Some grandparents are lucky enough to see their grandkids most days, living close at hand to help out in their day-to-day lives, but others may have to spend months apart due to distance or other factors.
Whichever category you fall in to, there are some simple ways to establish a strong bond that will continue through the years, no matter what distance comes between you and your grandchildren. Adapting to fit in to your grandchild’s life, especially when they begin to get older, may be necessary, but the relationship you’ll build will be one you’ll both treasure.
Here’s how the experts advise you can become, and remain, close to your offspring’s offspring.
Beginning when your grandchildren are young is often the easiest way to establish a strong position in their life. According to Psychology Today, nurturing the relationship is key right from the start, even when they may not even be particularly aware you’re there or not yet interested in interacting with you.
Making the effort to see them when you can will be noticed, and while offering gifts on special occasions is nice, young children are more likely to remember a fun experience or day out with you, over a new toy. Showing them unexpected places, perhaps where you yourselF grew up, will create memories they can associate directly to you, and no-one else.
To ensure you’re present in a way that your adult child and their partner appreciates, Australia’s Raising Children Network recommends you speak to the parents before the child is born, to establish what your role should and where the boundaries lie. “Listen to their ideas about how you could help and share your ideas too,” the network’s site says. “Show you’re willing and share your expectations about what you think you can do.”
But the site also cautions that you should know your own physical and mental limits, and not push yourself too hard. If you’re not a strong walker, for example, find other activities to do with them. “As you get older, or if you have health problems, you might need to adapt your time with the grandchildren to quieter activities,” the site says. “Reading and playing board games could be good options.”
If you’re not close by, the modern world has actually offered a lot of benefits for grandparents in recent years. You can learn to Skype, FaceTime, or video call them to chat, read them a bedtime story, and see them more regularly as they grow up. Kids are learning about these technologies at a much younger age, so will no doubt be keen to teach you too. And many of these communication tools have the added advantage of being free or low-cost.
Age Action Alliance says that while it may seem more difficult to keep up the communication this way, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be as close as if you saw the kids face to face. “Your grandchild can sit and chat with you, sing you songs, show you their artistic creations and speak as though you’re in the room,” the site says. “Video chatting software can be extremely valuable when you don’t see your grandchildren frequently.”
Baby Boomer Lisa Carpenter offered some advice on the US over-50s site Next Avenue, as she works to be a ‘cool grandma’ to her two grandsons. She wrote: “For kids under age 12, ‘cool’ grandparents are those who consistently and continually entertain, educate, support and make themselves relevant to their grandchildren’s lives in unique and interesting ways.”
Things like helping out with school work – perhaps making it more practical with a cooking lesson or similar – is one way to do that. Taking note of what they’re interested in at certain ages is important, so you can read up and discuss those topics with them.
Working parents may not have the time to give their kids a passionate response when it comes to a new hobby but as a grandparent, you can share their passion, and actually facilitate it. Whether it be a love for animals, or worry over a problem at school, an issue that seems impossible to a small child can be an opportunity for you to step in and help. By teaching them new ways to think, sponsoring an animal for them, or doing something closely related to a passion, it will undoubtedly make you their hero.
When kids are younger, they’re unlikely to see you as anything other than their ‘grandma’ or ‘grandpa’, but as they get older, there’s an opportunity to teach them about your own life, allowing them to respect you and see you as an individual. Whether that be sharing funny childhood stories, or failures they may be shocked by, it reminds them you were once just like them.
Writing for Psychology Today, American author and inspirational speaker Diana Raab says hearing about her grandparents’ time in the war helped offer her perspective on their lives, and her own. She added: “My grandmother taught me to type and needlepoint – two skills that I brought with me into adulthood. Sharing hobbies and interests with your grandchildren not only strengthens your bond, but gives them something to remember you by.”
Similarly, Carpenter recommended learning something new together, so you’re both beginners and equals, and have a shared passion. This can work at any age, whether it be art or crafts when they’re young, or anything from mastering unfamiliar technology to a new language when they’re older.
It doesn’t have to be high-cost to be a fun bonding time. “Consider things like photography, bird identification, guitar lessons or ceramics offered at local community education centres or local business establishments,” she advises.