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Building Meaningful Relationships with Our Grandchildren

 Do you remember when you first learned you would become a grandparent? Most likely it was news that set your heart racing and put a very large smile on your face. Becoming a grandparent allows us to live through the baby to adult process all over again with the added benefit of not getting up in the middle of the night for feedings and diaper changes.

We love being grandparents. But sometimes it turns out we aren’t as close to our grandchildren as we’d like to be. A less-than-ideal relationship with the grandkids can happen for numerous reasons and some of them we can’t change, but there are ways to optimize our relationship with our children and grandchildren to make it more likely we develop a meaningful, close kinship with them.

Consider the following four topics and see where you might make an effort to build stronger ties with the ones you love the most:

Quality Time

We all want to buy nice gifts for our grandkids on their birthdays and on holidays. But even greater is the gift of our time and interest. Spending time with our grandchildren might look like showing up for their concerts and sports activities. But going further, are you able to spend quality time one on one with them? You might read together, bake cookies or homemade pizza, you might play board games or do outdoor activities like take a hike or go on a nature walk. You might piggyback on their latest hobby like making jewelry or learning to crochet. You might help with gluing together a model airplane. And don’t forget that just talking with your grandkids is a quality activity. Sharing family stories about your growing up years or the time your Grandma got stuck in the hen house makes for lots of laughs and create a tie that would otherwise not exist.

If you live far away it’s harder, but not impossible to enjoy quality time. You’ll have to acquaint yourself with some form of technology that allows face time—a phone, an ipad or a computer. It takes greater effort to interact when the grands live far away, but it’s so worth it. Talk about their activities. Ask questions and let them respond. Show an interest in whatever they’re doing or learning. 

You might decide to read a book together online or send one another letters to share more of their experiences. It’s important to remember that a few months apart is a very long time in the life of a child. So if you want the closeness, the interactions need to happen on a weekly basis. 

Follow Their Lead

Most children have unique interests. They may be sports nuts or adore all dinosaurs. They may love the newest dolls or want to learn about zoo animals. It’s very important to keep your eyes and ears open to know what is important in their lives. 

For example if you know they love dinosaurs, you can go to the local museum to see the dino exhibit, you can buy a board game with dinosaurs on it, you can check out dino books and find crafts that have a dinosaur theme. 

When we make the effort to follow up on the things our grandkids love, we enter into their world rather than expecting them to come into ours. We tell them, “You matter to me and I care about your interests.” It translates to “I love you very much.”

Respect Generational Differences

Research shows that we grandparents are closer to our grandkids when we have a positive relationship with our children. That includes the sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, too. To accomplish this happy relationship we need to respect our children’s rules and ways of doing things. 

There’s no doubt that the way we were raised or the way we raised our own children has changed dramatically. Our children have different ways of doing almost everything—feeding schedules, rules about chores, homework, overall discipline, and the list goes on. We may find ourselves biting our tongues when we see a pattern of behavior or a means of discipline we don’t approve of. Go ahead and bite the tongue. Our children have a perfect right to parent in the ways that work for them, even if we see other ways to do these things. It’s not a matter of right or wrong and you may give advice if asked for it, but the bottom line is they are living their lives in their chosen ways and if we want to have real, loving relationships with them and our grandchildren, we have to manage our thoughts and opinions.

Set Reasonable Boundaries/Expectations

Setting boundaries is a necessary skill in many parts of life. We want to be relevant to our families and to love and be loved by them. But we’re older than we used to be, and we have our own lives to live. It’s important to think through what we’re able to give cheerfully and willingly. How much will we babysit, spend, how much time will we give and when is it time to say enough is enough.

If we’re thoughtful about these decisions they won’t come as a surprise to anyone, thus avoiding disappointments and misunderstandings. And by the same token, we won’t disappoint ourselves when we reach a giving limit. We’ll know we’ve done what is reasonable and fair and there will always be another time to interact with the family.

Our goal is to thoroughly enjoy our families. Our goal is to establish unshakable love relationships with them and to be part of their lives in many and varied ways. And with a little effort and planning on our parts we can achieve that goal.