Busy, stressed-out parents often feel they have to “go it alone,” but grandparenting expert, Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, says that’s simply not true. In his new book titled, “The Grandparent Solution,” he says by involving grandparents in a "family team" you create enriched time between your child and their grandparents, while giving yourself the extra time you need. He shares his thoughts and discusses the book on “Today.” Read an excerpt here:
If you are like most parents today, you are probably overworked, overextended, underfinanced, frazzled about running your child here and there for lessons and errands and games, and you don’t have much time for personal reflection, romance, or even a vacation. Why do we live such frenzied lives? The answer is simple. We believe that we must do everything by ourselves and go it alone. Consequently, most of us have trapped ourselves by trying to simultaneously fulfill the goals of being a good parent, putting bread on the table, attending to family obligations, keeping up with society, trying to eke out a bit of time for personal self expression, and more. For single parents, it is an even bigger stretch. The tragedy is that we do not realize that we don’t have to do it all ourselves, nor do we have to go it alone at all. There is a better way to structure and manage our family life. The help that most of us need is no further away than a phone call to our parents or in-laws. When we need help, we have a natural family hot line. It’s 1-800-grandparents!
“What?” you might say. “My parents! Are you kidding? I don’t get along with them,” or “They live a thousand miles away,” or “I wouldn’t let my in-laws near my kid, never mind ask for help,” or “They are too busy with their own lives,” or “My parents raised me and did a pretty poor job of it too,” or “My parents raised me. They paid their dues. I want them to enjoy their lives now. I don’t want to bother them. I should be able to handle things by myself.” However you respond, let me remind you that it is the people who raised us — our own parents, and our child’s grandparents — who are uniquely positioned to help us when we need help.
Sounds great, but what’s the catch? The catch is that most of us don’t view grandparents as a powerful source of support. As much as we may respect grandparents — and what they do with our children — most of us do not consider them as folks who can help us manage our lives better. One reason is that we think of family in nuclear — that is, two-generational (child and parent) — terms. Many of us spend major time and energy to become “independent” from our parents and to be “autonomous” people. As a result, the idea of “grandparent help,” or contemplating a “grandparent solution” for any dilemma we face, doesn’t automatically pop into our minds. So we bite our tongues and bear all of our burdens alone or turn to paid strangers for assistance.
Another reason is that we are afraid to confront the difficulties of our past relationships with our parents. We therefore keep them at arm’s length. This notion ignores the fact that we have grown and changed over the years and are more competent than ever before, as adults, to deal effectively with our parents. I can safely state that with time, effort, and education we are able, with proper information and skills, to resolve most past and present conflicts with our parents. At the least, we can make enough positive changes to include them in our lives in one meaningful way or another.
Once old conflicts are resolved, grandparent support and involvement are there for the asking. Most of our parents — now older and wiser as grandparents — are waiting in the family wings to love, care, and look after us if we ask. After all, isn’t that what parents do for their children all through their lifetime? Isn’t that what we will do for our own? Who said we ever stop parenting our children? Allow me to elaborate.
Parents are parents forever
It is an incontestable fact that when we become parents, we become parents forever. Similarly, we are children to our own parents everlastingly as well. In other words, as parents and children, we are connected forever: present, past, and future.
