With the birth of my daughter’s second child, I began to reflect on the important role that grandparents can play in the lives of their grandchildren. Here are five essential tips for older adults who want to have a lasting influence in the lives of their children and grandchildren.
Visit often. For those of us fortunate enough to live near our children and grandchildren, it is easy to see them often. Grandparents may even be the caregivers while parents are working. Visits don’t always have to be planned. Sometimes the best family time is a spontaneous invitation to dinner and a movie. However, sometimes distance can prevent regular visits. Some grandparents make it a goal to see their distant grandchildren once every 6 weeks or every few months. Be sure to take advantage of technology for your time together. Set a regular time to Skype or do Face-time. Don’t miss out on the subtle changes in those early years while babies are growing. Exchanging pictures may help, but they don’t replace the in-person experience. You may even think of relocating to be closer to family. For older grandchildren, be sure to have their cellphone number. Text them often and exchange pictures to stay involved in their lives and let them know you are available to them. Even small connections throughout the week (but without being annoying to teenagers of course) can make a difference in your relationship with your grandchildren.
Offer to help in practical ways. Working parents with young children will need a break at times. Ask how you can best help. Offer to keep the children for an overnight while mom and dad have a special dinner or weekend getaway. Many grandparents like to take their grandchildren on trips without the parents. Places like amusement parks, the zoo, or day trips to the water park or national forest all provide good diversion and quality time with Grandma and Grandpa while giving parents a rest. For even more quality time, take the older grandchildren on a cruise, camping in the mountains, or to a resort without their parents. For the mom with a newborn, take meals to the house (if you live close), do her grocery shopping or laundry, or send her a new bathrobe to show you are thinking of her. A favorite role model of mine sends the grandchildren a “baby shower in a box” with all sorts of goodies when she can’t be present due to distance or health concerns.
Plan special activities. Special activities need not be expensive. This could mean a trip to the park with Grandma or a special morning walk each week with Grandpa. My father used to take every grandson on a bow-hunting trip when they turned 12 years old. This was a rite of passage for every boy in the family. Grandpa would mount their first deer head for them and buy them a special hunting knife to commemorate the occasion. The girls in the family would take a trip to a Disney resort while the men were hunting. Grandchildren remember these events forever.
Attend special events. How fortunate are the kids whose grandparents are able to attend basketball and volleyball games, swimming tournaments, and Grandparent’s Day at school! Take advantage of being able to attend those dance recitals and school plays. If you live far, plan your visits to be able to attend some significant events like graduations, wedding showers, or school performances. This makes lasting memories with your family.
Be a constant in their lives. My parents divorced when I was 9 years old, and my paternal grandparents were the one constant in my life at that time. When a child’s world is jolted by change, grandparents can be that steadying influence that doesn’t change. They provide stability and security in an unsteady world for a child. The most important thing to remember is to be there. You don’t have to be the all-star parent or grandparent, but your children will remember that you were there for them when it counted the most.