When a grandparent becomes co-parent

family having dinner and celebrating
Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Over the past year, my husband and I have gone from empty nesters to a household of five people. My son boomeranged and is back living with us. Our grandson graduated high school and suddenly, right before our eyes became “an adult” but not yet self-sufficient.  

Our son and his daughter’s mom decided that he would have shared custody, and lo and behold, our 14-year-old granddaughter went from a summer visitor to a resident. My husband and I became co-parents.

Co-parents, you ask? Yes, that is what I said, co-parents. We are grandparents to the 18-year-old grandson and 13 others. To the 14-year-old living in our home, however, we are more than grandparents—we are co-parents. Let me explain.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, a co-parent is a person who takes responsibility for raising a child, especially when that person is not the biological parent or does not live with the child full-time. 

A co-parent shares the responsibility of raising the child, providing not only the basics of food, shelter and clothing, but also shares in ongoing parental duties and takes partial responsibility for social-emotional development, educational guidance, and academic support. Let me not forget behavioral management and discipline. 

The commitment to co-parenting includes a substantial investment in time, energy, and financial resources. When grandparents share and shoulder the day-to-day responsibilities of a child, they are not only grandparents, they are also co-parents. They balance love, nurturing and discipline. They manage time, money and household chores.

You might say I do all of those things as a grandparent. One of the keywords is day-to-day. Yes, grandparents pick up the grandkids from school and go to their games and activities. So how do you really know if you have crossed over from grandparent to co-parent? If you answer yes to many of the questions below, you are grandparent as co-parent:

  1. Does the child have “their own room” in your home?
  2. Does the child have a specific seat at the table?
  3. Does the child have a towel hanging in the bathroom for over three days and it’s not a holiday or school break?
  4. When you go out to dinner, does the child claim a seat in your car before you get there?
  5. Did you participate in selecting and registering the child for school?
  6. Are you listed as the child’s primary contact for school and other activities?
  7. Did you help register the child for school?
  8. Do you provide transportation to and from school and other activities?
  9. Did you go to parent night?
  10. Do you coordinate and arrange drop-offs, pick-ups, play dates, activity lessons, attend performances, manage chores, enforce rules and give hugs and kisses?

Did you answer yes to most of these questions? If so, let’s face it, you are a co-parenting grandparent. Let me share with you a few quick situations that made me realize I was a co-parent.  

When it was time to register my granddaughter for school, guess who enrolled her. Guess who went to “parent night” at school. Mom had to work; dad had to work; Papa Jim had a prior commitment. I went to parent night, met all the parents, and was told I need to sign up for Schoology. 

Schoology? That’s another topic for another day.  

Anyway, co-parenting can get pretty messy if you don’t follow co-parenting etiquette. To have a successful co-parenting arrangement, I would like to start with the foundation laid by newspaper columnist Dr. Jan Blackstone-Ford.

Dr. Blackstone-Ford’s number-one ex-etiquette rule is to put the needs of the child first. Based on the foundation of putting the needs (not wants) of the child first, I will leave you with my top five “co-parenting etiquette tips.”  

When I reached out to grandparents who are also co-parents, I found them eager to share the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly that comes along with co-parenting. I was given a laundry list of tips for successful co-parenting; things that work and things that could shake the foundation of the “family” for years to come. Done wrong, inappropriately, with little forethought or even malice could cause near irreparable harm.  

Since there is a limited amount of space in this article, I believe all that I have to share can be wrapped up in these six tips. I am sure family therapists, counselors, and relationship experts have much to say on the subject. So be on the lookout for future conversations around this topic.  

  1. Communication is key. Be intentional about when, where and how you will communicate.
  • Set a date, time and location as you would any other important
  • engagement. Do this regularly.
  • Invite all involved.
  • Be considerate of each other’s schedule.
  1. Set some guidelines on how you all are going to “be” together.
  • Take time to establish some meeting and communication norms.
  • List what each person needs to feel safe in that space for all meetings.
  1. List values
  • Start with a foundation of respect.
  • Each person should share their own values.
  • This exercise will lead to a list for core values for individuals and the family unit. Yes, we are family!
  1. Outline roles, responsibilities, and expectations. It is essential to know who is responsible for what, who is authorized to do what (back to #1), and how to communicate when someone steps outside of their lane, intentionally or unintentionally.
  1. If you are people of faith or have a belief system, pray, or consult a higher power. You’re going to need it.
  1. Extend grace. No one is perfect. We make mistakes, we mess up, we transgress.

Give each other the grace and space to get it right.

Let’s face it—parenting isn’t easy. Co-parenting is often even more challenging. Add the layer of grandparent as co-parent and the relationship challenges escalate. But it can be done, and it can be done successfully.  

Our co-parenting situation is not perfect, but it’s working. Thanks to my years of study and life etiquette work—no, seriously—we have all grown over the years and we’re doing better. We have the tools, we’ve consulted the experts, we pray, and we come to the table. 

Remember, manners are memorable.

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