Relating to your grandchildren can be a joy for you, and fun for them too.
You can be a stabilizing factor in your grandchild’s life. You can help them navigate their childhood and teenage years.
For most of human history, grandparents have been essential to providing vital guidance and instruction. The traditional grandparent role may have changed. But human nature hasn’t. Your grandchildren can still benefit from your accumulated wisdom and counsel, but you may have to impart it subtly.
Television shows and movies that comically depict grandparents’ awkward attempts to relate with their grandchildren don’t help. They emphasize age differences, culture, values and technology gaps. As in all other areas, media portrayals influence us, but bear scant resemblance to real life.
You don’t need to be familiar with the latest video game, fashion trend, television show or smartphone apps. You just need to relate to your grandchildren as people.
One of the nice things about being a grandparent is, you don’t have to be the parent. You have a special role where you can indirectly influence your grandchildren and enjoy them part-time. That doesn’t mean you should stick to the colloquial model of, “Fill them full of sugar and send them back to their parents.” Time with your grandchildren also isn’t an opportunity to get back at your children for the headaches they caused you.
It’s natural to ask your grandchildren what is happening in their lives. There can be a fine line between questions to understand your grandchild’s world, and inquiries that make you seem nosy or critical.
If you feel the need to straighten out some aspect of your grandchild’s life, pick your battles. Be judicious in your criticism. Don’t criticize their taste in music, movies, TV shows or other elements of their culture. Peer pressure is a greater force than grandparent approval. Your disapproval likely won’t change anything except your relationship with your grandchild.
Rather than trying to pry the cell phone from their grasp, get them involved in something more interesting than the next post, text or tweet.
Here are seven ideas to make the most of the time you spend with your grandchildren.
Love them – Take time out and let them see they are important to you. Tell them you love them. Listen to them. Read to younger grandchildren. Listen to what they want to talk about. They may appreciate that you will spend the time with them, especially if both parents work and have limited time at home.
Show them new things – You have a wealth of experiences that may be unfamiliar to your grandchild. A change from the ordinary is one of the joys of being with a grandparent. Take them to see and do something they don’t or can’t do at home. Here in southern Utah, take them for a hike on the Anasazi trail and let them see petroglyphs firsthand rather than in books. Let them use their imagination by asking what they think the glyphs might mean, or how the people who drew them lived.
Let them try to do it themselves – The kitchen may get messy. You may need to redo a project. But the memory that, “Grandma let me do it by myself,” will last for years. You will be there to supervise and keep them safe, but there are many tasks even a young child can work at and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Tell them stories; about their parents, about your life, about how you spend your days – Historically, grandparents have born the responsibility to pass their family story to the next generation. Share what life was like before cell phones and personal computers. Flip through family photo albums. Remind teens of fond childhood memories. Go through family history with pictures from when they were young, when their parents were young, and when you were young. They may ask questions about how you handled your teen years.
Spend meaningful time with them – Sometimes sitting on the couch and watching a favorite movie means a lot to a child. You are not just making dinner or dessert with a grandchild; you are making a memory of time with Grandma and Grandpa. Share your hobby; they may become as interested in it as you are. You may discover a fellow enthusiast and further develop your relationship by sharing ideas and stories.
Be careful about asking your grandchild questions you wouldn’t ask a friend – Teens especially value their privacy and image. A grandchild might be uncomfortable with questions that would embarrass a friend.
Take them on an outing – Go somewhere your grandchild can enjoy. Any activity is more fun when you see your grandchildren involved in it. Explore a park or go for a walk. Take them to your favorite restaurant, play pickleball with them, or teach them how to play your favorite sport. Take them to a cinder cone and explain about volcanoes. Go to Zion National Park or Snow Canyon. Spend the day at the Veyo Pool and Crawdad Canyon Rock Climbing Park.
Grandchildren need the stability of family, including their grandparents, to help them stay anchored as they grow through emotional and physical changes.
When grandchildren are young, they often think grandparents are the best people ever. Parents are the disciplinarians. As a grandparent, you can enjoy having fun with them. It’s fun for younger children to sit and talk or play games for hours on end at grandpa and grandma’s house.
As grandchildren get older, especially during their teenage years, it can strain your relationship with them. Teens are caught in the maelstrom between childhood and adulthood. Spending meaningful time with your teenaged grandchild, even if they don’t acknowledge that they appreciated the attention, can make a strong positive difference in their life. It can bolster stability they need to face their life’s challenges.
Written by: Jon Thompson