Advice for Grandparents

Grandparents Matter

Rob Parsons of 'Care for the Family' shares some of his thoughts on being a grandparent.

I wonder just how many grandparents fit the story-book image? The one where Granny is an old lady with round, silver-framed spectacles who bakes her own bread and wipes her hands on her apron while telling stories to the kids? In the modern world Gran might be quite different. She may be a successful career woman, or busy with new interests to pursue now that she has freedom from responsibility for children. Likewise, Grandpa may have decided that the pipe and slippers image doesn’t suit him, and he has taken up karate instead. And whereas, in previous generations, grandparents may have lived just around the corner from their grandchildren, today their homes can be on the other side of the country.

But if it’s true that life in modern families has changed, it’s also true that most grandparents desperately want to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives. And in a world where so many young people feel insecure and somewhat disconnected, children need their grandparents.

Psychologists describe the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild as “an emotionally uncomplicated form of love”. Perhaps it’s because grandparents don’t usually have to deal with the normal responsibilities of parenthood – they don’t have the 24-hour-a-day hassles and tantrums. One child put it like this: “Being with my nan is like having a bath that is full of bubbles filled with love and with no cold bits.”

The gifts of love and attention are not just emotional trinkets. For children, they provide something that is absolutely vital for strong growth into adulthood: emotional health. In a world where friends can be cruel and teachers sometimes have to say negative things, it’s good to have somebody who believes in you anyway.

As much as possible, try to have quality time with your grandchildren, but be aware that we are all different and have different circumstances, so some of us take to this role more easily than others. Some grandparents will love being asked to babysit, while others will not be so keen. If your children’s need for a babysitter and your need to see your grandkids coincide, that’s perfect – but don’t take it for granted. Make sure you talk with your children about the expectations you all have and find a level of contact that works for everyone.

If you are separated by long distances from your grandchildren, here are a few ideas to help build a good relationship across the miles:

  1. Record stories for your grandchildren that their parents can play to them. It could be an event from your life, or a story from one of your grandchild’s favourite books.
  2. If possible, speak on the phone to your grandchildren. It will allow them to become familiar with your voice and help build your relationship. If you have access to a computer, using Skype is an easy way to keep in touch from a long distance.
  3. Buy two copies of a child’s storybook and send one to your grandchild. Every so often, read it over the phone together.
  4. Ask your children to put photos of you around on low shelves so that your grandchildren get used to how you look. It’ll make it easier for them when you visit.
  5. Make a photo album for your grandchildren which includes pictures of your surroundings – home, work, hobbies, pets. It will help your grandchildren to feel they “know” you.
  6. Ask your children to send you the grandkids’ artwork and then send them back a photograph of it on display in your home.
  7. Send notes or postcards to your grandchildren now and again.

It may not always be possible, but if you can, take every opportunity to encourage and build your relationship with your grandchildren. After all, young children can never have too many caring adults in their lives.

On R238 from Derry to Buncrana at Tooban, Burnfoot 

Fahan 

Co. Donegal 

Republic of Ireland F93 XY65