oving our grandchildren
comes naturally. But sometimes we need guidance in our role. How
do you bond with a grandchild who lives halfway across the country?
How do you function as a grandparent to children of divorce when
your child does not have custody? And then there’s the issue of
life-style: Few folks today are the rocking chair, cookie-baking,
whittling kind of grandparents who enhanced our own childhood.
Many grandparents today are younger, healthier and more vital
than in the past. Instead of thinking about retiring, they’re
starting businesses, going back to college or entering new professions.
How does this affect family unity? According to Dr. Arthur
Kornhaber, founder of Foundation for Grandparenting in New Mexico,
“A substantial number of families are not getting the stabilizing
benefits of having the elder generation on the scene.” He urges
grandparents who want to retire to a warmer climate or launch
an all-consuming business, “Don’t relinquish your place as head
and heart of the family.”
Whether you live near your grandchildren or far away, here
are some ways you can become involved in their lives.
Be in the Know
Robert and Shirley Strom, authors of Becoming a Better
Grandparent: Viewpoints on Strengthening the Family, suggest
that grandparents never stop learning. In order to relate to
children today, you need some knowledge of technology. You need
to understand current social trends and how they affect your
grandchildren. As the world changes, our grandchildren’s needs,
concerns and fears change. Thus grandparents must shift a little
in their approach to this younger generation.
Keep up with the news, but also read books and articles about
how to grandparent. Join a grandparent support group or start
one in your church.
Additionally, try mimicking positive qualities of your own
grandparents. What made them special? Maybe your grandfather
always had time for you no matter what. Perhaps your grandmother
taught you something valuable which you’ve carried with you
throughout your life. Were your grandparents playful? Patient?
Tolerant? Fun? Forgiving?
Sunie Levin is editor of Your Grandchild: News for Today’s
Active Grandparents. She says, “The divorce rate is climbing
to over 60 percent. Our families are fragmented, and the security
of our children is being upset because of this. Having a grandparent
figure can add to a child’s overall security and feeling of
comfort, which helps with self-esteem.”
If you have a good relationship with your grandchildren’s parents,
cherish it. If you don’t, do whatever you can to heal it. Ask
God to help dissolve any residue of anger or blame, and to give
you some tools to heal the relationship: forgiveness, love and
prayer. Remember that accusation, blame and resentment are not
If your adult child is divorcing, don’t get involved and don’t
take sides. Simply be there and be supportive. Your grandchildren
need a sense of stability in their young lives more than ever
before. If, by some cruel hand of fate, you’re denied access
to your grandchildren, you can petition for visitation rights.
If you are still blocked from seeing your grandchildren after
trying every healing and legal tool, continue sending them letters
and gifts to let them know that you care.
One grandmother sent gifts and cards to her beloved granddaughter,
but the items were returned unopened. The grandmother saved
the gifts. For every special occasion, she would buy her granddaughter
an age-appropriate gift, wrap it, write a message of love on
a beautiful card and then store it away with hope in her heart.
When the child grew up, the two reunited and had a party to
end all parties.
For many grandparents today, grandparenting is performed at
a distance. In fact, two thirds of the 60 million grandparents
in America have at least one grandchild living in another state.
If you live miles away from your grandchildren, don’t write
the family off and spend your life in sorrow. You need to find
ways to stay in touch despite the distance.
Call regularly and make those calls interesting and exciting.
I take notes when I talk to my long-distance granddaughter,
Staci. Then the next time we talk I’ll remember to ask her how
she did with her pony in the 4-H horse show, what she liked
best about her school trip and how the dog training with her
Welsh corgi is going.
Getting the kids to talk on the phone is sometimes a challenge.
Irene Endicott is the grandmother of 15 and the author of Grandparenting
by Grace: A Guide Through the Joys and Struggles. She suggests
that silent periods are O.K. because you need to give the children
a minute to think. “They’re formulating what they want to say,”
she explains. “If we come right in with our words, they don’t
have a chance to think and some real gems can go by the wayside.”
Some grandparents I know leave their grandchildren with quizzes,
riddles and other challenges to think about until the next time
they talk by phone. Another option is leaving the kids with
a cliff-hanger: Create Perils of Pauline stories and
save the ending for the next call. The kids will surely rush
to the phone the next time you call, eager to hear the rest
of the story.
