Being a grandparent can be a great source of joy. It can help you feel young, it gives you the chance to hold a baby and it gives you the chance to share the things you’re passionate about with a new audience. As a grandparent, you want to make the most of the time you are able to spend with your grandchildren. Whether you are a full-time grandparent, long-distance grandparent or step-grandparent, it’s important to find ways to maintain a strong relationship with your grandchildren.
Many grandparents, both new and seasoned, have many questions about being a grandparent: How do I stay involved, but not too involved, how do I make sure I’m not stepping on my children’s toes regarding parenting issues and how can I stay connected with my grandchildren as they grow up. Unfortunately, grandparenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual.
Establish Your Role
Grandparenting is a great opportunity see the world through younger eyes again. It gives you the experience of the wonder and magic of seeing life through your grandchildren’s eyes, it allows you to share your own life experiences with someone new and it allows you to experience the pleasures of interacting with your grandchildren on a level that is removed from the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting. Often, grandparents can act as historians of the family lore and help to create a sense of tradition in your grandchild’s life.
There are, however, many different roles that you can play as a grandparent. In order to take that first step in establishing a strong and healthy relationship with your grandchildren, it’s important to consider the following:
- Be clear about the role you want to play: Think about how often do you want to babysit and whether you want to be included in your grandchild’s daily routine, like school pick up and other functions.
- Talk to your own children about what their expectations are: Many grown children have an idea of what role they want their parents to play. It’s important to sort this out before misunderstandings arise.
- Discuss discipline with your children beforehand: Will your children expect you to discipline your grandchildren? What methods are they comfortable with?
- Babyproof your own home: It’s likely been a long time since you had little ones in your home. Your children are more likely to visit if they know their children have a safe place to play.
- Recognize that all parenting styles are not the same: Even though you may expect your child to raise your grandchild in the same way you raised them, this does not always happen. Learning to respect your grown child’s opinions about child rearing, discipline styles and values is key to a good relationship with your grandchildren.
In establishing your role as a grandparent, however, there are a few pitfalls that you should try to avoid. Trying to be the parent, trying to buy your grandchild’s affection, overindulging your grandchild and ignoring the boundaries set out by their parents are sure ways of alienating your children and perhaps causing them to limit your access to your grandchildren.
Unfortunately, a large majority of grandparents live far away from their grandchildren. The distance can make it difficult to keep up with the day-to-day details of your grandchild’s life. Even when grandparents do not live far away, with busy lives, hectic extra-curricular schedules and the demands of friends and school, it may be hard to be as involved with your grandchildren as you would like. Here are a few ways that you can stay connected despite the distance or life circumstances:
If You’re Nearby:
- Make a Date: If you are nearby, or are able to visit your grandchild, making a date to do something special, just the two of you is a great way to renew bonds. Going for lunch, shopping, to a sporting event, taking in a movie or having a sleepover can help you stay connected. As a grandparent, it’s your job to make time together fun and easy. Leave the harder tasks of parenting to their parents.
- Establish rituals. Every Fourth of July, birthday or other family celebration, measure your grandchild’s height on the closet door, and compare it to his dad’s at the same age. Or, plant a special garden with perennials and watch them grow every year.
- Be involved in your grandchild’s school life. Arrange to take her to school, or pick her up some afternoons, if possible. You might also ask her teacher for ways to help out in the classroom, such as by reading books to the children or helping at snack time. At the park after school, throw the ball around, or push her on the swings.
If You’re Far Away:
- Go digital: The Internet can add a whole new dimension to grandparenting. Video conferencing, texting, emailing and chatting can help you stay connected to your grandchildren. Play online games, start an online book club and exchange jokes and stories online.
- Send mail the old fashioned way: It’s always great to get a letter. Before they learn to read, sending pictures and as they get older, regular letters are sure to put a smile on their faces. Sending care packages is even better!
- Pick up the phone: It’s very inexpensive these days to stay connected over the phone. Try establishing a regular routine in calling your grandchildren that doesn’t interfere with homework or dance class. Don’t limit phone calls to birthdays or special events. Feel free to call often and stay connected.
While being a grandparent can be a wondrous and joyful time in your life, distance and circumstances often make it challenging. Research has shown that when grandparents are involved with their grandchildren, even from a distance, the different generations are much happier. The more effort you put into making connections with your grandchildren, the stronger these bonds become and the harder it will be to break them. Grandchildren will value the memories of shared times for their entire lives. Visiting with them as often as you can is important, as is making the most of your time together, whether it’s face-to-face or through new technology. Every little bit counts.
- Losing Your Grandparents Through a Divorce (againstherbetterjudgement.wordpress.com)
- Making a Memory with Your Grandchild (grandmacents.com)
- Grandparenting Memories, No Technology Required (examiner.com)
- 7 Ways to Avoid Conflict Over Grandparent Visitation (aarp.org)
- The Gift of a Grandparent (tinystepsmommy.com)
- A Growing Population: Grandchild Caregivers (lifefoneblog.com)