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Outside the Box: What to do when you don’t like your grandchildren

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Grandparents love their grandchildren. But that doesn’t mean they love spending time with the little rugrats.

For some seniors, a visit from their grandkid mixes joy with decidedly negative feelings: exhaustion, disappointment and dismay.

They may find the kid’s personality grating or tire out trying to chase a high-energy Tasmanian devil. Or they may crave what passes for adult conversation—and yearn for someone more refined or mature.

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Whatever the reason, the challenge for disenchanted grandparents is coming to terms with their reservations about their grandchildren. How can they balance their dislike with their commitment to familial duty?

“It’s OK to want to set boundaries and not always be with your grandchildren,” said Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D., a licensed mental health counselor in Tampa, Fla. “But very rarely seeing them can cause a conflict for two reasons: your grown children might get upset with you for not wanting to be around their children, and grandchildren benefit from having a grandparent in their life.”

If you’re not a huge fan of your grandkids, the last thing you need is a guilt trip. You’re not like all those beaming Grandmas and Granddads who can’t stop raving about their prodigy. You don’t even like to interact with the tykes. Does that make you a terrible person?

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No, but a grandparent plays a vital role in sharing life experience and offering unconditional love and support. They make great babysitters, confidantes and gift-givers. And across many cultures, they foster generational continuity.

“Grandparents carry family history, impart tradition and serve as the glue of the family,” said Susan Newman, Ph.D., a New York City-based psychologist. “Grandparents are indispensable.”

She urges reluctant grandparents to consider how they want to be remembered. If you’re not around much, you may leave little mark. If you’re an unenthusiastic or glowering presence, you may get labeled as grumpy long after you’re gone.

Still ambivalent about serving as a model grandparent? Exert more control over the relationship and maintain some distance.

“Let your grown children know your limits up front,” Kulaga said. “Only see the grandchildren when you are feeling healthy and on your timetable.”

Perfectionists beware: If you demand exceptionally gifted grandkids that meet your exacting standards, good luck.

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“Grandparents may want to lower their expectations for what they think a grandchild will do,” said Newman, author of “Little Things Long Remembered.” “They may not live up to what you wanted or expected. You may be into sports, but they love music and have no interest in sports. Get over that.”

Heightened self-awareness might help you identify why you’re not eager to spend every waking moment with your grandchildren. Perhaps you find them insufferable, but subtler forces may be at play.

If their mannerisms remind you of someone you disdain—or they exhibit the same self-destructive behaviors as your adult son or daughter—it’s easy to feel misplaced hostility toward the youngster.

“You have to consider who’s the adult in the room,” Newman said. “It can be hard to separate your own children from your grandchildren. Recognize that grandchildren are separate individuals. Don’t drag any problems you had with your child into the next generation.”

Similarly, some grandparents only grudgingly accept all the freedoms that today’s youth enjoy. Shifting societal norms leave seniors astonished—and sometimes resentful—of what they never got to experience growing up.

“So much of our judgment is a projection of what we were not allowed to have at the time,” said Natalie Mica, a Houston-based psychotherapist.

For some grandparents, the real problem is the energy differential across generations. Rambunctious kids constantly run around, demand attention and seem oblivious to others’ needs. Keeping pace with their antics can prove physically draining for a slower-moving septuagenarian.

If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re probably welcoming the grandkids again in your home. But with that comes worry they will break something.

“An overly energetic grandchild can be too much,” Newman said. “So childproof your house. And get them outside. Go for walks or bike rides.”

Patience pays off. It’s unlikely that a rowdy preschooler will stay that way through adolescence and beyond.

“That child whom you view as out-of-control will grow up,” Newman said. “It’s not forever.”

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