Grandparents are key figures in the diversity of families that exist, and they have the ability to significantly influence the lives of their grandchildren. Looking ahead to National Grandparents Day, it is pertinent to recognize the importance of their role in family dynamics and learn what should be done to develop and strengthen healthy interactions with grandchildren.
The clinical psychologist Henry Castellanos Ortiz considers that, To analyze immediate family structures and childhood development, grandparents must be taken into account, since they are the ones who reveal behaviors, habits and, sometimes, traumas to their offspring.
“I have many cases in which parents complain that grandparents are very permissive, that they buy things for their children, without their permission. These grandparents may not have been very good parents or perhaps they were very strict with their children and, by way of compensation, they allow their grandchildren many things, which can create a very latent and very dangerous dysfunction, if not addressed ”, exemplified the also systemic family psychotherapist.
“Grandparents pimp and dads correct”
In Puerto Rico there is an almost cultural idea that grandparents are the ones who indulge all the whims of their grandchildren, while parents are the only ones who influence, educate and correct. However, it is known that the behaviors of grandparents with their grandchildren impact their development in various ways.
That is why Castellanos Ortiz emphasized that grandparents must have communication with the children’s parents to establish limits and agreements around parenting. In this way, it is avoided that there is a tension between adults that can be perceived by children that could cause them concern or anguish.
Beyond communication, the mental health professional also emphasized that grandparents must be trained in how to care for their grandchildren. This recommendation is particularly important for grandparents who become primary caregivers, a situation that frequently occurs in Puerto Rico.
According to a document from the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics, for the year 2017, it was estimated that, on the island, 51,474 grandparents lived with their grandchildren and 19,408 grandparents were in charge of their grandchildren.
“The rule of thanatology is that, if a caregiver is not trained, he becomes sicker than the patient. Imagine, then, these grandparents who are not given a good school to be grandparents or, in particular cases, a good school to be parents. Many mistakes are made that can be avoided through dialogue and training”, she stressed.
How much authority should grandparents have?
The answer to this question will vary, depending on family dynamics and how similar the parenting perspectives of the grandparents are to that of the parents, because if they are similar, the grandparents are more likely to impart reprimand to the grandchildren, without face conflict from parents.
For families with divorced parents, it’s especially vital to have a conversation about how much power grandparents have in reprimanding their grandchildren. As new family ties are formed with people who may already have children with other people, the likelihood of conflict increases if there is no effective communication.
“Family dynamics change with the integration of people who already have children. Consequently, those children have grandparents who will now be in the lives of the other party’s children and will likely want to have a say in childhood development. Imagine that emotional dance for the grandchildren”Castellanos Ortiz commented.
The incidence of divorces in Puerto Rico is high. According to the Annual Marriage and Divorce Report of the Puerto Rico Department of Health, in 2015 and 2016, for every 100 marriages celebrated, around 69 and 70 divorces were granted.
Family meetings as a communication tool
Regardless of the family structure, Castellanos Ortiz suggested holding family gatherings with grandparents and even grandchildren present.
The idea is that all members of the family have a space in which they can express their concerns regarding the family. However, the conversations during this meeting do not have to be limited to resolving conflicts.
“It is enough to take out a little while in the week. It can be 40 minutes or an hour one day a week to create a dialogue colloquium. Whether you talk about cars, basketball or politics. The important thing is to talk about us. That is a very rich experience that leads to effective communication when conflicts arise”, she concluded.