When I first spoke to Dr. Bob Saul in February of this year, I was very curious about his messages about raising good citizens. My interest expanded after conversations with my teenage grandchildren. In their young lives, they have experienced the pandemic, gun violence in schools, the insurrection on the Capital, and the proliferation of hate and bullying on social media. They were expressing fears about their future.
As you may recall from the show I did with Dr. Saul, he is the author of several books including, My Children’s Children: Raising Young Children in the Age of Columbine and Conscious Parenting: Using the Parental Awareness Threshold.
As Boomers and grandparents, we grew up with traumatic experiences that rocked our sense of safety also, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King’s assassination, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, the riots of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protests.
As grandparents, we can share some compassion with our grandchildren around what they are experiencing. It is not the same, and yet we can relate to their threatened sense of security in some ways.
In 2020, Dr. Saul released Conscious Parenting. Having been a pediatrician for 40+ years, as well as a parent and grandparent, he had developed a lot of insight into parenting and wanted to share that with others.
He talks about a representative line he calls the Parental Awareness Threshold. When you’re above the line, you’re conscious, you’re open your receptive, you’re ready to learn. When you’re below the line, you’re unconscious, you’re closed, you’re defensive, you’re always right. The point is, as parents or grandparents, we will be above and below the line all the time. Because we’re humans. We’re going to be open. We’re going to be closed.
As a parent, I know that sometimes I would come home after a long day at work, and I was not open or receptive. I just wanted to get dinner on the table, get the kids bathed and get them to bed. There were also wonderful times of snuggling up to read a book, or baking cookies together or going for walks to the park. As a parent of teens, I wanted to listen, to be engaged, but as we all know, engagement is more on their terms when they are teens. I learned it was my job to create a safe environment for conversation when they were ready. And to be a good role model as much as possible.
But as a grandparent, is it my role to also teach and guide and model, or is it my role to just love? It is a fine line. Dr. Saul suggested that as grandparents we can teach and role model, but we have to be careful not to meddle, not to offer unsolicited advice.
I learned a lot about parenting as a parent. I am learning a lot about grandparenting as a grandparent. And I am learning about the balance of being a parent of adult children and being the grandparent to their children. There are times when it makes the most sense to take that deep breath and not say anything. Assess the situation and choose. And if you choose the wrong way, give yourself grace. Apologize to your adult child if necessary and see this as a learning opportunity.
Your role as a grandparent is also not to discipline, but it can be to teach. The root word for discipline is disciple, which means to teach. As a grandparent we can provide nurturing corrections to bad behavior, rather than punitive or judgmental corrections. But even these can be seen as interfering, if done when the parent is also in the room. Learning when to say something and when to be quiet is part of learning to be a grandparent, in my opinion. The important thing is to establish yourself as a safe, stable nurturing person in the lives of your adult children and your grandchildren.
Listening to hear, to empathize, to make eye contact is part of creating that safe, stable, nurturing environment.
I remember my daughter used to come into my bedroom at night after I turned off the light, and I was just about falling asleep. That’s when she would want to talk. So, I would sit myself up and start paying attention. I guess with the darkness and the quiet time in the evening she felt that was her safe time to talk. You have to meet them where they are. I am learning with my oldest granddaughter, the best way to communicate with her on a regular basis is through Instagram messaging. She always responds to my Instagram messages.
How do you grandparent? Are you grandchildren nearby or are you a long-distance grandparent? Have you blundered into saying something that was not received in the way you meant it? Have you apologized?
Something magical happens when we become grandparents. Happy Grandparent’s Day to all of you grandparents. (it was last Sunday)