It is also a fact that no matter how old we are, we never stop needing our parents. Equally, our parents, no matter how old they are, never stop needing us. This need-satisfaction equation binds us from the day we are born, to the day we have our first child, to the day we die. As soon as our first child is born, we begin to worry about its health and well-being. This concern lasts forever, whether we are thirty years old or eighty years old and whether we want to acknowledge it or not. How we love, nurture, and provide for our child shifts and changes seamlessly throughout our lifetimes, and the same holds true for our child. Over the years, change, growth, and learning occur simultaneously, in often bittersweet mirror images of one another: the first steps of a child are away from the parent. Even today, our living parents still worry about us in the same way that we worry about our child. Some cultures and religious belief systems hold that this concern continues after earthly life. True or not, it gives us something to think about. One thing that we know for sure is that our parents resonate emotionally, biologically, and spiritually to our state of well-being and material circumstances. They are tuned in to our needs (as every parent who has spent a sleepless night worrying about a child knows well). This happens whether we get along with one another or not, whether we live near or far from one another, and whatever our age. Whether seen or unseen, expressed or unexpressed, this vital connection is always turned on. That is why we should take advantage of this truth and create a family arrangement with a philosophy and structure that makes use of our parents, as our child’s grandparents. We have it in our hands to create a family arrangement that assures us that we will no longer have to go it alone — an arrangement that offers the possibility of any help and support we may need, whenever we need it. And, I might mention, often free of charge. I call this kind of setup a family team. I feel that this is the best of all family arrangements. Here’s why.
Transforming parents into grandparents
The family team is a natural structure. When we become parents, a radical change in our family’s generational boundaries takes place. The birth of our child seamlessly transforms our parents into grandparents.
This event adds a brand new generation to our family configuration — the former child becomes a parent, and the former parent becomes a grandparent. With the new addition, the family becomes three-generational: child-parent-grandparent. By arranging the generations in such a sequential manner, Mother Nature supplies us with all the players on the family team.
Over time, these succeeding generations move up the generational ladder, ensuring that each new generation profits from the experience and support of all who came before. Equally, this system supplies an emotional and spiritual protective haven in which all three generations — child, parent, and grandparent — can complement one another’s needs, provide mutual support, and grow together. Most important, the family team is the only system that includes grandparents, thereby making them available to help children and parents when needed. Those who go it alone, in a two-generational nuclear family, have no involved grandparents available for help.
Of course, this family team idea is nothing new. It just gives a name to the way that nature structures a template in which to live family life. The problem is that we have lost touch with this excellent way of structuring and managing our family. What we need to do then is to find a way to adapt and apply this form to today’s times. If we can do this successfully, we will no longer have to go it alone, and neither will our children.
Understanding the rites of passage
When our child first comes along, we take on the privilege and responsibility of parenthood with a pledge to love and care for our child forever. Our own parents, as grandparents, have new privileges and responsibilities too. At the same time that they continue to provide for us as parents, they now to have to deal with our sacred and beautiful gift to them — their new, adorable grandchild. Now that we have become parents, and our family dynamics have changed, our parents need to recognize our major rite of passage, encourage and support us as parents, respect our new generational boundaries, and expand the way they view us. Moreover they need to understand the changes within themselves as grandparents and of course to have a great time with their new grandchild. They also have to expand their parenting role with us by making themselves available to help us both directly and indirectly when it concerns our child. Love, help, and commitment go both ways of course. In the best of all worlds, our parents care for us, and eventually, we care for them. When we get old, our child will care for us. And so on down the line. What goes around comes around. A strong and committed family team supplies the place for this to happen.
Parents as the central command
Viewing our family from a structural point of view, we find ourselves, as parents, positioned at the fulcrum of the natural three dimensional family structure. Our child is on one side, grandparents on the other. From this pivotal location, we have maximum perspective and are positioned to see the needs of others.
Because we are at the center of things, we are also empowered with the natural authority to manage the entire system and ensure effective communication between the parties. Simply put, we occupy the central command post of our family team. When we understand and apply these conditions to the fullest — perspective, authority, and command — we become what I call a three-dimensional parent. In this role, we have a clear sense of the family team, perspective, authority, command, and communication. We help everyone understand their role and their place and help members contribute to family joy, health, and harmony. In addition, as a three-dimensional parent, we recognize the value and power of our own parents and respect their place on the family team. By so doing, we may use them in a variety of ways to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in our family’s life.
