If you have grandchildren, chances are you’ve already discovered the importance of time spent together. Naturally, you want to make the most of that precious family time. The best grandparenting activities flow from the interests of both the grandparents and the grandchildren. You can create a deep, loving relationship with your grandchildren by sharing the things you love with them, and by being available to hear about what excites them.
Learn how to strengthen the bonds with your grandchildren whether you’re a full-time grandparent, a step-grandparent, or a long distance grandparent living a thousand miles away. Becoming more attached happens when you show your grandchild special ways you care. All grandparents can learn new ways to strengthen family ties and give your grandchild great memories.
What's so grand about grandparenting?
In no particular order grandparenting is an opportunity to play, to 'fall in love' again, and to appreciate the magic of a developing mind. Grandparents can share the things they're passionate about with a new audience; see the world in a new way through younger eyes; experience music, nature, reading, gardening, theater and other interests in conjunction with a curious young mind.
Grandparents can provide expanded support and encouragement to their grandchildren and use their breadth of experience as parents to do things differently (or the same) as they did when they were parents the first time around. Grandparenting is an opportunity to watch children develop through all stages of growth; it is an invitation to learn about 'their' music and ‘their' passions and to provide input that parents cannot. Usually, grandparents have the benefit of interacting on a level that is once removed from the day-to-day responsibilities of parents. This can make it easier to develop a close bond with grandchildren. From near or far, grandparenting can provide continuity in a child's life. Grandparents are often the family historians, and can add a rich sense of family tradition to a child's life.
Additionally, contact with grandparents can teach children positive attitudes towards aging and help them develop skills to enhance their own lifelong learning.
There are as many answers to this question as there are family configurations and needs. Some grandparenting requires a full-time commitment. For others, grandparenting is a weekend together, an afternoon play date, a summer vacation, a chat on the phone or an email exchange.
Establishing some ground rules with your son or daughter is a good first step to a long and successful relationship with your grandchild. The AARP has some tips to get you started on the right foot. Among their hints: be clear about what role you want to have in your grandchild's life, be kind to yourself and to your children, and check with the child's parents before you buy gifts. They also discuss pitfalls to avoid (like trying to be the parent, or buying affection) and positive actions to take (like respecting the parenting decisions of your adult children, and showering your grandchildren with love).
No matter the specific circumstances, when you are expressing love, showing concern for the child's safety and wellbeing, being consistent in your behavior and paying attention to their needs and words, you are doing the best grandparenting possible.
The best grandparenting activities flow naturally from the interests of both the grandparents and the grandchildren. You can create a deep, loving relationship with your grandchildren by sharing the things you love with them, and by being available to hear about the ideas and activities that excite them. Some ideas for thinking about activities and ways to spend time with your grandchildren include:
Take it easy together
Make an effort to enjoy leisure time with your grandchildren. As a grandparent, you get to interact with your grandchildren without the same daily pressures of a parent—you don't have to worry about driving carpool or juggle making dinner for the family with soccer practice and grocery shopping. Allow yourself slow down and to become really absorbed in an activity. Remove the normal boundaries of the day and spend time with your grandchildren without thinking about a schedule or what's next on the list to be done. Moving at a slower pace than usual can give children a sense that time can be 'stretched’—that you don't need to hurry through activities. And, as with adults, it gives them the psychic space to feel, reflect and express without feeling rushed.
Children love the outdoors, and trips to the park or the beach can be a great jumping off point for some wonderful adventures and happy memories. Nature walks and day hikes can provide lots of interesting things to talk about, and water activities can be especially fun. Throwing stones into the water or watching the tide or the current play with the sticks are simple activities that can be fascinating to children. You can start these activities when kids are toddlers, and expand the games as they get older. Spending time in nature and near water also provides an opportunity to experience stillness.
Share your interests or your work
Engaging in hobbies and activities that you love or your grandchild loves can be a great way to spend time together and learn about each other. Sometimes, activities that you might not expect your grandchildren to be interested in, like knitting or gardening, might turn out to provide an important point of connection for you. Similarly, if you take an interest in something they are passionate about, like trading cards or the Harry Potter book series, they may open up in a new way because they get to share their special area of knowledge.
Making the most of your grandparenting time
- Carve out one-on-one time. On occasion, spend time with individual grandchildren. It will give you an opportunity to bond, without competition, with that day's companion grandchild.
- See the sights. Concerts and plays, movies, science centers and museums, parks or walks in the neighborhood provide opportunities to be together and to exchange ideas and opinions.
- Play games. Board and card games are a unique opportunity to watch kids in action and to see how they operate in the world. Games also allow you to help your grandchild learn to be a good sport and play fairly.
- Communicate family history. Tell stories about games or trips you shared when the grandchild's parents were young. This is a great way to weave a 'tapestry' of shared experiences for the whole family.
Taking a trip with your grandchildren or sharing your love of a favorite place will help you create special memories together. Special trips, whether it be a day trip to a national park, a weekend in a nearby city, or a week-long trip will always be remembered by the child as a special journey with grandma or grandpa.
One of the great advantages of traveling with your grandchild is the opportunity for both of you to be 'away from home.' Being on the road—whatever that looks like for your family—means being free of chores, errands, the computer, the phone—any familiar routine. It means all kinds of possibilities for the unexpected—even on the best-planned trip. All the chances to read train and bus schedules, ride a ferry, stay in a motel or B&B, eat out—or have lots of picnics—offer opportunities to discover new parts of the world, of yourself, and of your grandchild.
Involve the child in the planning in whatever way you think is age-appropriate. Involve his or her parents to be sure they're comfortable with the plans. And hit the road! After you have traveled, an album of that experience can be an ongoing delight for everyone in the family.
