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Friday, September 22, 2023

Learning How to Be a Great Grandparent

Grandparenting can be the most rewarding role you ever have. Here’s how to be marvelous at it.

From that sweet little newborn to a young adult, grandchildren are the apple of every grandparent’s eye. But what, exactly, is our place in this relationship? Should we be shepherding the new mom and dad since we are seasoned parents? What about spoiling the grandkids? How can we get the most out of long-distance visits? Are our expectations in line with reality?

Doing More Than Giving

It’s fun to be the one who can give a grandchild the latest toy or gizmo. It’s instant gratification when the child looks at you, beaming with pleasure. But remember that your superpower is to give time spent making memories. A model rocket kit is nice, but having Grandma and Grandpa help with construction and be there for the launch: priceless. Modeling clay makes a great craft, but watching a child work the clay and paint it, then admiring the finished product, is the best part of the gift. 

Making a Book with Your Grandchild

It’s easy to send photos out and have a softcover or hardcover book made. You can include age-appropriate text, or have your grandchild help with a story or captions. The book can be a compilation of photos from a trip you took, or a story that you create and illustrate together. One option is to choose an offering from Walmart. The company has a variety of sizes, materials, and prices, and will ship or you can pick up your book at the store. 
Have you considered giving an adventure instead of something in a box? One grandma knew her grandson loved trains, so she bought tickets on Amtrak for an overnight ride. The two of you could try paddle boarding together, or mini golf, camping at a national park, tea at a hotel, horseback riding, or a trip to a water park. Grandparents can decorate a room to look like a cave, a scene under the ocean or a rainforest. 

Make a photo book of your adventure and give it to the child. The two of you will be able to relive your time together again and again.

Parents of a baby usually leap at the chance to drop off their little one with the grandparents. Singing or reading to the child, playing pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo, are wonderful gifts that cost nothing and make the baby feel loved and content. 

Get Messy

You may have forgotten how dirty and messy children are. Expect it. If you like to keep your house neat, put reasonable limits on what they can do, then embrace their enthusiasm and joy. Shoes? Take them off when you come in. Finger painting? Only outside on the picnic table or patio. Toys? Put one away before you get out another one or pick them all up before you go. 

It’s fine to set boundaries, but don’t turn into the kid police. Napoleon’s mother had a room in the house where her kids could run riot and coloring on the walls was encouraged. Let your grandchildren be kids. Have a place where they can make a mess.

Don’t Burden Your Children

Keep your expectations of your grandchild’s parents in check. You may not be invited back if you criticize their parenting or tell them they need to vacuum. Ditto for pointing out bad behavior in their children. Try to lead by example, and ask what you can do to help them during your visit. Ask how they do things, rather than telling them how things should be done. 

Just like when they were your little kids, take every opportunity to compliment their cooking, decorating, parenting and anything else you can find. Offer to host them, or let them know that you can pick up dinner. Tell them that you just want to spend time with the grandkids, and would they like a night out? 

The Other Grandparents Are Not Your Rivals

Don’t try to be equal to or better than the other set of grandparents. Graciousness will get you everywhere. If your grandson loves playing with a toy from the other grandparents best, go with it. You can join in the game or compliment their choice. If the other grandparents can spend more time with the kids, be happy your grandchildren are loved. Think of your grandchildren first and bite your tongue whenever needed. 

Love Equally

You may feel especially close to one grandchild but not another. Or you could enjoy the ones who are preschool age and hold your nose around the teenagers. You could like your daughter’s children much more than your son’s. Nonetheless, all grandchildren should be treated equally. Find a connection with each and make the most of your time together. 

One smart move is to spend time with grandchildren individually, rather than always with their sibling(s). Do activities based on the child’s interests to create special memories for the two of you. If she loves trucks, take her to a construction site. If he’s into rocks, go hiking to collect specimens. 

"Kids are really smart. If you only seem to like them when they're on their best behavior or in an 'easy' phase, they'll know this and be wary. It's the grandparent version of the fair-weather friend," says Amy Goyer, multigenerational family expert for the AARP and author of Things to Do Now That You're a Grandparent.

Lead the Way

Don’t expect your grandchildren to call or write to you, and don’t expect their parents to initiate calls. It’s normal that kids don’t think about staying in touch. Write short letters to your grandchildren if they like the novelty of snail mail. FaceTime regularly, even if your calls sometimes go unanswered. Make it your job to reach out.

Don’t forget birthdays and send cards for other holidays. Make up your own special holidays. Look, it’s national Emma day! Now it’s Send Your Grandson a Card day! Have fun celebrating occasions that you decide on together. National Have a Picnic In the Backyard Day? Why not! National Face Painting Day? Of course! 

Be Supportive

Encourage your grandchildren at every opportunity. Attend events, admire their work, praise their efforts. Ask about their likes, their best friend, the fight they got in at school and then listen to their answers. Listen some more. You can be a safe sounding board, someone with a different perspective from their parents. Let them know that failure is okay, that you will always love them. 

Write down notes from conversations to help keep track of a new doll’s name, or their favorite flavor of ice cream, the book they’re reading or what joys and worries they have. Then ask for updates during your next call. 

Share Family Traditions and Memories

Kids want to know what their parents were like when they were growing up, and grandparents are in a great position to offer funny stories and show pictures of Mom and Dad when they were small. Offer stories of family adventures, mistakes, success … and be sure to relate them to what the grandchildren are doing. Bring out old photos; just make sure to keep it short and sweet so you’re not like the neighbor showing 300 slides of their trip to Niagara Falls!