We complained that there was no instruction book for becoming a parent. Now we realize that there is also no instruction book for being a grandparent! The first thing I realized when I became a grandma is that being a grandma was not the same as being a mom. Grandparenting is a whole new role. And learning a whole new role means we are likely to make some mistakes along the way. Here are nine mistakes grandparents (sometimes!) make.
Mistake #1–Not being intentional
In the excitement of becoming a grandparent, you may not have given much thought to what kind of grandparent you want to be. An early mistake is to not think about what this new role of being a grandparent will mean to you. There are so many roles to choose from. You can live nearby and be available to babysit regularly. You can be a gift giving and/or experience providing grandparent. Are you going to spend time with them once a year or weekly? You can be supportive from the sidelines at sports events, or you can actively practice with them in the backyard. Your decision will be based on many factors. Were you close to your own grandparents? Do you live nearby? What kind of health and physical fitness do you currently have? What kind of financial resources are available to you? Are you still working or retired? You are the one to decide what kind of grandparent you want to be.
Pro Tip: Re-evaluate at least annually. Your situation may change over time and you will want to revisit your decisions and see if it still fits your current circumstances. Embrace the opportunity to redefine yourself, if appropriate.
Mistake #2–Not bonding early with your grandchild
A second mistake new grandparents make is to wait to bond with their new grandchild. Don’t wait too long to develop your own relationship with your grandchild. When your new grandbaby joins the family, don’t hesitate to bond with them. (Granted, this is more of a grandpa problem than a grandma problem!) Certainly we have to respect the need of our children to bond first with their child. But we also can be intentional about bonding with our newest family member. The first task of a baby is to learn to trust the adults in his life. You are now one of the people he needs to learn to trust.
If we wait too long to bond with our newborn grandchild, we may also put off interacting with them when they are a lot of work to take care of. Your grandchild will be going through fussy stages where you won’t be able to console them. They will become mobile, which often leads into unsafe situations. Then there is the curiosity stage when they seemingly are asking a million questions a day.
Don’t wait too long to bond with your grandchild. If you do, they will be grown up before you recognize that the opportunity to build a significant relationship with them has passed you by. Someday soon, they will be distracted by friends, school, sports, and video games and they won’t make time for you. Remember the song, “Cats in the Cradle”?
Once you have defined your role as a grandparent, you want to be consistent about following through. When you do answer some of the common questions and clarify your role, you will want to be intentional about living out your decisions.
Mistake #3–Being inconsistent
You don’t want to be inconsistent and unreliable in your contact with your grandchild. It is a mistake to leave your encounters to chance. The decision is yours as to the boundaries you want to put in place. However, once you have clarified your role, be sure that you are following through with your decisions. Your grandchildren will learn to trust you as they see you engage with them in consistent and reliable ways.
Practical Tips for being consistent
Because you are reading this blog post, I am assuming that you want a connection with your grandchild in ways that will be both sustainable and meaningful. In order to do that, you need to see your grandkids regularly. The younger they are, the more often you need to be in their same space. If you are a long-distance grandparent, you may also want to talk with them regularly.
FaceTime is a great vehicle for talking with your grandkids, regardless of their age. If you can’t FaceTime, try a Zoom meeting. It takes a bit more work to set a Zoom meeting up, but it will work to get multiple people together at one time. Phone calls, emails, text messages and snail mail will also work. The key is to be consistent with what you do to reach out and connect with your grandchild.
I have eleven grandchildren in three different families. I use the date of their birthday as a cue that I want to connect with them. For example, I FaceTime my oldest granddaughter on the 12th of each month. When the 12th isn’t going to work, we fit the call into another time slot in the week. Only my oldest grandson has a cell phone, so I do use text messaging to connect with him, as that fits in to his personality and his age. Sometimes when I call to talk with a grandchild on their “birthday” date, they may end up passing the phone around and I get to chat with several of my grandkids on the same FaceTime phone call. My goal is to connect with each of my grandchildren individually at least once a month.
Mistake #4–Being unaware of developmental needs
You may be ignoring, or unaware, of their developmental needs. Erik Erikson, who identified Eight Psychosocial Stages of Development throughout the lifespan of a human being, theorizes that each stage needs to be successfully navigated before a person can proceed to the next stage. Read here for a quick recap of the stages.
As you identify the age and stage of your grandchild, I want you to brain storm how you can be a part of helping them successful navigate the challenge of that particular stage. For example, my youngest grandchild is in the third stage. He successfully learned to trust that his world would be safe and secure. He has gained some control of himself and his environment. Now he is learning how to initiate activities and become more self-directed. Which leads us to mistake number four.
