You have a joyous opportunity to support the next generation. Be yourself, be firm but fair, and bond through tradition
Anthropologists and evolutionary theorists who have studied family relationships throughout history identify grandparents as playing an important part in helping parents ensure the physical survival of their children. While not a popular subject for research, studies of modern societies too show how the involvement of grandparents can help their grandchildren’s resilience and overall healthy development.
Circumstances force some grandparents into being surrogate parents, and you who are such heroes will need more than this Guide to manage your dual roles. But even outside of such extremes, most of us grandparents have opportunities to forge a unique place in our grandchildren’s lives. This was easier to do when families were less likely to be scattered around the world.
If your grandchildren are far away, you will want to see them whenever possible, and we encourage you to follow this Guide as best you can, using both old-fashioned and modern means of communication.
1. Aim to be ‘good enough’
From the first contact with the new arrival in the family, it is vital to keep on the best possible terms with your grandchild’s parents (both your own child and their partner). The more the parents see you as being on their side, ready to help and unlikely to criticise, the better chance you have of keeping close to your grandchild. Praising this amazing baby/child/teenager will (mostly) be easy, but remember that praising her parents is equally important. Think back to yourself as a young mother or father: who made you feel confident, and what did they say? Specific praise is always the most effective, so something such as ‘Look at how she is sharing her berries, you’re doing a great job’ will work well.
2. Keep your extended family in touch with each other
Cousins, aunts and uncles are in a special place between the nuclear family and the rest of the world. In today’s small families, your grandchildren’s older cousins can be especially important as ‘just-ahead’ role-models, and their younger cousins can provide them with opportunities for practicing caregiving. By making occasions for groups of your grandchildren to get together, you can enrich their shared memories of childhood.
3. Connect through books
Through the years, books can be one of the best continuing conduits to your grandchild. As well as singing lullabies and nursery rhymes, begin reading to him as soon as you can. Imprint into his memory the sound of a rhythmic voice and the rustle of a turning page. I thought reading with toddlers and young children would be the most satisfying, but then I remembered the ongoing pleasure of book discussions with my children as early readers, teenagers and adults. Read what your grandchildren are reading, ask what they think, talk briefly about what puzzled you, pleased you or annoyed you. Give them books that you or their parent enjoyed and enjoy the re-reading yourself.
4. Set your own rules
As children grow and their interaction with the world expands beyond their immediate family, they will be expected to adjust to different environments. Think of school, a concert, a job interview – all placing varied expectations on their behavior.
Your home might well be your grandchild’s first experience of this, providing them a valuable opportunity to practice meeting gradually different expectations. These lessons can last a lifetime. So, don’t be afraid of setting some ‘old-fashioned’ house rules for your home, car or in your company.
5. Be yourself
You might be tempted to bond with your grandchildren by adapting your own speech and behavior to be more like theirs. However, I say use your own language and be yourself. Please don’t try to use current slang – by the time you have some idea of what it means, you will probably be out of date. But, more importantly, by being true to yourself, you can expand the vocabulary of your grandchildren and introduce them to new words and traditional sayings.
Teach life skills
Think about what every day, practical life skills your grandchildren will need when they are adults. Just about all children love cooking and gardening, so they are the best places to start. Of course, it takes longer and makes more mess to teach a child to make scones than to make them yourself, but such an undertaking will probably be easier for you than for a busy parent. Make your own list of basic life skills to pass on, but we recommend starting with sharp knives, drill and screwdriver, needle and scissors, and a hot stove. Work up to power tools in the kitchen, the garden and the shed. We always include the sewing machine.
Establish and maintain traditions
Remember that, as a grandparent, you are the centerpiece of five generations, and the family stories you heard as a child will stretch even further back in time. This puts you in a unique place to tell stories about the past: stories about real people to whom you are all connected.
*Portions of article reprinted from: https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-connect-with-your-grandchildren-for-both-your-sakes