Written by: Jill Savage
Most grandparents want to be an asset to their grandchildren — provide a listening ear, welcome heart and a safe place for kids to emotionally land. But how does one do this?
I remember the day like it was yesterday. My husband and I, along with our young children, were relocating to a town three hours away so my husband could study full-time. My mother cried as we said goodbye. She was so sure that her grandkids would grow up not knowing her.
In time, however, she and Dad bonded with each of our kids, even at a distance. And here I am, 31 years later, wanting to make a difference in my own grandchildren’s lives. I want to be an asset to them, providing a listening ear, a welcoming heart and a safe place to rest when life gets hard. Most of all, I want to help introduce them to the faith that will sustain them through life’s challenges.
This relationship is important, but it doesn’t happen overnight. In the grandchild-bonding game, I’ve learned that slow and steady is the best way to run this race.
Watch your expectations
I once heard someone say, “Expectations are preconceived resentments.” It’s often true that our disappointments are fuelled by unmet expectations. Pay attention to the “ought” and “should” statements rolling around in your head, particularly concerning your relationship with your children and grandchildren. He should call more. She should consult me about this. These unrealistic expectations feed disappointment and discouragement, while realistic expectations keep you engaged and content with where your relationship is right now.
If your preschool-aged grandchild FaceTimes all of 15 seconds with you and then heads off to another activity, that’s normal. If your teenage grandson doesn’t call back or respond to your text right away, that’s also normal. Don’t make it about you. Life doesn’t always happen the way we think it should, and grandparents must allow for busy seasons of life and a grandchild’s growing maturity.
There’s no grandparent prerogative
Sally is a grandmother whose son and daughter-in-law don’t let her have the kids overnight. They used to, but Sally didn’t follow their instructions for caring for the kids. Bedtime was 8 p.m., but Sally usually got them to bed an hour or more later. She also sometimes brought out biscuits when Mum and Dad asked for a sugar-free evening.
“It’s Grandma’s prerogative to spoil them a bit,” Sally would say. “I don’t get to see them very often.”
There’s no “Grandma’s prerogative” when it comes to grandkids. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong or spoiling your grandchildren, I encourage you to bite your tongue and do things the parents’ way. They are the authority in their kids’ lives, and they need your respect and support. You don’t want to break trust with your adult children and their spouses, jeopardising future connections with your grandkids.
Remember that you are now extended family for your children and grandchildren. Your son or daughter has a family he or she must consider ahead of you. This is a hard, but important, transition. In our family, my husband and I had to make that transition with holidays. We now give our kids the gift of holiday freedom. Easter and Christmas are flexible with no obligation to connect on those specific calendar dates. We get together when it works best for everyone.
Influence, but don’t control
Grandparents have years of experience they long to leverage in their kids’ and grandkids’ lives, but sometimes that desire moves from seeking influence to wanting control. This can alienate relationships.
When there are two valid ways to do something and I want it done my way, it becomes a control issue, and it isn’t about the relationship anymore. My marching orders are to love, encourage, accept and give wisdom when it’s requested — and pray persistently. Indeed, perhaps my most important work is praying for changes I sincerely believe need to be made — without trying to control anyone’s decisions.
When I sense my desire to control creeping in, it’s usually because my identity in Christ has slipped to second place and I’m using my kids’ and grandkids’ choices as an identity barometer. My identity is secure in Christ. Yours is, too.
Replace judgment with love
There will be things your grandkids’ parents do that you don’t agree with. There will be choices your grandchildren make that you won’t agree with. Never sacrifice your relationship on the altar of disagreement. Orange hair? Let it go and love. Tattoos? Let it go and love.
Some friends of ours have a grandson who said he was gay. Their response to their grandson balanced God’s truth with their love for their grandson:
“We don’t feel this is God’s best for you (truth), but you’ll always be ours (unconditional love). We love you.”
Acceptance doesn’t mean agreeing. It means accepting the reality of your grandchild’s circumstances and loving him through it, even as you pray for a changed heart.
Intentionally stay connected
My mother grand mothered from a distance before there was FaceTime or social media. She used the phone, mail and personal visits. When our children were young and not yet readers, she signed all her cards and notes with a simple, curly-haired caricature of herself. When they would open up a card from their grandmother, the kids always knew who had sent it because of that drawing.
Staying connected on a regular basis builds trust and strengthens the relationship. Learn how to navigate social media to connect with your kids and older grandchildren. Our primary school grandkids are all set up on Kids Messenger, and they communicate a lot with us that way.
Recently, our son-in-law secured a new job that was going to require a move to a new community. On the night our daughter and her husband told the kids, 8 year old Rilyn sent a message to me, pouring out her heart. She told me how hard it would be to leave her school and her friends. She needed someone to listen and offer empathy. I’m so glad our connectedness had already laid the groundwork for those conversations.
Engage in their world
Take an interest in their activities, ask them to share their school papers, and show delight when they get their first job. If you live close enough, help with homework or attend their sporting events or choir concerts. My parents often made a two-and-a-half-hour trip for a choir concert or school play. The kids loved having them there. Sometimes they stayed the night, and sometimes they drove back home the same night. If you live too far away to attend, ask for a video or to FaceTime during the event so you can still be part of your grandkids’ world.
Find one-on-one time
As a mother of five kids, I often parented “the herd.” I herded everyone to church, herded them out the door to school and herded them to appointments. I’m trying not to do that with our grandkids. I’m trying to see them as the individuals they are and attempting to figure out what excites them, what they struggle with and how God has uniquely made them.
Even from a distance, you can interact one-on-one with your grandkids. As they get older, talk to them directly to learn about the things they’re doing, who their friends are and what they’re passionate about. When you do get to see them in person, try to get some one-on-one time. Almost all of our kids made a cross-country trip with us at one time or another to see extended family in Colorado. It was a special time for them and for us.
Hopefully, those strategies have your wheels turning and you’re already thinking of ways you can connect with your grandkids. Grandparenting allows us a second chance to influence the life of a child. It’s an encore of sorts, where we become part of the supporting cast. A little bit of intentionality partnered with a realistic perspective can forge a special relationship between you and your grandchildren for years to come.
In light of NATIONAL FAMILIES WEEK this week this kit is designed to help you cultivate a loving, supportive, and thriving family. You’ll find lots of valuable tips, advice, and activities to help you and your family to love as God loves.
Your family is always worth the investment. We encourage you to download your Family Tool Kit today to discover the difference it can make for your family.