Navigating child challenges: Tips for the modern grandparent

With the youngest baby boomers turning 50 next year, many are joining the growing ranks of grandparents —and approaching the role quite differently than previous generations.

They’re more active with their grandkids and spending more time with them, thanks to social media, texts, emails and online chats.

But at the same time, modern grandparents are also navigating a potentially bigger minefield of conflicts and problems with their adult children over how to raise kids.

For one, grandparents are facing a world that is more informal and where traditional values have become more relaxed, said Peggy Post, a spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute and a columnist for Good Housekeeping.

Meanwhile, more grandparents are taking care of kids as the number of households where both mom and dad both work outside the home grows. Grandparents are also traveling more with their grandchildren than they used to, especially if they don't live nearby.

In a recent survey, 69 percent of grandparents said they are more involved in the raising of grandchildren than their own parents were.

With all that interaction, perhaps the biggest issues families face are disagreements over parenting style. When it comes to discipline, Post advised grandparents to defer to their adult children and keep consistent with what the grandchild is used to.

“The rules are, first and foremost, respect the parents and know that their discipline style might be very different from yours. So find out what it is and don’t criticize them even if you don’t like what they’re doing. You can gently have conversations, but follow their leads,” Post said, adding grandparents can still impose their rules in their home.

“When you’re in your own house, without contradicting the parents, you can say, ‘In our house, our house rules are…’”

While grandparents need to respect the decisions of their adult children, parents also need to understand that grandma and grandpa are going to bend the rules a little because they like to spoil their grandkids, Post said. Understanding on both sides is key.

One of the complaints Post hears from older people is that their grandchildren aren’t being taught social graces, like writing thank you notes or properly greeting adults. She urged concerned grandparents to offer to pitch in and teach some of those important lessons.

“Our world is so much more informal, but it doesn’t mean you can’t help share these traditions. So say to the parents, ‘I’d love to teach Johnny how to write thank you notes,’” Post said.

She advised grandparents who’d like to voice any concerns with their adult children to think ahead of time how they would like to have that conversation and be factual without being critical of their parenting style.

Respect, consideration and honesty are key during any discussions, Post said.