Tips For Keeping Grandparenting The Great Gig That It Is!

The official commemoration of Grandparent’s Day is the Sunday after Labor Day, but most grandparents will tell you that every day is grandparent’s day if you’re lucky enough to be one!

I suspect you’ve heard (or said!) some variant of this: “I know I’m biased, but my granddaughter / grandson is one of the smartest / most creative / most coordinated / most [you-name-it!] child I have ever known.” 

It’s a great job if and when you get it – and everyone benefits from intergenerational relationships. Let me enumerate the benefits first…and then I’ll share a few tips for hanging on to this plum assignment!

Values of GrandParenting

The Job Description Can’t Be Beat.

Hands down, the #1 reason grandparenting is so great is that you get all the fun of being a parent without any of the responsibilities! Revel in your special role as cheerleaders, spoilers, supporters and bestowers of unconditional love.

You Get to Share Your History and Passions

Grandchildren, particularly as they grow up, look to grandparents for their perspectives and advice. So share your values, your family history and what life was like for you at their age.

Share your passions, too. My parents are great art lovers and collectors, and they’ve shared this with my kids both in terms of cultural outings and gifts of art. Of course my kids appreciate the inherent value of the works, but they truly treasure being a part of their grandparents’ legacy.

Even so, it’s not the “stuff” grandparents give; it’s the connection. My mom always sent my kids little things to let them know she was thinking of them. Pinecones she collected on a walk…a random purchase on the street…a funny postcard. My kids loved receiving it all.

The Gifts (of Health) Keep On Giving

Being a grandparent can help older adults stay active, which often translates to better health. There are mental health benefits as well.

One study demonstrates that women who spent one day a week caring for young grandchildren may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. Another studied examined the link between quality grand-parenting relationships and depression and found that if the relationship is a high-quality one and support is mutual, both grandparents and grandchildren experience reduced incidence of depression.

You Can Help Out When / If You Want

Many grandparents have the economic freedom to defray education or medical costs for their grandchildren. If you have the means and want to help, it’s a great feeling. And typically there aren’t any negative tax consequences.  My children and I are grateful for the college tuition assistance and also recognize my Dad’s commitment to their education.

When it comes to your time, it’s up to you to set limits based on your energy and availability.

How to Keep the Gig!

Let Parents Rule.

Parents have a major role to play in the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in that they set the rules and determine the consequences for the moral and ethical education of their kids.

One grandmother I know has the right approach. She says she always lets her daughter and son-in-law make the parenting rules – and she never shares her opinion on anything except to admire it. “I might not always agree with them, but my opinions are not on the table. The kids are their responsibilities to raise and our responsibility to love.”

Adopt the Right Tone.

Don’t be judgmental. Your grandkids will experiment with tons of things that may be foreign to you. Unless your grandkids are into something dangerous, keep your opinions to yourself. Respect and honor their choices about food, hairstyles, clothing, etc. Unsolicited advice or commentary is often heard as criticism and may be alienating.

p.s. Don’t be hurt by the occasional sassy comment. Kids can be insensitive, but it’s often age-appropriate and not intended to be rude or disrespectful.

Learn to Use Technology.

If grandparents want to have full access to their grandkids, they have to get proficient with the technology their grandchildren are using. My kids never listen to voicemails, so my Mom knows that if she wants to get in touch, she needs to text them. And while Facebook may be the preferred social media for baby boomers, their teen and tween grandkids are much more apt to use Instagram or Snapchat.

Stay Involved.

Don’t always wait for an invite. Offer to help by taking the kids out for an afternoon if you’re local or for a visit if you’re long-distance. Other ways to stay involved is to gift parents with a cleaning service or a spa afternoon. Remember how overwhelming it was for you as new parents and do something you might have appreciated.

But don’t keep score on who is contacting whom. If you want to stay engaged with your grandchildren, reach out to them.

Make Your Home Welcoming

A kid-friendly home makes visiting much less stressful for everyone. Make a quick sweep around the house to remove breakables and irreplaceables. If possible, borrow, rent or buy things like strollers, pack-n-plays, high chairs and even bikes so your kids don’t have to schlep them. And stock some fun toys and children’s books.

What if there aren’t any grandparents in the picture, either by death or lack of interest?   

Building a tribe is always the best solution – even when grandparents are in the picture. One friend of mine, who regularly volunteered at a senior center, unofficially 'adopted' grandparents for her kids.

If you’re the type that would like a more detailed primer on how to be the perfect grandmother or grandfather, check out the American Grandparents Association for resources, tips and other perks.

Either way, enjoy the best job in the world!



Two Traits Broaden Meaning of 'Family'

Since Thanksgiving Day I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear from a number of folks whose holiday table was characterized by an untraditional array this year.

I’m not speaking of food…but rather, of the people who shared in the feast. Along with family there were close friends, longtime neighbors, even a chummy coworker. Clearly, friendsgiving is a “thing.” And I’m a fan.

Billed as a celebratory dinner with friends that occurs either before or after the traditional food fest with family, I advocate that “friendsgiving” become the new model for comemmorating all of life’s festivities. A new model for living, even.

This is not an anti-family rant – not by a long shot. Family is hugely important to me. It always has been. Family is my anchor; a place of safety and acceptance in a not-always-kind world. That’s why I prioritized that my kids would have a strong sense of both their nuclear and extended families.

But here’s the difference. My notion of family goes broader and reaches deeper, deliberating drawing into my orbit those who, were I able to choose, would also have been blood sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, elders and sages.

Given how different families look today than even a generation ago, expanding one’s notion of family isn’t that large a stretch. What I’m advocating is making it intentional. Actively choose to create a large circle around the table. Parents and children alike are navigating an evermore complicated and challenging world. It makes little sense to build walls. In fact, it’s this broader sense of family, of community, that is precisely how families will thrive.

So, what are the traits…the touchstones…by which I measure who becomes family? The list is short but powerful:

1.    Shared core values. These are the values I, as a parent, continually model for my children. Values like compassion, big-heartedness, gratitude, fairness, respect.

2.    Deep capacity for love. These people have the capacity to see beyond themselves and feel others’ joy and pain. People who love my children (almost) as much as I do.

When these are the touchstones for this new notion of family, everyone benefits. Kids have even more adults they can go to with problems and concerns. Adults get an unparalleled network of supportive, loving people who can share burdens and celebrate success. And we all get a safe place to take risks, try new ideas, and explore and experiment before broaching conversations in the wider world.

In short, it’s a recipe for a full, rich, expansive life. And who wouldn’t want that around their table?