Write them age-appropriate letters often. Use lots of color,
pictures and fun stickers for the younger kids. Print letters
for those who don’t read cursive yet. Tuck in little gifts (stickers,
bookmarks, postcards, pressed flowers, photographs, feathers).
Have older children send you their spelling words and include
them in subsequent letters.
Use letters to keep memories of past visits alive. Mention
that you had ice cream at the child’s favorite sweet shop, or
write about the cat you found in what they designated the “secret
garden” at your house.
Get involved in their interests, whether it’s collecting (rocks,
bottle caps, stamps, Bible verses), watching or playing a sport,
fishing or being fascinated by cats. This gives you more to
write about in letters and to talk about by phone.
E-mail gives you a new opportunity for easy and quick communication
once you get into it. Use technology to your advantage. For
younger children, tape-record yourself reading or telling stories
and send them the tapes. Videotape the family Easter egg hunt
and send it to the children who couldn’t be there. Have someone
film you baking cookies you subsequently sent them, or shopping
for and wrapping their birthday gifts.
Be a Support System
Children need to feel as though they belong, and the involvement
of extended family gives kids a greater sense of roots. You
can augment this by sharing the family history with the grandkids.
Another thing you can do is to provide a safe haven for your
grandchildren and welcome them into a stress-free environment
whenever they visit or you talk on the phone. Daily disciplinary
issues are the parents’ job—not yours. Your job is to have fun
and to be a role model of the values with which you want these
precious children to grow up.
Help them succeed. When they falter or fail, encourage them.
When they succeed, praise them. They can’t get enough positive
feedback, especially from someone they love and respect.
Visit the Grandchildren
Whether you live across the state or across the street, avoid
arriving at a grandchild’s home with expectations. You don’t
always know what to expect from a child and sometimes they need
time to warm up. Irene Endicott suggests, “Just present yourself
lovingly and wait.”
Avoid bringing a gift every time you visit because the child
will start looking for the gift instead of being happy to see
When you do bring a gift, make it a gift of education: Learn
something to teach the children. This might be a craft, a new
paper airplane design or a drawing technique. During one visit,
I taught my granddaughters, who were then eight, how to make
While visiting the grandkids, involve yourself in their daily
life. For example, you could visit their school, watch Little
League practice or accompany them to story time at their library.
This is the time to notice what they are wearing, what they
collect and what they enjoy doing. Not only will this information
be useful during subsequent phone visits, it will give you good
ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts.
While visiting, be sure to snap lots of pictures of the children
and have someone take pictures of you enjoying special moments
with your grandkids. Send duplicate photos to the kids when
you return home to remind them of the wonderful time you had
together or save the pictures to use as gifts.
save many of the photos I take of my grandkids throughout the
year. At Christmas, I fill a small album for each grandchild
and wrap them up. These gifts are always showstoppers. Nothing
else gets opened until they’ve looked at every photo in their
Invite the Grandchildren to Visit
Discuss with your grandchildren ahead of time what they’d like
to do while visiting. You might send them a list of ideas and
brochures of local activities. Keep it simple and make it fun:
A casual walk around the lake would probably be more enjoyable
for kids than going to a theater production. Take those who
like planes to visit the airport, those who like trains to the
train station, those who like dolls to the factory where they’re
When you’re entertaining out-of-town grandchildren, don’t forget
to involve the local grandchildren in the activities as well.
Time spent with cousins makes unforgettable childhood memories.
Create a place they can call their own while visiting—a room,
nook or corner where they can put their belongings. Devise a
children’s corner complete with table, chairs, colored paper,
pencils, blunt scissors, stickers, coloring books and crayons,
puzzles, games and so forth. Children can play dress-up using
interesting clothing you’ve gathered from thrift stores and
Kids aren’t likely to care about elaborate meals and fancy
place settings. Ask them what their favorite meals are and plan
to fix these. Grilled cheese sandwiches or pizza will delight
most children. And when it comes to salads, they’ll probably
prefer something simple—skip the “foreign objects.”
Travel With Your Grandchildren
Traveling is a wonderful way to bond. Ask your grandchildren
what they want to do and take their suggestions seriously. Plan
trips that excite, interest and educate them. Lean toward amusement
parks, beaches and zoos. Stick to museums with hands-on exhibits.
