I have been a grandparent for nineteen years and am blessed to have nine grandchildren ranging in age from 19 to 4. Being a good grandparent is a lot easier than being a good parent. It takes much less work and time and resources. So I have crafted a set of suggestions for being a world class grandparent.
Rule number one: Understand and adhere to your children’s rules for their children. Consistency is very important for kids so you should know what boundaries your children have set when it comes to computer use, television watching, food, bedtime, and stick to them. Grandchildren may try to play their parents off against grandparents so it is important not to fall into that trap.
Next, give unqualified love. To children, parental love might sometimes seem to be qualified. Many children feel: my parents love me if I get good grades, if I go to bed on-time, if I am good at sports, if I am never a problem. It is usually not true, but that’s how it seems to children. Grandparents, however, can and should be the people who give unqualified love. We love our grandkids if they are good, bad, or ugly. This unqualified love can be a huge source of emotional support in the life of a child and will be remembered for their entire lives. I had one grandmother, Bessie, who made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. As one of five children, I rarely had that sense at home but when I would be with Bessie, I felt unique and special.
Grandparents should always give grandchildren confidence too. We are cheerleaders. We need to make every child feel super-special. In large or blended families a child can feel left out. Grandparents are there to make each child feel like he or she is the most talented and loved person in the world. When my oldest granddaughter was seven, I told her she could do anything she wanted in life. I barely remember telling her that until I read her first paper in college. She wrote about her grandpa telling her she could do anything she wanted in life and how the one sentence empowered her. I was shocked and honored to know that my few words of support had made a lifetime impact. She is now an excellent student with two internships in a row with DC area TV talk shows.
A grandparent’s home should be a place of quiet. Home can be a noisy place and sometimes it is full of conflict and anger. A grandparent’s home should be a refuge from noise and conflict. It should be a place where kids always feel safe, where they can get away from the pressures of school and home. When my triplet teenage grandsons argue or fight at my home I tell them that Grandpa’s home is a fight-free zone. No fighting or yelling allowed. Of course that doesn’t stop all conflict, but it reduces conflict and angry noise. Children may not know that they need peace and quiet. But they do.
Grandparents can also be teachers. A loving grandparent should not hesitate to try to teach new things to grandchildren whether throwing a football or baseball or help with algebra. Opening new worlds in nature, sports, crafts or the arts creates a special bond. I recall my Grandpa Louis with his thick Russian Jewish accent teaching me at eight years-old how to take a piece of paper and turn it into a bird or a paper hat. I became interested in origami and checked out books from the library to learn many more folding tricks.
Grandparents should make their home a place where kids can explore new things. Try not to rely on the television as a babysitter. Have arts and crafts at your home. Have reading material and athletic equipment. Make your place “Fun City.”
Being a good grandparent also means being a good parent. You can give your children a break by taking the grands for a weekend or babysitting on a Saturday night so your children can have a date night. My wife Linda and I just got back from Maryland where we took our son David and Sandi’s four sons for four nights in the country. We had a great time while David and Sandi got a welcome few days off in Savannah, Georgia. Giving your adult children time off from parenting can be important for their marriage which also helps children.
Finally, never yell at or threaten a grandchild. They will remember such behavior all their lives. Unqualified love is the most important thing you can give your grandchildren, even when they may be difficult and you are tired. They will cherish the memories of their time with you forever.