I don’t know what happened, but between my generation and my son’s, grandparents changed. They’re younger (or at least act like they are), more active outside of the home, still dating, and often live further away. The grandparents that seem to still behave like “grandparents” are actually “great grandparents” now.
When I was young my grandparents looked after me. I was with them at least weekly, and spent every summer with them once my mother and I moved further away. My grandparents were like second parents to me, and seemed motivated to play that position. Grandparents were people who looked forward to you coming, gave you loose change, feed you treats, and loved to tell you stories. Grandparents were also the center of the family — their home was where you met up with your Uncles and Aunts and cousins and had holiday dinners.
My son has lots of grandparents. But the dynamics are very different. My mother and father separated when I was young, and my dad was not very present in my life. As a result, he is not very present in my son’s life. My mother lives states away and can’t physically be present. My parents are also both in the dating pool, and so very involved in their own lives. My son’s great-grandparents love to see him, but they are frailer and less active, and he quite frankly, wears them out. And I’m always afraid that he will physically break them with all of his bouncing around and running!
So how do I change this? How do I ensure that my son has the benefit of grandparents in his life?
1) Formulate Traditions.
I looked forward to seeing my grandparents every summer. Maybe you spent summers at your grandparent’s lakehouse or Christmas with Grandma. Foster traditions like that between your child and parents.
2) Organize Outdoor Activities for All.
Grandparents still like to have fun. There are many activities you can organize that are fun and appropriate for all ages.
- Grab tickets to the next NBA game or invite your grandparents to your kid’s games.
- Organize a camping trip, but rent a cabin or RV so everyone can feel comfortable.
- A fishing trip might be mellow enough for all to enjoy.
- A trip to the library is always fun and educational.
- Sunday at the park or beach is free and relaxing.
3) Family Night.
Include grandparents in family night. We had some nights of karaoke when we lived closer to my mother; what a family fun we were fostering! Ask Grandma to cook with your kids once a month. This will give her an opportunity to pass down those great family recipes and bond with her grandkids. If she’s not a cook, ask her to include your kids in what she does best – sewing, gardening, hiking, etc. Grandpa should have the same bonding opportunities. Is he skilled in Chess or Backgammon, ask him to teach your kids to play.
4) Send Mail.
My grandparents write letters, my son’s grandparents write emails. Whatever the medium, encourage your kids to write. Grandparents always enjoy written communication over a text message or Facebook Like, and when they reciprocate your child will have a written record of communication with their grandparent.
5) Show Them They Are Important.
I think we have forgotten how to show our elders how much we love and need them. I often fail to invite my grandparents to my son’s birthday parties because I think they won’t come; they are older and are often in poor health. But just getting an invitation means a lot. Make those check-in phone calls and visits (even if it means driving a distance or getting on a plane). Grandparents need to feel wanted.