Grandparents Day and Beyond: Honoring The Special Relationship Between Grandparent and Child

Jan Cooley Dilg enjoys time with JD and Sasha, two of her her eight grandchildren. Photos by Lisa Tosi Photography.

Families with living grandparents are especially blessed. Each grandparent fills a unique role in a child’s development, providing both love and a window into family history. To honor the elders in your family this Grandparents Day, September 9, and all through the year, try these suggestions to help build and maintain these special relationships:

1. Nurturing the Relationship.  Like all relationships worth having, those between children and their grandparents take time and attention. Do your part by providing plenty of opportunities for interaction, both in person and otherwise. Even if you are divorced, the value your child can obtain from a grandparent is worth putting aside disputes you may have with former in-laws.

2. Distance Busters. A relationship with grandparents who live far away requires more creativity to maintain strong contact. Besides visits, use telephone calls, email, regular mail, and Internet video communications to keep ties strong. The more consistent and frequent the distant contact, the easier it will be to make the most of in-person visits.

3. Memory Building.  Your children will likely outlive your parents, so it’s important to build memories that can sustain your children in the future. Encourage activities that will result in concrete reminders of time spent together. For suggestions, see “Things to Do with Grandparents,” accompanying this article.

4. One-On-One vs. Family Time.  Try to spend time together as an extended family, but balance it with one-on-one time between each grandchild and grandparent.

5. Parent/Grandparent Relations.  Don’t allow your disputes with parents or in-laws to cloud your children’s relationships with their grandparents. Children size people up with amazing accuracy, and besides, grandparents may well treat a grandchild better than they treat you.

6. Understanding Grandparents’ Limitations.  Don’t burden grandparents with child care beyond their physical or emotional limits. Help your children to understand that Grandma may tire more easily than they do, and that Grandpa may need assistance with walking, etc.

7. Setting Limits on Grandparents.  Many grandparents will follow your parenting example and enforce your rules with the children. To those who try to impose their own child-rearing methods, explain that this undermines your authority and confuses the children. Ask for their cooperation, stressing how much you value their relationships with your child.

8. Avoiding Jealousy.  A child who develops an especially close relationship to a grandparent may seem, at times, to prefer that grandparent to her actual parents. Be assured that your child still loves you as much as ever, just as your love for one child is undiminished by the birth of another.

9. Dealing With Sickness and Death. Our time with elderly relatives is limited and often complicated by physical and/or mental declines. Explain illnesses, including dementia, emphasizing the need for continued contact, love and respect. Understand that children may mourn a death differently than adults. A child may suddenly develop behavior problems or become reclusive. Give children a chance to discuss sad feelings, and seek professional support if needed.

10. Grandparents Who Have Passed.  If your family’s grandparents have died, look for other seniors to “grandparent” your child. Older relatives, especially those without grandchildren of their own, may welcome the chance to develop a stronger relationship with your child. Consider programs offered by local retirement homes or libraries that match children with senior volunteers.

Grandparents can play an important role in your children’s lives. By honoring and encouraging this special bond, your family will be more enriched, creating memories your children will cherish the rest of their lives.

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Things To Do With Grandparents

Share Old Photos:  Let grandparents share stories behind the pictures: How Grandpa almost missed the wedding, or how a newly wed Grandma burned the Thanksgiving turkey.

Create a Memory Book:  Put together photos and souvenirs of times spent together; add written comments by both grandparent and child.

Mail:  Handwritten letters, cards and kids’ artwork are always a joy to receive the old-fashioned way; email is great for frequent and quick exchanges.

Video Conferencing:  Purchase inexpensive video cams for yourself and for grandparents who use computers. Download free software from skype.com, and make free video calls to other skype users anywhere in the world.

Outings:  Concentrate on activities that promote conversation. Visits to zoos, parks or museums are better than sitting in a movie theater.

Overnight Visits:  If grandparents are able, let kids sleep over and experience their elders’ daily routines.

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Sharon Nolfi
About Sharon Nolfi

Writer Sharon Nolfi, M.A., is a mom impatiently waiting for grandchildren. A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, she worked for eight years as a school psychologist and is also an attorney.

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