Grandparents Need to Put in Effort If They Want the Rewards
Today, I harshly judge my grown children’s grandparents. In fact, my feelings about them mirror the chicken’s negative assessment of the other farm animals in the fable, The Little Red Hen.
Do you recall that tale from your childhood? If not, let me refresh your memory.
The hen finds some wheat and decides to turn it into bread. She asks the others to help her plant it but they decline.
At each stage as she harvests and mills the wheat into flour and then bakes it, she asks her barnyard buddies for their assistance. But each time they flatly refuse.
Then, when she removes the warm, mouthwatering bread from the oven, the hen asks if there’s anyone who wants to eat it. The other creatures all enthusiastically reply, “Yes!”
Fed up with their unwillingness to help at any point during the bread-making process, though, the hen decides to keep the loaf all for herself and runs away with it.
I’m Now Feeling Just as Stingy About My Sons
Today, I relate to the hen with her spectacular loaf of bread that she so lovingly and painstakingly prepared. She put in the time and effort so, unsurprisingly, she’s unwilling to share. Believe me, I get it.
My two grown sons are now like that amazing loaf of bread—fully baked and highly desirable.
One is a mature and charming 22-year-old college graduate who’s beginning a job with a six figure salary. The other is a funny and engaging college athlete, honor student, and president of his fraternity.
Yet, they were once just like the hen’s humble wheat. They required love, hard work, and dedication to become something spectacular.
My older son was diagnosed with autism at 4 and I worked for years in tandem with speech and occupational therapists to help him improve his articulation, enhance his gross motor development, and advance his fine motor skills.
I had a newborn at that time and asked my mother and my in-laws to help. I was overwhelmed and suffering from postpartum depression. Just like the farm animals to the hen, though, they flatly refused.
Today, they want credit for the successes of my sons. They want to bathe in the glory of having such high-achieving grandchildren. I resent this, though, knowing they don’t deserve it.
A Message to Grandparents: You Matter
Because I had no other choice, I came to accept and find peace in the reality that my mother and my in-laws wanted limited, superficial roles in the lives of their grandsons.
Today, when I talk about the positive impact that grandparents can have on their grandkids, I often hear older folks say, “We’ve already paid our dues. It’s time for the next generation to rear the kids. We don’t want to parent all over again.”
I imagine that’s how my mother and my in-laws felt but never verbalized it.
Obviously, my suggestions aren’t for people like them who don’t want to make an effort. Rather, they’re for anyone who truly wants to be a powerful influence in the lives of their grandchildren by putting in the time.
With that in mind, here are 15 things grandparents should keep in mind when seeking to enrich the lives of their grandkids.
15 Ways to Be a Good Grandparent
1. Don’t sell yourself short.The University of Oxford conducted a large-scale study that showed grandparents can play a positive role in the emotional and behavioral development of their grandchildren. When grandparents are involved in their lives, grandkids are more secure and confident and less likely to act out in negative and unhealthy ways.
2. Love unconditionally. Children today interact with many adults—teachers, coaches, scout leaders, music instructors, dance trainers, tutors—who expect them to perform and excel. A grandparent’s unconditional love, therefore, is truly rare and wonderful and makes kids feel special for just being themselves.
3. Give the gift of time. Moms and dads are frightfully busy these days with long commutes, busy careers, and lots of distractions from social media. Grandparents offer a slower pace. They have the time and patience to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. When I was on a walk recently, I was transfixed by a grandpa and his grandson sitting on the curb together, watching all the goings-on at a construction site. They both looked so content as they watched the bulldozers, cranes, and dump trucks do their jobs.
4. Insist on a no-screen policy. Although parents know they should limit screen time at home, many of them don’t. Screens are just too addictive and are such convenient, ubiquitous babysitters. Grandparents, though, can just say “no” and help their grandchildren interact, converse, and have fun without their devices.
5. Help grandchildren develop a spiritual life. Today, many young people are “nones,” meaning they’re atheists, agnostics, or unaffiliated with any organized religion. While your grandchildren may not be growing up with a particular faith, they can still reap the significant health benefits from leading a spiritual life. Grandparents can teach their grandkids about having belief in a higher being, the benefits of meditation and/or prayer, the importance of being grateful, the value of spending time in nature, and the significance of taking care of the planet and its inhabitants.
6. Share your love of books. As a teacher of young children, I want grandparents to know that they’re more powerful than the mightiest educator when it comes to turning their grandkids into passionate readers. While a teacher can provide phonics instruction and decoding skills, they cannot do what a grandparent does so beautifully and naturally—building that all-important association between reading and feelings of love, comfort, and security.
7. Strengthen your grandchild's connection to books. A youngster’s enthusiasm for reading begins when they’re little—most likely before they even start school. To encourage a love of books, focus on what matters most: the warm, fuzzy feelings. These positive emotions are generated when a baby sits on grandma's lap and looks at the illustrations in a book. They’re fueled when a preschooler walks to the library with grandpa for story-time. They get charged when a youngster sits by the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate, while grandparents read fairy tales and nursery rhymes to them.
8. Teach your grandchild that reading builds knowledge. Research shows that children need to be exposed to more non-fiction reading material. At school and at home, they read more fiction than non-fiction. Grandparents can be helpful, therefore, by teaching them how to gain knowledge by reading. Use a recipe while baking with them. Show them how to use a manual when repairing their bike. Have them read the directions first before playing a board game.
9. Let them see you reading. Grandparents can be powerful role models when it comes to reading non-fiction. Let your grandchildren see you looking up information in books and online when you need to learn more about a particular subject.
10. Use books to let your grandchildren open up about their thoughts, fears, and dreams. Books are wonderful for stimulating important conversations about a whole host of issues that may be troubling kids: divorce, death, the end of a friendship, climate change, and so on. When youngsters connect with story characters and their dilemmas, they’re more likely to open up about their own struggles.
11. Instill manners. I’ve taught young children for over two decades and have witnessed a dramatic and depressing decline in their manners. When I began teaching, most of my students had the basics instilled in them at home—knowing when to say please, thank you, may I, excuse me, and I'm sorry. In recent times, though, I've been forced to create a unit for them on how to behave politely. If grandparents can instill manners in their grandkids, they’ll help them as well as our society.
12. Play with art. Sadly, children today rarely get to enjoy the joyful benefits of process art. These are pursuits in which the point is to savor the creative journey and not worry about the finished product. Process art includes painting, collage making, drawing, printmaking, and clay molding. These activities let kids express themselves and show their individuality. They’re in stark contrast to the craft projects that kids typically do at school where they follow their teacher’s directions in a step-by-step way and everyone’s project ends up looking the same.
13. Introduce your grandchild to the great outdoors. Children benefit greatly from being connected to nature as it soothes their souls, inspires their awe, and liberates them from their devices. Even if they’re not the camping type, grandparents can expose their grandkids to nature by taking them on walks around the neighborhood, in a nearby park, or on a beautiful trail. To make it more fun, turn it into a scavenger hunt with a list of things for the child to spot: a ladybug, a pebble, a pinecone, a flower, a worm, and such.
14. Teach your grandchild about the importance of money. According to Forbes, almost two-thirds of Americans don't have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency. Grandparents can instill in their grandchild the importance of putting aside money for a rainy day, a college education, or a big dollar purchase. They can hire their grandchild to do jobs around the house such as dusting and vacuuming or in the yard such as pulling weeds and raking leaves. This is a meaningful way to teach them the value of a dollar.
15. Model critical thinking. Studies show that Americans are losing their ability to think critically and creatively. If you’ve ever been to a dinner party where you were seated next to someone who just listened to three hours of a political radio show and parroted the host’s commentary word-for-word, you know how painfully true this is. Instead of telling their grandkids what to believe, grandparents can promote their ability to think for themselves by asking them questions, probing their thought processes, and encouraging them to read legitimate news sources.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on July 31, 2020:
Cathy, I'm sorry you feel cheated. It's a shame that the parents are depriving their kids of a loving grandma. They'll probably regret that one day. When I was a child, I always longed for involved grandparents. It's really powerful when a youngster can have a close bond with an adult besides their own parents.
Cathy on July 30, 2020:
I am a grandma and would love all of these suggestions; however their parents don't see the need for grandma or grandpa so we don't see them. To be honest I really don't know them, but over the years I was very giving for their needs and wants. I feel cheated.
McKenna Meyers (author) on February 13, 2018:
My in-laws have 14 grandchildren but not many people these days are in that situation. If I do have a grandchild some day, I'll definitely be an older grandparent so it's good motivation to stay fit! If you were to be a granddad one day, Bill, I know you'd be a good one.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 13, 2018:
I may not need to know this. My son is 33 and showing no inclination to getting married...and he said if he did he wouldn't have children....soooo...we'll see. :)