We all know grandparents are expected to take on certain roles in today’s modern family: Grandchildren-indulgers, family-gathering hosts, on-call babysitters, parent-encouragers, keepers of the family’s stories. One author—and friend of Shelterwood—believes there is another overlooked calling grandparents are uniquely positioned to be: Peacemakers.
In his book The H.E.A.R.T. Of Grandparenting, Ken Canfield makes a case the power of grandparent-led reconciliation. Family conflicts can be small and passing or large and lasting, but Canfield outlines ways grandparents can actively spread peace inside their family systems.
Why should a family’s matriarchs and patriarchs be responsible for fostering harmony? Canfield writes that grandparents benefit from the wisdom of experience. “We are qualified primarily because we’ve lived a long time,” Canfield writes. “Furthermore, we have the longest history with every family member…we have accumulated information, family confidences and their trust.”
Grandparents can use that earned respect to both prevent major conflicts before they begin and lead their families toward reconciliation when they occur. Here are four big ways grandparents can create a peaceful family dynamic.
Lead with humility
“There are no perfect family systems and no perfect grandparents,” Canfield says.
As grandparents work to bring unity to their family, they must start from a place of humility. Canfield suggests grandparents ask themselves what they would change if they could re-do parts of their lives, particularly how they would have parented their own children differently. This exercise can help remind grandparents that everyone is both doing their best—and bound to wish they did better.
“We’re all imperfect,” Canfield writes. “And the sooner we accept that in others and ourselves, the sooner we can move toward healed relationships.”
Strive for maturity
Canfield reminds grandparents that true maturity comes not from simply racking up birthdays but actively acquiring wisdom and putting others first.
“Mature grandparents have their priorities sorted out, and investing in their grandchildren is one of their top priorities,” Canfield says. He gives family elders a maturity gut-check list:
- Are you hard to offend?
- Do you assume the best about people?
- Are you flexible?
- Are you quick to resolve problems or hurt feelings?
- Do you admit when you’re wrong and ask for forgiveness?
Grandparents who pursue maturity are grandparents who are in a place to sow peace.
Support the parents
One of the most practical things grandparents can do to encourage a calm family system—and not start new conflicts of their own—is to fully back their children’s unique parenting journeys. (Assuming the grandparents are in a supportive, not custodial role.)
“Make your intentions clear to your adult kids,” Canfield writes. “You want to be an overwhelmingly positive influence in their family and in their children’s lives; you are willing to help on their terms; and you will encourage them and their children every step of the way.”
Here are a few ways to do just that:
- Learn all you can about your adult child’s approach to parenting. Ask questions. Read the same books, watch the same videos. The goal is deep understanding, even (especially!) if their views are different than yours.
- Reinforce their rules, decisions and disciplinary methods. This is how grandparents can show their children that they truly believe in their ability to parent. Don’t go rogue grandparent but model respect for authority. Give advice only when asked.
- Be a voice of encouragement. Tell your adult children what a great job they are doing and talk them up to your grandchildren, too!
- Share information without expectation. If there’s something you think your children need to know about a grandchild—positive or negative—share sensitively, nonjudgmentally and without expectations for how the information will be received or acted upon.
Finally, grandparents can practice regular peacemaking habits. “Many of your best efforts to bring about reconciliation is before a conflict arises,” says Canfield. How?
- Be a good observer. Pay attention to how people are interacting. Is there any building tension? Unresolved hurts? Use discernment and wisdom to decide how to address them.
- Give intentional blessings. Give them often. Affirm family members with prayers, toasts and words of encouragement.
- Practice vulnerability and humility. Build a family where it is ok to fail, try and grow. “When we accept each other’s weaknesses and failure, we allow all family members to be themselves,” Canfield says. “ We make it safer for them to risk being vulnerable.”
- Apologize well. Learn to recognize when you’ve wronged someone and to apologize sincerely. Canfield suggests expanding on this simple outline: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Grandparents who lead with humility, strive for maturity, support the parents and nurture peace will be a blessing to not only their families but to their whole communities.
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