Grandparents : A Critical Link to Your Children's Future
Author : Patricia Fry - Subject : Grandparenting
I had the distinction of being born into a family of eleven grandparents (seven of them greats and none of them steps). All but one set of grandparents lived in the same county and most of them in the same town. Grandma and Granddad Calvert's home was a mere block and a half away. This was a place of refuge for my siblings and me while we were growing up - a place where we were always welcome, where unconditional love and acceptance abounded and where more character-molding probably took place than we could possibly know.
Would I have an appreciation for fine music today had Granddad not encouraged a twelve-year-old's piano plunking by singing along whenever he recognized a song I was attempting? Would I enjoy gardening, the needle crafts and animals so much without Grandma's gentle influence and infinite patience? Would my relationships be so rich had I not observed my grandmother's role in her own friendships? Would my contribution to society and those of my children and my children's children be something less had my grandparents not been there to reinforce and augment the teachings of my parents?
I was blessed to have grown up in a time when extended families sharing a common neighborhood and even a common roof was the norm instead of the exception. While yesterday's families depended heavily on extended family member for help and support in the course of daily living, today's family unit has become an independent entity. It operates as if it were neither needy nor needed. It works thing out from within the family unit and prides itself for being self-contained and self-sufficient.
The truth is, the American family is in crisis. Our children are screaming for help through drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity and violence. Many of our kids are growing up without supervision and without a sense of being cared for in homes where their parents owe their souls to the company store. Some children are being raised in one-parent homes where the parent is spread too thin trying to keep a roof over their heads to put much energy into parenting.
Sunie Leven, founder of the Young Grandparents' Club and editor of Your Grandchild: News to Use for Today's Active Grandparents says, "The divorce rate is climbing to over sixty percent. Our families are fragmented and the security of our children is being upset because of this. Having a grandparent figure, even a surrogate grandparent, can add to a child's overall security and feeling of comfort, which helps with self-esteem and all the emotional factors."
Irene Endicott, author of Grandparenting by Grace: A Guide Through the Joys and Struggles (Broadman and Holman), considers grandparents, "God's gift to young people unsteady on the path of life."
Even in families where both parents are highly involved in their children's lives and where they're teaching and living Christian values, there's always room for more love and support. Being involved with grandparents help children feel a deeper sense of belonging. Studies have shown that when at-risk teens study their personal genealogy, they gain more respect for their roots and more hope for their future, thus greater self-esteem.
Give your children the gift of their grandparents. Let them experience a grandparent's unconditional love. Allow them to know their grandparent who can also become the family historian, spiritual leader, teacher, support system, safety net, mentor, role model and playmate.
Honor the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection
Whether you live across the street or across the states from your children's grandparents, you have the power. You can foster the bond between these generations or you can destroy it.
Stay in touch with your children's grandparents. If they live close by, visit them regularly and make them welcome in your home.
Invite them to special school, church and recreational activities in which the kids are involved.
Celebrate birthdays and other holidays together.
Don't speak ill of the children's grandparents.
Communicate by Telephone
When the grandparents live too far away for impromptu visits, talk to them regularly by phone so that each of the children get a chance to chat once every other week or so. Have the kids call to share good news: about Hannah's first A, Brandon's home run, Fluffy's litter of kittens and so forth. Make these telephone visits something to look forward to, not something that seems like a chore.
Here are some additional helps:
Help your kids be more communicative on the phone through practice. Some children are natural chatter boxes while others are more reserved. Help the shy child learn to speak by arranging telephone conversations with people he's very comfortable with. Help him become a good conversationalist by taking time to discuss various issues of interest with him.
For younger children, hang a picture of the grandparents near the phone so they can look at it while talking to them.
Help the grandparents to connect. Many grandparents don't know what to say to their grandkids. You can help by keeping the grandparents updated. Tell them how much Britta likes her 4-H sewing class, the Bible story that made such a big impression on Robert last Sunday or the fishing trip the family took last week.
The Written Word
A stamp is still more reasonable than a telephone call and a letter is more exciting to receive. Few kids will establish the habit of writing without prodding, however. Here are some tips for creating good pen pals.
Sit the kids down once or week or so with pretty paper, colored pencils, stickers and other fun supplies and encourage them to write letters and/or draw pictures to send to their grandparents.
Be prepared for when the kids say, "I can't think of anything to write." Suggest that they, "Write about your great dive into the pool yesterday." or "Tell Nana about your new Easter dress." or "Draw a picture of the skunk we saw in the backyard last week."