Depending on your finances and interests, camping or a cruise
on a family-oriented line could be fun.
Nip disputes in the bud. Arguments about who will sit in the
front seat can be avoided by making a hard and fast rule that
gives everyone a turn. In fact, you might rule that a complaint
eliminates that child’s turn.
When driving with children, stop frequently to allow them the
opportunity to dispense energy. Pack each child a “busy box,”
which includes snacks that aren’t messy along with activities
and toys that don’t have small parts (they’re likely to get
lost between the seats).
Let your grandkids plan the itinerary. When there’s more than
one child, let each child choose one activity each day, or plan
the activities and choose the eating places for an entire day.
This way, everyone will get to do something they really want
Tic-tac-toe is a tried-and-true travel game. Others include:
I’m going on a trip: The first player says, “I’m going
on a trip and I’m going to take....” Begin with an item that
starts with the letter A. The next player repeats what the first
player said and adds an item that starts with the letter B and
so forth. Go as far as you can through the alphabet.
The alphabet game: Everyone tries to find all the letters
of the alphabet in order on car license plates, freeway signs,
billboards and other items you wish to include.
States: Challenge the children to spot license plates
from all of the states.
Terse verse: Use two words as a clue to help someone
guess two rhyming words that describe something. For example,
“obese feline” defines “fat cat.” “Unruly tot” describes “wild
child.” “Chatty parakeet” explains “wordy birdie.”
Become a Teacher
There are many age-appropriate things you can teach your grandchildren.
You could teach them something you know well such as gardening,
building model cars, sewing, baking or the ethics of running
a business. When they see something on television or on the
street that shows poor human judgment, use this as an opportunity
to teach them a life lesson. If they live out of town, watch
for books and articles to send them about things they told you
they are studying in school.
Teach them how to wait graciously. Life has many periods of
waiting—in traffic, in the airport, at the grocery store or
in line for an activity. While waiting in line you can challenge
them to use their imagination and observational skills. Ask
them how many people in line are wearing cowboy boots. Humor
a young child by saying, “I wonder if the woman in front of
us has a little dog in her bag.” The child immediately switches
from being bored, tired and hungry to wondering what’s in that
bag. Tell them, “I’ve counted five red purses,” and see how
they respond. Or ask, “Where do you think those people are going?”
Praise is another good teaching tool. Praise your grandchildren
when they write a letter to you; don’t berate them when they
Foster Family Traditions
Traditions are family activities that have become customs.
Traditions bind families together. Sunie Levin notes, “Shared
memories and traditions bring family [members] closer together
and remind them of their common roots and shared love. As a
grandparent, you are the caretaker of those memories and traditions,
and it’s up to you to share them.”
Traditions give children a stronger sense of identity, which
is particularly important for those who do not have access to
their grandparents on a daily basis. Long-distance families
may have to put some effort into creating meaningful traditions.
But don’t despair because many of your current traditions, with
modification, could be carried on even at a distance. For example,
if good grades are rewarded in your family by an ice-cream cone,
you could send a gift certificate to the A student for a favorite
local ice-cream store.
Maybe you usually fill the pockets of an Advent calendar for
your grandkids at Christmas. This year you could send the gifts
or biblical messages and ask their parents to fill the pockets.
Be a Spiritual Leader
One of the most important jobs you can do as a grandparent
is to share your spiritual values with your grandchildren. You
can do this by having Bible study at your home for your grandchildren
once a week. For those grandkids across the miles, create prayer
or Scripture night by phone. Buy two age-appropriate Bible story
books—one for yourself and one for them. Every week, assign
a story to read and then discuss it with them on the phone.
Help the children apply biblical principles to everyday situations
so they will learn to make the right decisions. Discuss good
and poor decisions in a nonjudgmental way.
Pray often with them and for them. You will make them feel
special by telling them, “Every morning before I take my walk,
I say a prayer for you children. I pray that God will watch
over you all day while you are at school and at play, that God
will keep you safe and help you to make the right decisions.”
Grandparenting may be our last assignments on earth from God.
Let’s be the best that we can be.
Patricia L. Fry is the author of Creative Grandparenting
Across the Miles: Ideas for Sharing Love, Faith and Family Traditions
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