In a generation looking for values to instill in their children, parents would do well to turn to the cultural, ethnic and religious values of their parents.

Grandparents can reach back with rituals, traditions and stories from their own pasts. They should take every opportunity to share memories with their grandchildren.

In our often chaotic lives, we can lose sight of tradition and rituals. But grandparents can create occasions to maintain the continuity: A meal every Sunday. A vacation together. A weekly visit. A phone call to absent family. An email sent regularly to grandchildren, or a webcam visit.

My grandparents shaped my view of both the past and the future. My grandmother encouraged me to take care of all my little cousins as a baby sitter. She would say, “Berry is so good with babies!” That statement gave me the encouragement I needed to find my way to my present career.

When grandparents and grandchildren dream together and make up stories, those occasions can become windows into the future. A child can dream with his grandparents without the pressure of parents’ wishes.

Grandparents’ involvement is needed more than ever today. Many parents have lost touch with the instinctive child-rearing traditions of the past and are besieged with information and advice from many conflicting sources — print, television, the Internet.

Parents know a great deal about child development, and even about parent development, but often find it difficult to make choices.

When I am criticized for being yet another source of advice, I can honestly say, “Parents were always surrounded with multiple sources of advice — aunts, uncles, teachers, friends, clergy. They had to make their own choices then, and they do now.”

But with all these options and pressures, the support of one’s own parents, or the reference points of one’s own upbringing, may supply a missing, clarifying perspective.

Single parents especially need to be near their own parents for their children’s sake. A young parent can be comforted by her own parent’s advice. But she also needs to digest it and then turn away from the parts that aren’t useful as she reaches a new level of independence from, and interdependence with, her own parents.

This process takes time and understanding on both sides. “It’s so hard for me to call my mom when I’ve got problems. Sooner or later, she’ll say, ‘You deserve that kid. You were just like her yourself.’ That’s the last thing I need to hear.”

Why is the young mother so wary of her own mother’s advice? In meetings with parents-to-be, one or the other will uncover a common conflict: “I don’t want to be a parent like my parents.” And yet both parents know that their own experience in childhood is bound to dominate their decision-making.

The desire to be “different” and “free of grandparent prejudices” is widespread. But it doesn’t have to interfere with the potential support from grandparents.

At the same time, it’s difficult for grandparents to refrain from giving advice. Every well-meant criticism can be perceived as a barb that can undermine as well as support. A “new” grandparent needs to learn how to wait before offering advice.

Grandparents can be of inestimable value if they can remain nonjudgmental about both their children as parents and their grandchildren’s behavior. Courtesy, manners and generosity can be modeled rather than lectured about.

Having grandchildren is like dessert. The burdens of discipline and full-time responsibility don’t dominate the relationship. Being able to give encouragement and admiration unreservedly builds a very special bond between a grandparent and grandchild. A relationship with grandchildren can be pure pleasure. I recommend to other grandparents that we get on with grandparenting without trying to be the parents as well.

Grandparents have told us that the following components are the most vital to strengthening a relationship with grandchildren:

• Maintaining regular family celebrations.

• Making grandchildren feel special.

• Telling family stories.

• Supporting your children as parents.

• Setting a special regular date with each grandchild.

• Having fun together.

• Reading stories together.

• Sending email or postcards to grandchildren, or communicating long-distance via webcam.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. Questions may also be sent by email to: [email protected]

— New York Times Syndicate