The world feels like a much scarier place than it did just a week ago. The numbers of people getting sick with Covid-19 are increasing exponentially. Communities are pulling together while we all try to stay away from one another. Family disappointments are piling up: graduations, trips to see new babies, weddings—all cancelled or postponed. Just when we need each other, we are told to stay apart. Experts tell us it will get worse before it gets better.
Grandparents, it is at times like this that you are needed most.
What every family needs right now is someone to turn to who can help make it feel safer. Who better than you? No matter how shaky you feel, here are some ways for you to be a source of strength and wisdom as your family battles the stress they are experiencing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Did you serve in a war? Live through the polio era? Spend time unemployed and broke? Watch a loved one struggle with illness or addiction?
Most of us have faced hard times and come through stronger. Share your stories with your family, especially if you never have before. Stories are the foundation of strong families, and now is the perfect time to strengthen those foundations.
Earlier this week, my newest granddaughter arrived and surprised us all. Not only was she two weeks early, but my son and his wife hadn’t found out this baby’s gender, and all bets were on them having a boy. It was a disorienting moment when I got the news—I had a moment of wondering who was sending me a baby picture. But as soon as the truth of her being sunk in, I immediately fell in love. Then I started to worry a little.
We had made careful plans to make sure that this growing family had help. With a not-yet two-year-old and a not-yet four-year-old, a new baby means a lot of little mouths to feed and hands to keep busy. I went to visit a couple weeks ago and filled the freezer, and my daughter-in-law’s parents were planning to come a few days before her due date to help on the scene. I have a trip booked in a month, which was intended to correspond with her parents leaving. Now there is a week that they’ll be on their own before her parents can get there, and there will be a bigger gap before I arrive for my turn as extra adult.
I’ve got enough airline miles to make an extra trip or change my flight. But I can’t go earlier for an important reason: I have three other adult children. Since they are all on academic calendars this year, they are each planning a spring break visit home in the next month. I don’t ever want my children to think they come second to my grandchildren. I know my son and his wife will figure it out together, and no one will actually die of sleep deprivation.
Going anywhere with young children requires patience and, in the words of Mad Eye Moody, constant vigilance. It also helps to have a few tricks in your bag. Though my grandchildren live in another state, if they are visiting me or I am visiting them, I make sure to add a few things to my purse:
What do you keep in your bag for your grandchildren?
Face it, if you are a grandparent, you are officially getting old. Even if your first grandchild was born when you were 40, your body is chugging along towards aching joints and bad digestion. But a study out of London suggests that grandchildren can actually help you feel younger, by encouraging you to take part in the activities you loved as a kid. Yes, being silly can keep you young.
Grandchildren are the perfect excuse to play Crazy Eights or War, card games with simple rules and satisfying moments of victory without any strategy required. They are the ideal partners for walking through the neighborhood pretending to hunt for bears or bad guys. They give you a reason to dress in silly clothes and drink pretend tea with teddy bear guests. They offer you the chance to chant nonsensical nursery rhymes and dance to songs about brushing your teeth.
Even as they get older and think they are too cool to act silly, there are ways to get them laughing with you. Try a game of “Would you rather” where you offer them two ridiculous options and they have to choose one. (“Would you rather only be able to walk or all fours or walk sideways like a crab?”) Let them know what your answers would be, too! Find some great questions here.
Want some help plugging into your silly side? Here are some of our favorite books and songs:
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Whether your grandchildren live across the world or just next door, writing them notes and letters creates a place for them to share their lives with you, and for you to share yours with them. Even today, with our ability to see and hear our grandchildren instantly no matter where they are in the world, there is an important place for the written word.
If Your Grandchildren Live Far Away
Did you ever have a pen pal as a child? Do you remember the thrill of getting a letter in the mail? (Let’s face it, it’s still exciting to get real mail!) If your grandchildren live in another city, state or country, establishing a habit of regular postal correspondence can bring you closer. Even before they can write, there are ways to make a pen pal out of your grandchildren.
