The fear of becoming irrelevant to your grandchildren

My friend Betty and I recently caught up for coffee. We’re both in our late 60s, both grandparents, both with grandchildren who are in primary school or very early high school. We’ve been friends for a long time and for so long we’ve had very similar opinions on many things and similar outlooks on life. But the biggest difference we’ve had is how we’ve “done” grandparenting.

While chatting she told me that she fears becoming irrelevant in her grandchildren’s lives as she and they, get older. The more I think about it, the more I realise that this is probably not an isolated issue. As our grandchildren grow up, how do we stay relevant to them and involved in their lives – of course without overstepping the mark?

Betty gave me permission to write this article because after she revealed this to me she explained in further detail and we realised that perhaps her story could help others.

When her grandchildren were young she wasn’t as involved in their lives. She wasn’t fussed on being “used” and rightly so – with four kids she had done her share of the hard stuff! She would only babysit once a year or so on principle – she didn’t have regular babysitting help so why should she offer that to her kids? She factored their sporting carnivals, music festivals and drama performances into her life only when it suited her and waited to be told about them instead of asking and expressing an interest.

Betty jokingly called herself a “convenience grandparent” and would laugh about how she only had time to grandparent when it suited her social schedule. But now that attitude seems to be coming back to bite her.

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While we spoke we realised just how important those early years are in shaping the grandparent-grandchild relationship. If you’re not there for them regularly, if you don’t express an interest in their lives and give them the love and attention that is required to build a meaningful relationship, it seems likely that they won’t be interested in suddenly starting that kind of relationship later on.

Betty told me that she feels like she’ll forever be the “distant” grandma who is too busy with her own social agenda and who prefers talking to the parents instead of the grandkids and this worries her.

The fear of becoming irrelevant in your grandchild’s life is a very real concern and I think that the only thing to prevent it is having a constant, loving, supportive presence in the lives of your grandchildren from an early age.

If you think about it, their early years are when they are taught right from wrong, what they don’t like and what they do like, who to trust and who not to trust. So if we don’t become important to them then, it’s unlikely we’ll ever become important later on.

This may create a harsh image of Betty and she is a lovely woman who doesn’t deserve harsh criticism. There is no right or wrong way to grandparent but if someone can learn from Betty’s story, then it’s a story worth sharing.

How have you shaped your relationship with your grandchildren? Do you share the same fears that Betty does? Or perhaps how have you prevented them? Tell us in the comments below…