The grandparent-grandchild relationship can be a unique gift to both the adult and the child. Grandparents share the fun of seeing a child grow up, usually without daily responsibilities for homework or chores. Children feel cherished, and as they get to know their grandparents, they discover the perspective of a different generation.
However, keeping a strong bond with grandchildren can be harder than it seems, especially when families live far from one another, when the generations have different values or lifestyles, or when the expectations of grandparents and their adult children are at odds. These tips can help grandparents get the most of out their relationships with grandchildren.
- Find ways to connect with your grandchildren at every age. Simple pleasures such as a special song, greeting or game you always share can be fun and memorable for younger children. With older children, pay attention to their interests. Connecting becomes easier when you encourage these interests and share your own. Digging in the garden together, watching a sports event or visiting a favorite store might be ways to spend quality time together. As children grow, relationships need to evolve. Grandparents who really get to know their grandchildren can be a source of stability when the child is a pre-adolescent confronting many physical, emotional and social changes. Grandparents also nurture trust by listening to their teen and young adult grandchildren’s views on broader matters such as controversies in the news. This lets grandchildren know their opinions matter to you.
- Help children learn about their personal histories. Every child has a natural curiosity about his origins and place in the wider world. A grandparent can provide some answers through the family’s immigration story, choices the family had to make and memories or rituals that have been passed down. Items such as photos, jewelry, or religious objects may become important reminders of the past, too. Sentimental value is far more important here than monetary value.
- Carefully approach childrearing differences with your adult children. A grandparent’s ideas about discipline, privileges and expectations of the children may not always agree with the adult children’s ideas as they raise the grandchildren. To avoid friction, grandparents should strive to support the family, unless safety is at stake. Think of the grandparent role as gentle adviser to the adult children, while they remain the decision-makers about the grandchildren. If grandparents have strong feelings, expressing them once, not during a crisis, is enough. On the other hand, grandchildren do understand that different homes may have distinct sets of rules. When they visit, you may say, for example, “We’re not going to watch more than one TV show today. Would you like to go bowling or swimming?”
- Set clear boundaries about helping with the grandchildren. Speak diplomatically and truthfully about what you are willing to do. There are no right or wrong answers about tasks such as babysitting or driving children to activities. A grandparent might say, for example, “I can help you after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I’ve got my own schedule on the other days.” If you have concerns about the level of involvement with grandchildren that your adult children expect, it may help to gently speak to your son or daughter about your feelings. JSSA’s senior services professionals can help you prepare for this sort of conversation.