My greatest joy

Picture of Dr Robyn Mills

Dr Robyn Mills

Robyn is a psychologist and health professional

When I was a mother, I was often busy and frustrated. I would often be yelling at my children not to do something. That's not the way you should do things.

I had three children under three because I thought babies were cute and then they became toddlers and started to fight. But when you’re trying to work and do full time study, your attention can be divided in too many directions.

Your kids don’t need you to be busy ‘elsewhere’ all the time. They need you to be present. My children are way better parents than I ever was. I sometimes wonder how my children got that good at parenting. I know I’m a way better grandmother than I ever was a mother.

As grandparents you have all this time. I just love being present to my grandchildren and even when they say something ridiculous, my heart’s laughing because you know that they’re learning and that you’re helping them learn in a different way.

I’m not responsible for their washing, their cleaning or any of those other things … one of your jobs is that you can spoil them. I’m not always allowed to spoil them with food. I get into a little bit of trouble if I step over that line.

I have three daughters and three sons-in-law. They all have different beliefs about parenting. So, I can’t put the one stamp on how I’m going to treat all the children because one allows them to have chocolate, one, doesn’t allow them chocolate and one allows more time on electronics.

You can’t change the parent’s rules. It can be a minefield sometimes because you might not agree with a strategy that one of your children has put in place, but it’s their strategy. It’s their parenting belief. It’s the way they want to bring up their children. You have to work around that and that flexibility, because as a grandparent, I have pretty strong ideas. You have to step back from your own strong ideas and go, “This is what they’ve chosen.”

If the grandchildren are not allowed to do something, they’re not allowed to do something. That’s the bottom line. I can get away with a chocolate ice cream and doing something special, but I can’t be constantly feeding them things that are not good for their health. The chocolate ice cream sounds good, but not 10 minutes before dinner. It has to be time appropriate. You also want your relationship to be built on a lot of other things, other than just spoiling them.

There are a lot of grandparents involved in picking up children after school and caring for them till the parents get home. Especially before COVID when people were perhaps catching the train into the city …  45 minutes to get to work and 45 minutes after work. Sometimes they’re away from their children for long periods, so after school care can be really important.

When a child has had issues at school, they may come home and tell the family member that is caring for them at that time. You have to be really careful as a grandparent. For example, one of my grandchildren once came home with a mark on his face. It looked like he’d be in a physical altercation. He didn’t want to talk to me or to my daughter who was at work.

As a psychologist and a grandmother, I wanted to find out what was going on. But the little voice in the back of my head kept saying, “Your daughter would be wanting to sort this out, not you. She feels bad because she’s at work and she wants to be here after school, sorting out the problem.”

I rang my daughter and told her what I thought was going on. She said, “I’ll leave work and come home.” She came home and she listened to her son. A boy at school had belted him. The headmaster had said my grandson didn’t start the fight. He was winning the ball in a game and the other kid got angry and started hitting him.

But my grandson didn’t want to tell me. He was worried that would influence me not to like the boy. See how careful you have to be? My daughter was really pleased that she was the one that got to help him work out what to do and what to say, and to help him feel safe.

As a grandparent, I want to fix it, but there are times when I have to step back and allow the parent to do what the parent wants to do. That is hard, especially if your natural inclination is to go in there, ‘boots and all’, to try and help your grandchild.

I know we talk about ‘spoil’ as a word, but for me it’s to help them feel loved by me and to know that I can help them be the best version of themselves. I particularly want to help them be a person that’s going to help build humanity. A loving, kind person in the world. I love teaching my grandchildren about respect.

We have the right to help our grandchildren be the best version they can be … allow them to make mistakes and do all the things that perhaps I wouldn’t have allowed my children to do.

The relationships that I have now as a grandparent, I’m thinking about how I can expand this love in the world by helping my grandchildren and my children by being more loving, respectful, kind, and generous. That’s what my grandchildren are going to mirror. That’s how they’re going to be in life.

I’d like to say that being a grandparent is the gift of life that your children give back to you. You give your children life and then they give their children life. And it’s as though they’re giving this beautiful gift back to you that can open your heart.

I would say that my heart is way more open.

Give yourself permission to be more open-hearted and to be more forgiving when they make mistakes and to fill their little hearts with love so that they can take that love and give it to the world. As a grandparent, what you’re giving is the chance for the world to be a better place when you leave it, than what it was when you began your life as a child.

My grandchildren are the most precious things on the planet. As a grandparent if you model love, you speak love, you live love.

Footnote: This is an edited version of a Parenting Session podcast with Dr Robyn Mills titled The Joy of Grandparenting. It can be accessed at

A series of resources prepared by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life is available on the Bishops Conference website at:

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