When my friend had her first baby, her parents’ delight, playfulness, and childlikeness returned in a flash as they delighted over their new granddaughter. It was like they were kids again—delighting in every little thing this new tiny human did, even if it was just yawning or sleeping. The new young parents were euphoric with the joy of their newborn but also exhausted and coping with postpartum and the new reality of their lives as being responsible for this new being.
In that moment, I realized being a grandparent was definitely more fun than being a parent, and it was definitely something to look forward to. It’s a special kind of joy to become a grandparent. It’s a special relationship to be a part of the life of your child’s child. Seeing that elemental joy of grandparenting, it must then be heartbreaking not to be able to be with or see that grandchild.
If you're the grandparent, reflect on what it is from your relationship with your child that has wounded them such that they’ve cut their children off from you. Have conversations about with a trusted and wise person to discern what is going on before approaching your child to ask to see your grandkids. Listen to what they may need from you moving forward. This requires emotional availability, vulnerability, and openness.
It probably requires some level of admission of your mistakes. Try to imagine the other point of view. Can you see yourself as only the victim? How might you be the villain of the story? What would it look like for you to be the hero of the story?
Trust takes time to build. If you are not emotionally available or ready for this, then acknowledge that and explore why that is, to be able to move toward it. Get the help you need so you can be a trusted person in the life of your family.
Share with your child about your desire to see your grandchildren. Ideally, you can repair your relationship with your own child, but if not, perhaps you can still have a relationship with your grandchildren.
Gently remind your child that their own child is missing out on a relationship with their grandparent as much as you are missing out on a relationship with your grandchild. It’s a special bond between grandparent and grandchild. It is a gift for both you and your grandchild to be able to have a relationship with each other. Ask your child to grant their own child and you that gift.
Ask that, whatever way your connection with your child goes, that they not exclude you from their children’s lives. Let your issues be between you alone; their children do not need to inherit that. It’s a different set of people, a new relationship. Remind them that your relationship to their kids does not have to be the same thing as their relationship to you. The grandkids are different people. You are in relation to them as a grandparent, not as a parent. Let the dysfunction end without carrying it on to the next generation.
If you and your child are united in faith, that is a foundation from which to work. Appeal to your child as a fellow Christian that your shared faith brings unity and is fertile ground for reconciliation.
Be ready to have hard conversations with your child. If your adult child is is keeping grandchildren from you, it’s important to try to understand why they have set that boundary. Such a decision is not usually made without reason.
It’s important to try to address the reason for the rift and the distance. “Fathers [and mothers], do not provoke your children,” (Ephesians 6:4). No parent is perfect, and no child is perfect. But you as the parent to your adult child can seek to make amends for any provoking that’s been done or experienced. Pray about this; try to discern as honestly as you can and listen for where God is leading you about how to go about healing your relationship with your child.
Ask your child calmly the reason they are not allowing you to see their kids, your grandkids. Be patient and gentle when listening and as “the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Listen carefully for how your behaviors have made them feel.
Try to understand their reason:
Don’t assume the worst. If may be the worst, but if that’s the case, let them communicate that to you. Regardless, all of this is still hurtful. So it’s important to acknowledge and grieve that, too.
Intentionally have the difficult conversations with your child about what is going on, where they are at, where you are at, and what needs to happen to be able to move forward. If the requisite for seeing your grandchildren is to heal or address the wounds of the past with your child, then set about doing that. Apologize. Make amends. Receive apologies. Change any behavior of yours that needs to change. It’s worth it to get to see your grandkids. Set your own boundaries with your child.
If there is a broken relationship, that is likely a two-way street and fault does not lie only with you. Exercise the maturity to be the first to extend an olive branch. Parenting does not stop when your children are grown; so you may have to lead the way and initiate the process of reconciliation (Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)).
Perhaps a skilled third party can help. Ask a professional counselor who shares your faith to mediate. A trusted, objective, non-biased, active listener and good communicator can bridge the breakdown between you and your child. It helps to have a professional guide when interactions are too severe to have constructive conversations just between you two.
If moving forward to see your grandchildren is simply not feasible at this point, there are other ways to love them from afar. In the case you still can’t see them, you can:
There is much healing that can come between generations and within families by way of grandparent-grandchild relationships. Fathers unable to be gentle with their sons find great tenderness with their grandsons. Mothers unable to be emotionally close with their children find great kinship and connection with their grandchildren. We see our ancestors in our children and we see ourselves; we also see the unique people they are. It’s the way of things. Nothing is perfect. Everything is possible. Great healing can come.
The psalmist’s writes as a benediction “May you live to see your children’s children,” (Psalm 128:6)—may you too, get to share in that and soon.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra