“Did Bubbe let YOU do that as a kid?”
“That is DEFINITELY not the same woman who raised me!”
“Oh, this is the time to spoil them, we just don’t see them often enough.”
“Family get togethers cause just as much strife as they do pleasure…”
These are just a few of the phrases I heard floating around Seders and synagogues this Passover season. Holidays and vacations are often a time for families to come together, which can bring forth pleasure but also stress or hard feelings. So, as summer approaches and family vacations are being penciled onto calendars, how do Jewish grandparents view themselves, what is their role these days as families evolve, and how do we keep peace in our homes?
Earlier this spring, The Jewish Grandparents Network released findings of the first study of Jewish grandparents. They found that 94% of the 8,000 respondents were positive about their experiences as grandparents. Yet, 19% reported feeling under-appreciated in their role as grandparents by their adult children, 16% reported difficulty in achieving balance between grandparenting and other roles, and 11% reported grandparenting as stressful.(1) The findings show that grandparenting experiences are multi-faceted; and that as with most things in life, there are negatives along with the positives. What if you find yourself experiencing the same feelings, either as the grandparent or parent? What can be done to achieve more positive experiences going forward?
While the study has not yet addressed these questions, a good starting point is to examine the why’s behind the negative feelings. As cliched as it sounds, are there unresolved issues from raising the parents as children? Is there a difference in expectations between the parents and grandparents? Is there tension because of family dynamics? Is there a lack of boundaries between parents and grandparents? To gain a greater perspective, try to consider the particular issues from different points of view. First and foremost, examine the issues from your point of view. Determine what is really the cause of some anxiety and what you would like to change. Next, try to view the issues from the perspective of the other side. How would the other person see it? Finally, and often the most difficult, is to look at the issues as if you are an unbiased third party. Would an outside observer see the issues in the same light? (2)
After examining the whys, it is time to move onto the hows. How are these feelings going to be resolved? Open and honest communication is always key, but mindfulness about the approach is necessary. The conversation should take place away from grandchildren. Also, it is best to try not to start the conversation in a heated moment. Wait until things are calm to open the dialogue. Begin the discussion from a positive place. A good way to start off could be by saying, “I know we both want what is best, and we both agree on…,” or “we both love…” Be open to hearing the other person’s point of view. Be careful to not assign blame when discussing the particulars, which can quickly shut down the conversation. Be flexible in finding a resolution, even if this means agreeing to disagree. Most importantly, be respectful of each other’s role as grandparent and parent. Grandparents are essential to our families and communities. Let’s keep them involved.
Are you finding yourself in a similar situation? If something in this article strikes a personal note with you and you would like to explore your thoughts in a confidential and private manner, I am available. As the Kesher worker for the Temple. I can help provide support to congregants and their families on a variety of concerns, including those related to familial or intergenerational conflict. I may be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 428-4084.
1 Hendler, Lee M. and Raphael, David. (March 25, 2019). Who’s Your Bubbe Now? Some Surprising Findings from the 1st National Study of Jewish Grandparents. Retrieved from https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/whos-your-bubbe-now-some-surprising-findings-from-the-1st-national-study-of-jewish-grandparents/
2 Civico, Ph.D., Aldo. (June 4, 2015). 3 Steps to Resolving Conflict Within Your Family: The Perspective Triage Strategy Allows You to Master Your Emotions. Psychology Today.
Samantha Clark is part of the Kesher Worker team at Temple Sinai. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Collaborative Services of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and private donors. Katie can be reached at 401.415.8213 or by emailing