Making it work, Tips & Lists

coParenting: One from the Nana Files

Read more about how the grandparents can help your coParenting relationship and the important role they play in your child’s life. (4 min 3 sec read)

Hon. Sherrill Ellsworth (RET)
Judge Ellsworth was one of the court's most respected and admired bench officers. She retired from the bench to focus on having a greater impact on today’s families by making our courts more accessible, effective, and efficient.

Last week my husband and I ( Papi and Nana) had the opportunity to spend a week cruising the Caribbean with my adult children and 9 of our 11 grandchildren. This closed proximity week gave me a greater insight into the importance of grandparenting and what that role means to the modern family.

Grey, a rambunctious, forever moving 5 years old is the reincarnate of his father forever flying off a chair or swinging arms and legs hitting everything in his wake. He literally climbed walls, used balloons as weapons and charged headlong into throngs of people moving to the buffet line. He, like his father as a child, is a human tornado. I watched his parents be mindful and diligent in correcting him gently with love. I can not fault them for any of their parenting or coping skills. I also saw the stress leave their bodies right before my eyes as Grey was dropped off at kids club so mom and dad could enjoy dinner without retrieving projectile dinner rolls from the adjacent table.

Even at Grey’s most whirlwind moments as his loving grandmother, this Nana felt zero stress. To me, Grey hangs the moon and I am seasoned enough and wise enough, lived long enough to not sweat the small stuff. And because I was not feeling stressed a simple touch of my hand calmed this little warrior. He crawled on my lap and I wrapped my arms around him and repeatedly whispered into his ear just how magnificent he was and conveyed without condition that I loved him.

The cruise was a great reminder that my role as Nana for these grandchildren is two-fold; to ensure that each grandchild feels my love and that I set a proper example of silliness, magic, and fun. Every day, I made certain that I spent a part of my day with these 9, my tribe. Every day each of them felt a loving hug, a kiss. They sat on my lap, or held my hand or snuggled up with me. And in those moments I told them how wonderful they each were individual with words of encouragement, praise for their process, not their accomplishments. I told them how much they meant to me and why.

I also “played” with them. Yes, good old fashion silliness, laughter, goofball madness and fun. I wore silly hats, sang funny songs, and danced as only a woman of my age can do with fairy wings on her back. I let the “grands” be children and I encouraged frivolity and wackiness.  By finding joy in the smallest of discoveries I believe that I sparked their happiness into full-blown euphoria.

As a grandparent, my job description involves being my grandchildren’s number one fan. There should never be any doubt that no matter what else goes wrong in their lives that they can count on me. I had the following wood sign hand painted and sent to the homes of my grandchildren, ‘When Nothing is Going Well, Call Nana’. I want to be the person that loves them without condition. We all could use someone in our corner even if we are not making good choices. Someone who may kindly correct our course by having spent an entire lifetime in our cheering section.

As a family law judge, when coParents are steeped in acrimony unable to see through their anger I would often look for a solid grandparent from both sides of the aisle and ask them to commit to just being a grandparent. What does that mean? That means the only side a grandparent should take is SWITZERLAND, neutrality or better yet, the kid’s side! A child-centered grandparent can sew some stability into the torn fabric of the separating family by being a support to both the coParent and the children. When parents are trying to coParent after a break up riddled with hurt, grandparents can either stoke the fury fires of discontent or quell the heat by being a wise resource of “ time healing all wounds” and “looking forward” by making child-centric decisions. Grandparents that are a positive influence should be front and center of any well thought out parenting plan.

Being a parent today is not easy. Our kids face incredible challenges. Parents, coParents and children alike can use the institutional wisdom and support of a grandparent whose main concern is not to judge, interfere or criticize but, to instead ask, ”What can I do to better to support you?”

I am willing to zip line, go to see Mary Poppins Returns, drive a Waverunner, dance to the Trolls soundtrack, wear a funny hat, makeup bedtime stories of wild adventure on a place called Nana’s Island all for those grandkids that I love. There is no better job in the world than this the one that requires me to love and to have fun.

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