very tricky for some of us.
How available are you when it comes to your grandchildren? Are you in a grandparenting role, or other loving relationship, that feels over-involved and is interfering with your peace of mind? What helps you create balance? Please share in the comments below.