Pro Tip: Keep your grandchild from physical harm. I can’t imagine the pain I would feel if something bad happened to my grandchild on my watch. Small children also require a LOT of hands-on care to keep them clean, fed, entertained, and safe.
Mistake #5–Underestimating your grandchild
Do not underestimate the ability of your grandchild to do things for themselves. The goal for any human being is that they would become independent, functional, and capable adults. You do not want to help your grandchild more than they need. Have you ever watched a butterfly struggle to break free from the cocoon? It is so tempting to help them in their struggle. But if you do, you will handicap that butterfly for the rest of its short life. The struggle is part of the process. Learn to let your grandchild struggle.
You can provide words of encouragement, though! There are so many stories of people who look back on a encouraging word they got from a coach, a teacher, a grandparent that made all of the difference.
Mistake #6–Spoiling your grandchild
One of the joys of being a grandparent is that we can do some of the sweet extras for and with our grandchild that they may not get at home. However, be careful not to spoil your grandchild. Spoiling our is an easy mistake that grandparents make. One of the hardest lessons human beings need to learn is how to choose delayed gratification over immediate gratification.
In meeting our more basic needs like food, shelter and safety (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) we have been programmed to take hold of the immediate without worrying about the future. But in order to get to the higher needs on Maslow’s chart, we need to learn to practice delayed gratification. We have an opportunity as grandparents to teach our grandchild to patiently wait for the better things when we don’t gratify ever one of their immediate desires. There is a balance here, but think about how to move your grandchild to the more mature place of delaying every desire they have.
Mistake #7–Not knowing your grandchild’s interests
Do you know what your grandchild is interested in? Do you know their favorite animal, color, sport, school subject, book or video game? When you do know these things, you now can plan your conversations with them in a more purposeful and intentional way. Does your granddaughter love softball? Buy her a copy of the book by Jennie Finch. Read the book yourself and talk about it with her. It’s a mistake to not know what your grandchild is excited about.
Does your grandson love tigers? Ask him to teach you what he knows about tigers. Before your next conversation with him, find out details about tigers that you can share with him. When your grandson says, “they can hide and they eat meat” expand his vocabulary to talk about camouflage and carnivores. The topics that you can ask your grandchild about and offer interesting tidbits are limitless when you know what they are interested in. Work to establish strong communication skills with your grandchild. Working to know what interests your grandchild will make it easier to avoid mistake number seven.
Mistake #8–Poor planning for interactions
It’s a mistake to leave your interactions with your grandchild up to chance. Make intentional plans ahead of time. Jot down activities you can do, questions you can ask, games you can play, stories you can tell and the supplies you might need on an index card. Use a planning template to sketch out what you hope to accomplish and how you want to go about doing it. Feel free to download my planning template and use it before you spend time with your grandchild. Whether you are planning a phone call, a trip to the park, a sleepover or a family vacation you need to make a plan.
My grandkids know I am a planner, and they also know that I do like to include them in the plans. When we drive our RV to a new state to spend some time with our grandkids, our first activity is to take them out individually for a meal and a planning session. We brainstorm ideas of things we can do together during the time that we are in the area. Then we work with their parents to get our dates scheduled. I will make the more detailed plans, but we start with a larger list of things that we all think we would enjoy doing together. Read my post about preparation for being key to enjoying time with grandkids here.
Mistake #9–Being boring!
Do not be boring! You want your grandchild to know, like, and trust you. When you walk into the room, you want them to light up. You want them to choose to spend time with you. And you want to create memories and stories with them that will enhance all of your lives for years to come. It’s a mistake to be boring.
Make sure you smile and laugh. Let your grandkids talk you into doing something you might be scared of. My middle granddaughter is very adventurous–she has been since she was a little girl. Now she loves roller coaster rides and all kinds of challenges. We spent a day together going on rides, petting alligators, and trying every new thing that we could. She led the way and I followed. I had a blast, and so did she. Would I choose to do every single roller coaster ride at an amusement park? Probably not when I am with my husband. But definitely when I am with my granddaughter!
Avoid these nine mistakes you might be making as a grandparent. Replace them with intentional behaviors, and you will be well on your way to having a meaningful and sustainable relationship with your grandchild. Whether your grandchild lives far away, or right next door, you can turn any mistake into an opportunity to build something amazing.
- Be purposeful about your role as a grandparent
- Bond with your grandchild
- Be consistent in your contact with your grandchild
- Focus on the developmental task at hand
- Encourage your grandchild to try hard things
- Teach them delayed gratification
- Know what they are interested in
- Make intentional plans with your grandchild
- Be fun!
We will never have enough time with our grandkids. They grow up in a hurry and we grow older just as fast. We don’t get to do it over. But we do get to learn from any mistakes we may have made and move forward toward a stronger, healthier, and more fun future.