First Things First: Finding your role as a grandparent

One of the bigger challenges of being a new parent often involves dealing with grandparents, especially first-time grandparents.

"It seems like every time we turn around, Joshua's grandparents are being critical of our ability to parent," says Anna. "We ask them to stick to a routine when Joshua is with them, and they make side comments. Most recently, we were at odds because I didn't want Joshua to spend the night with them."

During the holidays, Anna's in-laws offered to keep Joshua overnight to give mom and dad a break. Anna politely thanked them for the offer and turned them down. Her mother-in-law started crying and said, "I have raised three children. Don't you think I can take good care of your baby?" While the offer was well-intentioned, turning the offer down created a rift between the grandparents and the parents.

Becoming a new grandparent can be just as complicated as being first-time parents. While you are excited about this new addition to the family, you also have to figure out exactly what your role will be as the grandparent.

"We have to constantly remind each other that the parents of our grandchildren are inexperienced," say Tim and Darcy Kimmel, grandparents and the authors of the video series "Grandparenthood: More Than Rocking Chairs" and the book "Grace-Based Parenting."

"We know more because we have lived longer, but that doesn't mean we should question what they are doing as parents when it comes to discipline, feeding or putting the baby down for a nap. They know their child better than we do. Our role is to encourage, support and be an ally, not a liability."

The Kimmels encourage grandparents never to sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate by trying to manipulate the situation. Many parents try to control their adult children to meet their own selfish agenda. If you sabotage the relationship with your adult children by being critical, controlling, petty or catty, you may sacrifice the relationship with your grandchildren as well. These behaviors tend to make people want to back away from the relationship versus embracing it.

The Kimmels believe grandparents can be most helpful when they operate from a perspective that gives their children the freedom to:

-Be different. Just because your kids don't parent exactly the same way you did does not mean they are doing it wrong. Give them the freedom to be goofy, quirky or weird.

-Be vulnerable. Be intentional about making your relationship one that allows them to let their guard down, knowing that their moments of weakness and insecurity about being parents won't be used against them in the future.

-Be candid. Allow them to be candid with you when you have crossed the line. Being candid is more than being honest; it is thinking about the best interest of the receiver as you share information. If you allow them to be candid with you, they are more likely to let you be candid with them as they navigate the parenting journey.

-Make mistakes. Most of us weren't perfect in our parenting, so don't place unrealistic expectations upon your children. New parents need support instead of someone questioning every move they make.

"Being a grandparent gives you the opportunity to live the idealistic dream of parenthood where you don't have to worry about diapers, soccer practice, dance lessons and waiting up for teenagers," Tim Kimmel says. "Grandparenthood allows you to play a key role in writing the history of a generation that you will someday leave in charge."

Let parents do what they do best: worry about diapers, nap times, discipline, etc., and enjoy your role as an encourager to your grown children as well as your grandchildren.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at