From the beginning, engage your children in the process. They can help you learn about the stages the baby/toddler/child is going through, what his or her interests are, and what the 'rules of the house' are in regard to appropriate reading/viewing materials. When the child is old enough to interact, whether on the phone, Internet, or through mail, start engaging the child directly. Special efforts to communicate specifically with your grandchild will establish the foundation for a strong long-term relationship.
Grandparenting in the digital age
For the computer-savvy, the Internet can add a whole new dimension to long-distance grandparenting. You'll discover many sites you can share with your grandchildren. And you can visit some of these sites together. The list can grow as your grandchild's interests change and as you discover more of the world—on and off the Internet—together. If your grandchild has his or her own email address, you can Instant Message with them or maybe even set up a ‘chat date.'
Other ways to stay connected
Of course there are many long distance grandparenting activities that have nothing to do with the Internet. There are inexpensive phone cards (even international ones) that make it possible to say in touch regardless of the distance. When you're talking to your grandchildren, make notes about their interests, pets' names, books they've been reading, doll's name—anything you can repeat in the next conversation so they know you've been listening.
“Snail mail,” too, can make remote grandparenting feel less distant. Even before a child can read, he or she will be able to recognize their name on an envelope, and will love the feeling of importance implied by receiving mail or a special phone call. Check out bookstores, and books on tape or CD. Better yet, you can record yourself reading a few of your favorite children's books and send the tape along with the books, or make a tape of songs you would sing if you were together.
When you share photographs, write stories about the people in the pictures, send music cassettes or CD's with your comments on the music. All of these small things communicate your interest and love. Children will respond positively to the special attention and care, allowing you the chance to know them better when you do have the opportunity to be physically with them.
Divorce, death of parents, or a parent's work or school-related responsibilities are just a few of the reasons grandparents assume full or part-time responsibility for their grandchildren. Part of the task is day-to-day maintenance of a home, schedules, meals, homework and play dates. In cases where tragedy is the reason grandparents are involved, there are many stress factors—grieving on the part of the children and the grandparents, for example—that come into play. If this situation happens to you, know that you are part of a growing community. The AARP article "Facts about Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (see below for the link) reports that 6.3% of all children under age 18 in the United States are growing up in grandparent headed households and the number of children in grandparent headed households have increased 30% since 1990. There are resources out there for you—see below for more information and links. Raising your grandchildren, while challenging, can also be incredibly rewarding.
Learning to Co-Grandparent
Jay Kesler, in his book, Grandparenting: The Agony and Ecstasy, warns grandparents about competing with other grandparents the children have. Grandparents must realize that (in most situations) the children will be spending time with the other grandparents. And while both sets of grandparents may have similarities, they may have many differences, such as the amount of money available to spend on the grandchildren or physical capabilities. One set of grandparents may have a nice house full of amenities, have a membership to a country club or even live near the beach or an amusement park, while the other set lives more simply or even in a nursing home. Or perhaps one set of grandparents lives nearby, while another set lives miles away.
However, grandparents must remember not to turn loving their family into a competition or source of resentment. Kesler advises to set ground rules, such as always speaking kindly and supportively of the other grandparents, sharing in the children's joy when they've visited the other grandparents, and generally not appearing jealous or disappointed whenever the other grandparents are mentioned. He challenges with, "This takes a bit of maturity, but maturity is what we have to offer as grandparents. If we can't offer maturity, all we have to offer is old age -- and getting old is not the same as being mature. Maturity produces graciousness, patience, wisdom, and other virtues."
Some circumstances make it necessary for grandparents to seek legal help. If there's been a divorce, death of one parent, estrangement or the suspicion that your grandchildren are being neglected or abused you may want to consult a lawyer or advocacy group to ensure access to your grandchildren. Two issues arise with regard to grandparenting: custody and visitation. In either event, the goal is to maintain the children's connection to a family beyond the nuclear family.
In the event of a divorce or other broken relationship, you may have to resort to mediation or even a lawsuit to secure your grandparents visitation rights. Since the Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, the grandparents have had the burden of proving that visitation with them is in the "best interest of the child." One way to prove this is by documenting an extensive existing relationship with grandchildren. Although many grandparents have such a relationship, many have not documented it. Here's what you should do to prepare.
Designate a folder or box to hold your documentation. Don't spend a lot of time organizing your information. Chances are that you won't ever need it, but you will have it if you do.
Have you served in a parental relationship to your grandchildren? Have they lived with you? Have you provided child care on a regular basis? If so, you need to think of persons who are acquainted with those circumstances. Think about school personnel, medical personnel, neighbors and other who observed you filling the parental role for your grandchildren. You might make some notes of names and phone numbers. There is no need to obtain other documentation at this time.
If you did not serve as a part-time or full-time parent to your grandchildren, but you still had a close relationship with them, gather documentation of that relationship. Consider the following types of evidence:
- Photographs of you and your grandchildren
- Ticket stubs or receipts for events you attended together
- Receipts for restaurant meals
- Receipts for items you bought for grandchildren, especially for necessary items such as clothing
- Copies of emails exchanged with grandchildren, or emails exchanged with parents about the grandchildren
- Records of phone calls.
Have you married another grandparent? Have your kids become stepparents? Step-grandparenting has grown as a family phenomenon because of the growing number of blended families. These blended family relationships call for compassion, genuine interest, understanding—and patience!
Step-grandparenting can present awkward moments, and create complex relationships—especially if there are already other grandparents in the picture. Children might feel the need to be loyal to the original grandparents and conflicted about giving and receiving affection in the new relationship.
Grandparents, children, and grandchildren all need time to mourn the loss of the biological family. Give yourself and the children time to get to know one another, have fun together. Plan some special times together without an agenda.
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