Summertime for our family often includes a lot more grandparent time. My parents live nearby and my husband’s parents live five hours away. We love visiting with all of them and especially watching our children develop wonderful traditions and memories with their grandparents. However, sometimes it can be hard for the two generations to connect! Different personalities, ages, and interests can make it hard for kids and grandparents to find things to talk about.
There is a great movie called Parental Guidance that really highlights (with a lot of comedic license) some of these differences between generations. In this movie, the parents come to their daughters house to watch their grandchildren while she and her husband are out of town. These grandparents don’t visit often and as they look at photos on the mantle they see several examples of the grandkids having a ball with the husband’s parents. Then, shoved in the corner behind those photos they find one tiny picture of themselves. The grandmother looks at her husband concerned and says, “You know what we are? We’re the OTHER grandparents!” To which her husband comedically responds, “Well, we can’t be all 4.”
While I realize this movie is a bit extreme, I don’t want there to be “other grandparents” in our family. I want my children to love and connect with all of their grandparents and really get to know them.
Here are 5 ways that have helped our family encourage a little more togetherness between grandparent and grandchild:
1) Come Prepared
Some grandparents really don’t know how to interact with children which is something I remember from when I was little. Recently we posed a related question on our Facebook page and many of our readers commented similarly. To help set everyone up for success in this area we like to bring things with us that help initiate those conversations and moments. These are simple things like books, puzzles, board games, movies, etc. Grandparents and children want to connect but sometimes they just don’t know where to start. Have your child bring a stack of their favorite picture books and encourage them to ask grandma or grandpa to read to them. Call everyone to the table for a round of a favorite game. Nothing is more fun to me than seeing all of us around the table from the 6 year old to the 70 year old taking turns bumping people out in a rousing game of “Sorry.”
2) Teachable Moments
Grandparents are a wealth of knowledge and skills so why not take advantage! Have your children ask their grandparents about their hobbies and talents. What did they like to do when they were younger? What do they like to do now? Is there something they enjoy that they could teach each other? My daughter has had a long running obsession with all things baking. My husband’s mother is a wonderful baker and many times when we go to visit they will make cookies together. It is something they both enjoy and my daughter has been able to practice her baking skills and learn from her grandmother.
3) Get Outside
I have found over the years that the dynamic changes significantly when we leave the house with the grandparents. We have gone to many places including museums, hiking, theme parks, the library, and the beach. Going somewhere as simple as the neighborhood park brings out a different side of the grandparent/child relationship. Even grandparents who are a bit more serious can be found laughing and acting a bit silly when their grandchild asks them to go down the slide or ride the tea cups. One of my children's favorite outings is a special day at Disneyland with their grandmothers. We only do this once every few years but it is so fun to watch the children take the lead and the grandmas play right along with them.
4) Do as They’re Doing
When we are visiting it can be nice to let the grandparents take the lead and follow what they’re doing. On our Facebook discussion someone commented that they would sit with their grandparents while they watched their favorite television show. Relationships are about compromise and give and take and I think this is a great way to teach that. I was thinking about this when we went on a trip recently to visit my husband’s parents and really wanted to do something my father-in-law would enjoy. We decided to ask him ahead of time to plan a small simple hike that we could go on together. He is very active and enjoys going for long walks and hikes which is something we don’t often do. He chose a good place to go near the house and even had little notepads and pencils for the kids so they could take notes of things they saw. He pointed out the different vegetation to them (who knew there were so many different types of cactus?) as well as animals they saw or heard along the way. Grandpa was in his element and although there was a bit of complaining here and there from my youngest we all had a great time.
5) Stay Connected
We have spent most of the past 10 years living far from our parents and visits only happened once a year. When they would come the kids would spend the first couple days getting reacquainted only to have them go home a few days later. My husband and I would sometimes refer to them as “visiting grandparents” because that’s how it felt. Then, shortly after one particular visit from my husband’s parents two letters arrived in the mail. Grandpa had written one to each of our children not only saying what fun he had while visiting but asking them questions and even included a few photos. They were excited to write back (or draw at the time since they were quite young). This went on for almost a year and now that I think about it we should bring it back!
With phones, email, skype, and yes, even snail mail there is no reason we can’t stay connected in between visits. Maybe your kids could write letters to their grandparents and get the ball rolling? Did you go anywhere recently as a family that would be fun to write about? If the grandparents in your life live close by invite them to participate in family activities! My parents enjoy coming to dance recitals, school performances, and of course holiday events. They won’t always be able to attend but let them know you’re thinking about them.
Grandparents are wonderful and the grandparent/child relationship is a special one. I treasure the memories I have of my grandparents who have passed on and love visiting with my grandmother who is still here. Spending time with them and getting to know who they are has influenced me in so many ways, to the point that I named my first child after one of them. I hope my children will be able to say the same about their grandparents.
Question: What ways have your children connected with their grandparents? What would you add to this list?
Challenge: Pick one idea from this list and plan for it this week. If your grandparents live far away perhaps write them a letter. If they live nearby maybe plan a trip to the park. Keep those connections going!