If Your Grandchildren Live Nearby
Just because your grandchildren live close enough for frequent visits doesn’t mean there isn’t room for written exchanges. In addition to the ideas above, there are some special ways to engage your grandkids.
Do you have other ideas for making written correspondence a part of your relationship with your grandchildren? Please share in the comments!
A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being A Grandparent Today
Are you looking for help understanding the new dimensions to your family that being a grandparent creates? Whether you have a strong and wonderful relationship with your child and their spouse or not, Unconditional Love provides solid advice for forming the bond you wish to form with your grandchildren. Isay's acknowledgement of the conflicts, problems and politics of family life provides a framework for creating a healthy relationship with your grandchildren and their parents. Through interviews, research and her own experience, Isay provides plenty of food for thought for anyone who wants to make the most of being a grandparent. Well worth buying this one, as it will be a useful reference in the years to come.
The anticipation is high: the grandchildren are coming to visit and your holiday celebration is going to be extra special. You’ve gotten the gifts, figured out where everyone will sleep, and planned out your menus. Too often though, the reality doesn’t match the celebration we’ve envisioned. The sabbath dinner is spoiled by a crying toddler, or the teenager is sullen because she hates pulp in her orange juice. While there’s not much that can be done about a sullen teenager, a conversation with your grandchildren’s parents can help to avoid some of the other holiday food landmines. Make sure to cover the following:
Ask for a grocery list so you have the right kinds of yogurt and snacks. Ask mom and dad if anything is off limits, and then respect their answer. While treats are expected at this time of year, make sure you are stocking up on healthy options that will keep everyone from going into a sugar meltdown. Have bowls of fruit and nuts more accessible than the cookies and candy. Do you have a nutcracker? A bowl of nuts to be shelled will be highly enticing!
Find out if there are any new dietary restrictions. Allergies may have been identified since their last visit, or their 10-year-old may have decided they are vegetarian. If you aren’t sure how to plan a meal around their needs, ask for advice on what to serve so everyone is happy. It doesn’t matter if you question the severity of the allergy or don’t think it’s healthy for a 10-year-old to follow a vegetarian diet: questioning their choices just creates tension you don’t need.
Get their input on meal times. If you usually serve Christmas dinner at 6, but the little ones are used to eating earlier or will be on a different time zone, plan to have an earlier kids’ meal of noodles or chicken fingers—something they love that is easy to produce while you are also preparing the main meal. Let go of the picture of everyone enjoying the roast and potatoes together—that will have to happen another year.
So many of our holiday memories are about the food, but it’s the people that are really important. Focusing on the people as you plan the food will make your holiday meals memorable for all the right reasons!
My mother-in-law has always captivated her grandchildren with the stories she tells of her childhood in a small mid-western town. Whether it’s about the time she burned the popcorn at her grandmother’s theater or the time her older siblings locked her in the basement, she is able to make another age and place come alive. But those stories do more than just entertain the kids. According to research, children and adolescents who know more of their family history have higher self-esteem, higher social and academic competence, and fewer behavior problems.
Researchers at Emory University developed the “Do You Know…?” scale to study how families pass along their history. Sometimes called “The 20 Questions”, the DYK Scale is comprised of questions that tap into different kinds of family stories. Questions like “Do you know what went on when you were being born?” and “Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?” are starting points for sharing family stories. It’s not passing on the knowledge that is most important, it’s the telling of the stories that connects the generations and provides the sense of self and belonging that promotes children's well-being.
You can find the full set of twenty questions here. The last one made me laugh ("Do you know a relative whose face 'froze' in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?"), but they all sparked ideas for stories to tell. Next time you talk to your grandkids, why not use these question to guide your conversation?
Duke, M.P., Lazarus, A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Knowledge of family history as a clinically useful index of psychological well-being and prognosis: A brief report. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45, 268-272.