Seeing the forest
I present the concept of three-dimensional parenting and the family team as an ideal for all of us to strive for. I have learned the value of this model during years of clinical experience. I have especially learned a great deal from the many young children I have worked with professionally over the years. Young children, and the very old, see life as a forest. They see the big picture of the family and the world, as an organic and benign place for them. Most of the time, the middle generations see only the trees. In fact, one of the main functions of children is to keep parents in touch with the wonder of the forest. I have come to respect young children as true family experts. Through conversation, play, drawings, and more, I have learned that they see the world in a clear, truthful, down-to-earth, and organic way that supplies a blueprint for a happy family. I have called these qualities the oracular ability of the child (referring to the innate wisdom and clearsightedness of a child, similar to those qualities of an oracle). For most children, this clear-seeing ability begins to atrophy around the age of seven — the alleged age of reason. This happens because social influences and information (school, media, and the like) begin to flood the child’s consciousness and overwhelm innate emotional and spiritual experience, meditational reflection (daydreaming), clarity of thought, and acute observational abilities (which explains why an aging Picasso said that he would give anything if he could paint the way he did when he was a child). So at the age of three or four, children see the world with crystallike clarity, and at the same time, they begin to acquire the verbal ability to express their views to a respectful and understanding ear. Remember, “Kids say the darnedest (clear and truthful) things.” I am often awed and flabbergasted by children’s pure and clear perceptions of reality. When I asked Billy, a ten-year-old boy, to draw a picture of his family, he drew an amazing image that was a perfect representation of a three-dimensional family. Subsequently, we adapted Billy’s picture as a logo for the Foundation for Grandparenting.
In this picture, the child sees himself supported by his parents and his grandparents. As children do, he sees his “family” as composed of generations of people, layered like a parfait, in three separate yet distinct units — child, parent, grandparent.
In the child’s mind, each unit has its own place (to see what I mean, look at some old family pictures and check out who is sitting where, or ask your young child to draw a family picture). In addition, each unit is unique in its functions, possesses its own privileges and responsibilities, and occupies its own dimension of time (age). The child sees each generation differently and expects them to act differently. Yet the generations interact closely and can blend together when necessary. Each generation, in its own time, moves into the succeeding layer and maintains some of what went before. There is therefore a child and parent within every grandparent.
What is also important is how organically connected a child sees his family. When I asked Denise, nine years old, to draw a picture to represent her family, she drew a large rectangle.
“What is this?” I asked.
“My family,” she answered.
“All I see is a rectangle,” I said.
“It’s a box.” She smiled. “The side of a box, y’know, like those boxes that start out little and get bigger and bigger and go inside of each other. That’s my family. I am the big box, and my parents and grandparents and everyone are littler boxes, and they all go inside of me.”
This ultimately sensible arrangement forms, in the child’s eyes, a three-dimensional, basic, organic, dovetailing, natural structure for the family team. Unfortunately, times and human nature being what they are, we as adults (for reasons I will explain later) often lose sight of this natural wonder because we are too busy to pay attention.
One reason I am writing this book is to remind you of this marvel. Another is because I want you to recognize, honor, and replicate what children teach us about the “rightness” of acting and thinking three-dimensionally. Here is what they say:
1. Love and care for the child.2. Maintain a healthy child-parent relationship with our own parents.3. Respect and assist our parents’ new grandparenting roles with our child.4. Create, nurture, and manage a three-dimensional family.5. Get along well!
Note that the child’s blueprint for family life includes grandparents. It allows parents to access “grandparent power” — the grandparents’ wisdom, experience, love, dedication, and resources. We can recruit their expertise to assist us when we need advice, counsel, judgments, and solutions. With grandparents on board, we have all of our bases covered. From our position of authority as head of our family team, we can begin to learn from present and past mistakes to right the wrongs of past generations and finally put an end to family miseries that have been transmitted through generations. By so doing, we create a better family than ever before to benefit not only our child today but our future progeny as well.
Excerpted from "The Grandparent Solution." Copyright 2004 by Arthur Kornhaber, M.D. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of John Wiley & Sons. To learn more you can visit the Foundation for Grandparenting website at: