How to Be a Good Grandparent: 10 Things a Mom Wants You to Know
I didn't have much of a relationship with my grandparents when I was growing up and always felt sad about it — as a child decades ago and even today as a middle-aged woman. I know that confession may get a groan and a “just get over it” from some, but not having loving, involved grandparents left a hole in my heart that remains there even now. My parents were both career-focused and, with four kids, stretched as thin as they could get without ripping apart. I thought it would be wonderful to have a grandma or grandpa who would take me to the park, teach me how to sew, invite me to their home for sleepovers, and tell me funny stories from their childhood so long ago. I wanted someone who had the time, patience, and wisdom that my parents didn't. I saw grandparents like that on television shows and my heart ached for one in real life — someone to make me feed loved and special, someone who really saw me.
When I had children of my own, it was my sincerest hope that my two sons would be close to their grandparents. I did everything in my power to encourage that, but it didn't happen. I think, in large part, because my older son is autistic, and they weren't sure how to deal with him. My boys are teenagers now — busy with their own lives, friends, and activities — and, fortunately, not being close to their grandparents doesn't seem to have scarred them one bit. I'm the only one in the mix who feels cheated by it. Perhaps, deep down I'm still that little girl longing for a grandparent's unconditional love and support.
At this point in their lives, my sons express no interest in getting married and starting a family In the future. It's quite possible I'll never become a grandma, but at the very core of my being, I know I'll act as a grandparent figure to some youngster whether they're related to me or not. I want to do that for a child...and for myself.
I want grandparents to feel empowered, knowing the many ways in which they can positively impact the life of their grandchild. They're in such a unique position to make a difference, and it doesn't require a huge amount of time or effort to do so. Here are 10 things I want grandmas and grandpas to know from a mom who sees how special they are:
1. Don't Underestimate How Valuable You Are in Your Grandchild's Life
Nobody in the world can fill your role. A child perceives that her parent's love comes with strings attached and is tied to the grades she gets, how she performs in athletics, how popular she is, how she looks, and how she behaves. A grandparent's love is unconditional—almost other worldly — and the child gravitates to it because it's truly unique. She feels loved and accepted for who she is and this builds her self-confidence.
2. Your Best Gift Is the Gift of Time
Moms and dads are frightfully busy these days with long commutes, busy careers, and lots of distractions from social media. A grandparent offers a taste of a different world with a slower pace and more time to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. When I was on a walk recently, I became 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. It didn't cost any money but was so valuable for both of them.
3. You Can Turn Your Grandchild Into a Lifelong Book Lover
As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I want grandparents to know they have more power to turn their grandchild into a lover of books than the mightiest educator. While a teacher provides phonics instruction and decoding skills, she cannot do what a grandparent does so beautifully and naturally -- building the association between love and reading. A child's lifelong interest in reading stems from the emotional connection she formed with books when she was little (most likely, before she even started school). What matters most are the warm feelings she experienced when sitting on grandma's lap and pointing at the illustrations, the happy, carefree times she and grandpa shared while walking to the library for Story Time, and the joyful moments sitting by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate while grandma read fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
4. You Can Teach Your Grandchild That Reading Is Knowledge
Grandparents can have such a marvelous influence in a grandchild's life. They just need to open their eyes to all the learning possibilities they can provide. School-aged children benefit from real-world experiences with reading, and grandparents can help. These real-world experiences show kids how necessary reading and comprehension are to completing every day tasks. They include reading a recipe while cooking, reading a manual while repairing a bike, reading directions while playing a board game, and reading information on the internet about helping an injured bird. Parents are often too harried to embrace these learning moments. It's wonderful when grandparents understand their value and step in to help.
6. You Can Help Your Grandchild Become a Spiritual Being
A grandparent can help a grandchild develop spiritual practices that make her life more peaceful and meaningful. Whether it's meditating, praying, or spending time in nature, a grandparent can educate about ways to nurture the soul. Since many parents today don't take their families to church or belong to any religion, many youngsters don't understand the importance of spirituality. This leads to problems such as depression and anxiety, which are increasing among teens and children today. These kids easily fall under the spell of drugs and alcohol. Study after study shows that if one believe in a Higher Being — something outside herself and her earthly existence — she 'll find more happiness and tranquility in this crazy, hectic world of ours.
7. You Can Teach Your Grandchild Manners
The single biggest change I witnessed in the two decades I taught preschool and kindergarten was the decline of manners. When I began teaching, most kids had the basics instilled in them at home, knowing when to say please, thank you, may I, excuse me, and I'm sorry. In more recent times, however, I was forced to create a unit on manners because many of my students were absolutely clueless, obviously getting no guidance in their homes.
Unfortunately, many parents today are hyper-focused on their youngsters becoming technology whiz kids and speaking three languages rather than being caring and well-mannered. Grandparents, though, can teach grandchildren that manners are not just for school but for everywhere. The world is a better, kinder place when people show civility, cooperate, and think of others and manners play a big part in that.
8. You Can Introduce Your Grandchild to the Great Outdoors
Like many inner-city kids, I grew up not having much experience in the wilderness. I never learned to camp, fish, or backpack because my parents were not outdoorsy people. A vacation to them meant gambling in Las Vegas or South Lake Tahoe, definitely not pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars. But, children benefit greatly from being connected to nature as it soothes the soul and inspires awe and wonder. Even if a grandparent isn't the camping type, he can still take the grandchild on a simple nature walk around the neighborhood, in a nearby park, or on a beautiful trail. These are the precious memories that last a lifetime.
9. You Can Shower Them With Love, Not Stuff Them With Food
When I taught kindergarten at an inner-city school, there were a lot of obese students and my heart went out to them because I was once an overweight kid. It made me sad to see them struggling with weight at such an early age, knowing it would probably become a lifelong battle. Today, we have more evidence that overeating is more complicated than consuming too many calories and not exercising enough; it also involves the complex relationship between feelings and food.
In too many instances, a grandparent sees her role as one who spoils the child with candy, ice cream, and soda, and takes her to fast-food chains. This is a dangerous habit, though, because the youngster then associates fattening treats with love and good times. It's so much better when the child connects warm feelings with healthy activities: taking a walk, going on a picnic, playing at the park, cooking a well-balanced meal, or going to a museum, movie, play, or concert.
It's easy to fall into a rut, unable to think of new and exciting activities to do with a grandchild. That's why I highly recommend The Grandparents Handbook. It's loaded with creative ways to spend time with a grandchild — simple activities such as playing in the tub and reading books to more ambitious endeavors such as making fruit cobbler, doing a backyard Olympics, and going on scavenger hunts.
10. Teach Your Grandchild About the Importance of Saving Money
One of my favorite Christmas gifts as a kid was a piggy bank I received from my grandmother. It started me on the habit of saving money as I put some of my allowance money in it each week. I learned to put away money so I could buy something of real value, not just candy or a cheap toy. Unlike my siblings, I always had a little cache of cash at all times, and it me feel proud and self-sufficient.
According to Forbes, almost two-thirds of Americans don't have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency. Grandparents can instill in a grandchild the importance of saving for a rainy day, a college education, and big dollar purchases. They can hire their grandchild to do jobs around the house or in the yard such as dusting, pulling weeds, or raking leaves to earn extra money and learn the value of a dollar.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers