I was raised in a military family and we moved a lot. I didn’t have an opportunity to develop a close relationship with either of my grandmothers. Out of curiosity, I asked my granddaughter what she thought good grandmothers should do. She replied, “You have to see them at least twice a year.” Then she added, “Make that three.” I realized that I only saw my grandparents once a year, and as a result, I didn’t feel close to them. Instinctively, my granddaughter understood that memorable grandparents make time for their grandkids.
Although I didn’t grow up with extended family nearby, my parents worked at making our family special. My mom was able to stay home with us. She loved to play games, listen to us talk about our day, and cook. My dad loved to get us outdoors and teach us to throw a football, or dive off of the high dive. Both of my parents loved to read. Every night after dinner my dad would read aloud to us.
My parents were good parents because they spent time with us. I grew up in a strong nuclear family, and many of the things I learned about parenting came from my folks. I just didn’t know how to translate that into having a special relationship with my grandchildren. After all, I wasn’t going to be there every day after school and I wouldn’t be there to read to them every night after dinner. Many of my grandkids don’t even live in the same state!
Memorable grandparents use the available tools
I wanted to be a memorable grandparent. But I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. Especially when I factored in the geographical challenges. I realized that I was overthinking the situation and making it much harder than it needed to be. When I was growing up, we seldom used the phone to make long distance calls because it was expensive. Today, we have cell phone plans that automatically allow for long distance calls that we are happy to pay for. Memorable grandparents make time to talk with their grandkids. Today’s technology makes that simple.
With today’s technology, there is little excuse for not reaching out to your grandkids. We have smart phones, face time, and Zoom for real time connections. Marco Polo and WhatsApp both allow us to leave our grandkids messages or videos. There is Messenger and Social Media to allow for quick connections. In addition, we can do productive work and planning with Google Docs. We have lots of technology tools in our toolbox!
Memorable grandparents do things with their grandkids
Grandma, my Mom’s mom, gave me big hugs and made big meals that we ate at the dining room table. She spent time with me by including me in her routines. For example, Grandma let me help her make a pie crust. She even complimented me on how flaky and perfect it was–even though my pinched edges looked a big lopsided.
Granny, my Dad’s mom, didn’t do hugs, and she didn’t do big meals. She fed us baked beans and Boston brown bread from a can. We sat around the kitchen table. Granny used the dining room table to work on puzzles. She also spent time with us by letting us help her with the current puzzle. She taught me how to be systematic about putting a large puzzle together. First, she taught me to find the edges. Then she encouraged me sort by color and shape to fill the middle. When I was tired of searching for a puzzle piece, she provided me a brand new coloring book and a fresh box of crayons so I could still sit nearby.
As a result of their attention to me, small pieces of both of my grandparents are with me today. I make pie crusts from scratch–my pinched edges still look a bit lopsided. I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles. My Grandma made me feel loved; my Granny made me feel grown up. Both of my grandmothers did things with me. Grandma baked and Granny worked puzzles. They invited me into their world and made me feel a part of it. Even though our time was limited, both of my grandmothers spent time with me where they could. But it wasn’t enough time to have the relationship we wanted.
Memorable grandparents help their grandkids set goals
Several years ago, at Christmas, my husband and I decided to take our grandkids our for breakfast one at a time. We also decided to use that time to help them set some goals for the coming year. Our first “Breakfast Goals” meeting was held at The Wright Brother’s Cafe in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After we ordered breakfast, we talked about our family, and family goals, and asked them what goals they might have for the coming year. We got everything from “become a better reader”, “learn to play catcher on my baseball team”, “become more organized,” “learn to pitch,” and “keep my room clean.”
My husband and I also set goals and shared them with our grandkids. Sharing our goals modeled goal setting for them. It also gave them an opportunity to see what was important to us. Finally, it gave us accountability partners as we worked on our own goals.
Memorable grandparents helps their grandkids achieve their goals
As a result, these “Breakfast Goal” meetings opened the door to having a far more significant relationship with our grandkids than we once thought possible. There was power in the one-on-one time, but it also allowed us to see what was important to our grandkids. Over the years, “Breakfast Goals” happens in three states with all of our grandkids that are at least seven years old. It is a right of passage to be invited to “Breakfast Goals”. Some of my grandkids put their goals up on the refrigerator or write them on the family white board. A few goal cards end up as book markers. Some of my grandkids forget to look at their goals until the next “Breakfast Goal” meeting.
We grew closer relationships with our grandkids as we helped them achieve their goals. My husband had been a catcher when he played baseball. He also coached our sons in baseball, so he has been able to help the grandkids with their hitting, pitching, and catching skills. So we began to be more consistent in including plans to help our grandkids achieve their goals. This allowed us to spend focused time with our grandkids working on goals that were important to them. Good grandparents spend time with their grandkids by setting goals with them and helping them achieve them.
Here are some activities you can do together:
- baking and cooking
- playing cards and board games
- working puzzles
- reading books
- listening to music
- throwing, shooting, or kicking balls
- teaching a skill
- going to a park or playground
- doing chores together
- walking around the block for a private talk
- field trips
Activities are a key place to start in spending time with your grandkids. But they are not the stopping point. Helping them set goals, and then working with them to accomplish their goals will take your relationship with your grandkids to a deeper level. You can best serve them by helping them become their best selves. The goal is healthy human beings able to make a contribution. Successful families will always play the long game and keep in mind that they want a family that will survive and thrive for 100 years. This involves knowing what they want, and helping them achieve it. It means that you need to model for them growing as a person by setting goals and working toward accomplishing them for yourself and for them. Memorable grandparents spend time with their grandkids.