Grandparents’ role in raising a child

When a child is born, two parents and four grandparents are “born” as well. Increasingly, grandparents are leading figures in a child’s life.

In today’s situation where both parents work in almost all families, grandparents should undoubtedly be given a prominent role: they are an important resource on which their children and grandchildren can depend more than ever before. In Italy, there are about 11.5 million grandparents and, in proportion to the number of grandchildren, this number is much higher than thirty years ago. Nevertheless, their role should not be an educational one: it is the parents who need to educate and enforce rules, while grandparents have a more “relaxed” role, made up of pampering, playing and quiet games, where grandparents teach grandchildren to learn to think by playing. They are, in fact, a sort of “flight attendant,” while the command of the aircraft should be left in the hands of the parents.

Clarifying these roles and adhering to them allows grandparents to be grandparents and parents to be parents. This is why it is very important that there be a dialogue between parents and grandparents to agree on the basis of education that mum and dad prefer for their little one, mainly to respect it and not confuse ideas. Children must understand that parents have a specific purpose: educating them.

Grandparents should not underestimate this important role and should not belittle the educational rules given by mum and dad because, doing so, the little ones may eventually tend to see their parents without any special authority and will stop listening to them. It is also important not to argue about these rules in front of children. It is not a good idea to raise your voices because the little ones perceive that their parents are unable to enforce the rules since, in the end, it is the grandparents who have “control “of the situation. A classic example is, during a ban on watching TV for various reasons (even as simple punishment), a grandmother who goes ahead and turns on the television saying she doesn’t think it’s right not to watch cartoons with her grandchild. This will make the child happy but, with this behaviour, the grandmother will end up losing authority with the child’s parents. Children will understand that punishments can be erased by going to their grandparents and they will eventually always turn to them to get what they want.

That’s why the best advice is to always clarify the various educational points with grandparents, to not discuss them later, when the “damage is already done.” This is just one example. Fortunately, not all families have to impose their own ideas and rules – they don’t need to, as the basis of their personal relationships is made up of dialogue and understanding. Each family member should have his or her own role, so that the child can have a multifaceted, comprehensive childhood. He needs to have his parents as his point of reference. For this reason, grandparents should not correct (or criticise) their children in front of their grandchildren, nor try to correct the grandchildren themselves regarding the parents’ educational input. In conclusion, the tender relationship of complicity that can be created between grandparents and grandchildren is so beautiful that, where possible, little ones should not miss out on it.

This sweet relationship will be unforgettable over time and will be remembered with great nostalgia as children get older. Depriving the child of proximity to or a relationship with a pair of grandparents means “depriving him of a part of himself that he will never be able to build himself except through stories of those grandparents” who, as parents of his own parents, are an integral part of his identity.

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