One thing is for sure: raising a child with autism does not come with a manual. There are no blueprints to follow for grandparenting a child with autism either. Each family will have different issues and different needs. Boundaries must be clearly delineated by open and honest communication.
Sometimes, under the guise of “help” grandparents create more anxiety and shame. Insisting that your child ‘really must do this or that’ in terms of medication or therapy can leave your adult child fraught with guilt. Your intentions are good; you want the best for your grandchild. But be honest with yourself: you are not the one living with the day to day drudgery and exhaustion of raising a child with autism. At the risk of being too blunt, you don’t get to choose.
How do grandparents work with their children who have different priorities and values? The reality of life is that sometimes adult children and their parents have dissimilar beliefs and attitudes, whether they are spiritual, financial or moral. We know that raising a child with autism is a challenge for the whole family, especially parents. You may disagree with your adult children in the approaches they take to meet your grandchild’s needs. You may be in conflict over their financial decisions. The fact is that parents are the persons responsible legally and morally for their children. They are the decision makers. I realize that this is not always easy to deal with; parents do not always make the right decisions. Good chance that you made a few mistakes when you were the parent.
Withholding support because you disagree with parents is not the least bit helpful for the child. Demanding that things be done in your way is allowing your ego to potentially destroy a precious relationship with your child and your grandchild.
Parents of children with autism need support and affirmation… not someone criticizing, second guessing and undermining their role as parents. Decisions about child rearing, therapies, household maintenance and lifestyle in general are made by parents, not grandparents. Your intentions may be to help your child and grandchild, but if the actions you take are perceived as being based on censure or distrust, then hard feelings are sure to result.
It is a fine line between helping and invading boundaries. Open communication between parents and grandparents is the only way to keep the boundaries clear. The only way to maintain a solid relationship is to honour the need for both parties to be open about their needs and their limits. Yes, it may be awkward but speak with calm, respect and compassion. Work with a spirit of wanting the relationship to work. This is not the time to assume that someone should know what is needed. This is not the time to stay out of the way. This is definitely not the time for ego and pride to get in the way.
This is definitely the time to express needs honestly, to ask for input and to share emotions. Most of all, this is the time for forgiveness of past hurts. Forgiveness is the ultimate ingredient in any human relationship. Without it, the family has very little chance of working together. The children suffer at a time when they need their family the most.
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