Express an interest in the things the grandparents send the children. Read notes and cards to young children. Discuss the origin, usefulness, etc. of gifts. Display cards and photographs received.
Make sure the children respond to gifts with a telephone call or a written thank you.
Send the children's letters promptly so the kids won't see their works of heart lying around for days like some unimportant piece of junk mail.
Strengthen the Bond
Make the grandparents a part of your family even when they're not there. Talk about them throughout the course of the week. Say, "Granny called yesterday and said that a girl scout troop came to her house to see her tomato garden." Mention grandpa's knack for growing big pumpkins and grandma's love of peppermint tea and shortbread cookies.
Bring the grandparents into the children's activities. Say, "Granddad will be so proud when he hears about you making that out on third base." Or "When I was a little girl, Grandma always wore a hat like that one to church."
Likewise, keep the grandparents informed about what's going on with the kids. Tell them about your children's interests, grades, awards, even some of the things that don't go so well. Don't overburden grandparents with negative reports, but they need to know, after all, that their grandchildren are human. To have a relationship with someone, you have to know them. To really know someone, you have to be aware of their failings as well as their abilities.
Become a Shutter Bug
Grandparents love photographs and video tapes of their grandchildren and these are wonderful bonding tools. Take pictures of the children playing in sports, wearing the outfit Grandma made for the first day of school, everyone enjoying the family hike and Jill with her spelling bee award.
When the family is together, take pictures of the children with the grandparents and pick one or two to display in a prominent place for the children. Have duplicate photos made and create an album of memories for the grandparents.
Gift-giving, while one of the most joyful parts of being a grandparent, can also be problematic when the grandparents don't know what the kids wear, collect or play with. Offer to help grandparents choose appropriate gifts.
Quiz the kids about what they want and pass this information along to grandparents.
Send a list of what the kids need.
Help the kids pick out little gifts to send to the grandparents. This teaches them thoughtfulness while keeping grandparents in the forefront of their mind. And if the grandparents respond positively, it will boost their self-esteem.
Involve the Grandparents
Everyone likes to feel that they're needed especially if it's by the grandchildren.
Ask for help from time to time. Maybe you could use some perspective in handling a toddler or a teenage problem. Perhaps you'd like some guidance about keeping the kids involved in their church. Most grandparents like to be asked for their valued opinion and expert advice, but don't put them in the middle between you and your child. Don't ask them to choose sides.
Ask grandparents to help the children with their homework. Maybe one of the children is studying a period in history that the grandparents lived or that they're knowledgeable about.
Encourage the grandparents to share family history with the kids. They can record stories on video or cassette tapes or put it on computer disk for the grandkids.
Encourage Bible study between the kids and the grandparents. This can be done either in person, through the mails or by phone. One long-distance grandmother I know has her 8-year-old grandson choose a Bible verse each week. They both read it and then get on the phone and talk about what it means. Together they agree to put the scriptural message into daily practice throughout the course of the week and then to share their experiences the next time they talk.
When the grandparent visits, help them to get to know the child by involving them in the everyday life of the family. Take them on a tour of the children's school and Sunday school. Take them to Anna's choir practice, Gracie's gymnastics and Brian's baseball game, for example.
When I visit my long-distance granddaughter, Staci, I always take her shopping. We go shopping because she loves to shop, there's always something she'd like to have that I can get for her and, in the process of shopping with her, I always get some great ideas for her upcoming birthdays and Christmas.
Suggest time alone for the grandparent and the kids: a walk around the block, a visit to the local Humane Society or a trip to the ice cream parlor.
One family in New York give their favorite grandfather a "honey do" list upon his arrival. "I love having something to do while I'm there," he says. "And the kids enjoy it too. They follow me around everywhere I go. And they're good little helpers."
Have the grandparent help the child with a school project, or involve them in helping the child redecorate her room. Arrange a fishing trip for the grandfather and grandchild who love fishing. Plan a day in the kitchen with Grandma for a child who enjoys baking.
Involve the children in the grandparents' visit, too. Let them add special touches to the guest room with some of their special drawings or a hand-picked bouquet of flowers. Encourage the kids to design a welcome banner to greet the grandparents.
If God thought you didn't need the concern and help of grandparents, he wouldn't have provided them for you. Bless them and bless the relationship between your children and their grandparents, for this truly is a gift of love.
Patricia Fry is the author of Creative Grandparenting Across the Miles (Matilija Press, 2000).
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