There are so many practical ways to influence your grandkids. Here are several ideas to get you started:
Be present. Be fun. Be generous.
Your presence matters. I call this “the power of being there.” Even if your grandkids are scattered around the country, you can be their digital positive influence. Keep in touch regularly. I know a grandpa who sends his ten-year-old grandson a joke a day. Be a generous grandparent with thoughtful gifts and generous acts of kindness as well. If you live nearby, don’t miss many games or recitals. Be the chief babysitter when they are little. Your fun and generous presence matters. Your grandkids will not refuse fun.
When our daughter Christy told us she was pregnant with our first grandchild, my wife, Cathy, had a decision to make: either retire as a teacher of kids with special needs or continue teaching for a few more years. One day while she was talking with a friend over coffee, she mentioned she was going to be a grandma for the first time. The friend shared her excitement and talked about the difficulty of having grandchildren who don’t live nearby. Her friend blurted, “Cathy, you get to be a fully engaged grandma!” Although not everyone has this option, Cathy retired from her job so she could watch our grandson while his mommy went to work as a teacher herself. Their relationship is something wonderful to watch, filled with weekly trips to the library, a music class, and all the special traditions Cathy and our grandson are building together.
Build lifelong memories and traditions.
I continue to collect memory-making traditions as I talk with grandparents who are doing a good job of this with their families. Here are a couple of my favorites:
- Make Sunday family time. Share a meal together. Gather at nearby parks or beaches and have fun. The Schroder family in Oregon opens their home to their family and friends on Sunday nights. People bring food. Kids play together. The grownups share stories or watch a game. Their weekly gathering is simple but sacred.
- Take a vacation together. Our family takes annual trips together. It could be something as simple as going on a weekend camping trip or renting a vacation home in the mountains or saving up for a trip to a special place to play, rest, and spend time together. On vacations like these, leave the drama at home and just enjoy each other’s company. Cathy and I share our expectations for our time together with the kids before we leave, and we always offer to watch the grandkids while their parents get some well-deserved time alone together.
- Organize a cousins’ camp. Each year, a family we know invites all their grandkids to their house for a weekend sleepover. The grandparents plan a fun-filled time of games, experiences, and delicious food. Even as some of the grandkids are getting older, no one wants to miss out on cousins’ camp.
- Plan a special grandparents’ trip. Our friends Randy and Susan, provide a most remarkable experience for each of their grandchildren at age thirteen. Each grandchild goes on a special trip alone with Grandma and Grandpa. They plan it together, and it’s a once in a lifetime experience for both the grandchild and the grandparents. They have been to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, snorkeled with turtles in the tropics, toured Civil War battlefields, and ridden horses on a dude ranch. The destination is part of the trip, but it’s much more about the lifelong memories they make together along the way.
- Grandchild-proof your home. Make sure there are special places reserved just for the grandkids. For my mom, it was a lower drawer in her dresser, stuffed with dress-up clothes, junk jewelry, and other fun things my daughters loved playing with. Cathy cleared out a closet that’s now the grandkids’ toy closet. One set of grandparents we know thought the older grandkids were getting a bit bored when they came over, so they invested in a ping- pong table and a video game console. What memories, traditions, and kid-friendly spaces might you create for your grandchildren?
My job as a grandparent is to praise and support, not to give advice. One grandpa I know told me his granddaughter occasionally had moments of making poor choices as a teenager. “My place in her life was to offer her grace,” he said. “When my kids were younger, I was much tougher on them. Now I can allow my grandkids the opportunity to make mistakes and it doesn’t matter as much to me. Offering grace is more powerful than any correction I could give them.”
Be the kind of grandparent who doesn’t miss an opportunity to celebrate. Birthdays, graduations, school promotions, and any kind of new markers in your grandkids’ lives are opportunities to celebrate. Don’t be the kind of grandparent who gives socks and underwear. Choose fun gifts and make celebrations a big deal. As you celebrate and recognize the rites of passage in your grandkids’ lives, you weave a beautiful memory into your heart and theirs, a memory that you were present and cheered them on.
Recognize your role as a mentor.
A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. You have experiences and wisdom your grandchildren might not get from anyone else. Mentoring doesn’t always come from a formal relationship; it also comes from spontaneous moments of impact that can happen only when you are present in their lives. Even if you feel you didn’t do your best with your kids, you get a fresh start with your grandkids. As their mentor, you can be that safe and secure place for them simply to be themselves. Your positive influence can be their hope in times of turmoil. If their world is falling apart, you can be the one they know they can come to for wisdom as well as comfort.
Keep supporting your adult children in their role as parents.
I like this phrase: “Assist the parents and don’t impose.” It’s important to remember that your job as a parent and grandparent is not to meddle but to come alongside and help. This means you don’t give advice unless asked. You’ll have to do it their way and let go of thinking it must be done your way, even if you are right. Your relationship with your adult children is the single most important gateway to your grandchildren. They are the gatekeepers and you are to honor that relationship. Your love for your grandchildren is a different kind of love that is not so burdened by parenting responsibilities.