Music is a magical way to build strong bonds with your grandchildren–and have fun while you are at it!
Before he could walk, my grandson could dance. Whenever he heard a lively song, he began to move his body to the beat. When his muscles and coordination caught up to his desire to move, he became a dancing machine. Naturally, we all provided lots of lively music to encourage him, and we were rewarded with performance after performance.
We are wired to recognize rhythm from the earliest age, and nearly every culture has songs that are meant to soothe babies and entertain young children. Whether you are a music lover or not, music is an incredible way to connect with your grandchildren. Here are five ways to use music when you are playing with your grandchildren.
1. Singing and reciting
Even those among us who were not blessed with vocal talent can sing a lullaby or The Itsy Bitsy Spider. Hearing these songs over and over teaches important elements of speech and communication, like tempo, pitch, and rhythm. The call and response of songs like Down by the Bay mimic conversation and improve listening skills. What’s more, sharing the songs and rhymes that our parents and grandparents taught us connects the generations. Plus it’s fun!
2. Rhythm instruments
Hand a baby a spoon, and they will bang it on whatever they can reach. Making music is really just a refined version of making noise. As babies learn they can make noise, they will delight in every opportunity to do so. Providing them with ways to make noise helps develop their ability to make music. Simple rhythm instruments like shakers, tambourines, and small drums are a wonderful way to introduce musical instruments. Homemade versions are easy to create and just as effective. Provide different size cans and containers and a wooden spoon or two, and sit down with your grandchild and tap out rhythms together.
3. Parent-child music classes
Many communities offer parent-child music classes designed for very young children. These make a thoughtful gift for young parents, provided their schedule allows for it. If you are a local grandparent, you might even be able to tag along or fill in for the parents. To find a class, try Music Together, Kindermusik, or Google “Parent child music classes” plus their zip code.
4. Sharing favorites
Music is a great way to share parts of yourself with your grandchildren, no matter their age. What are your favorite songs? Your favorite artists? Your favorite genres? Share them! Play classical music during breakfast, or Garth Brooks while you build with blocks. Not only are you exposing them to things you love, you are creating powerful musical memories. Play Purple Rain often enough, and some day they will hear it somewhere and think of you.
5. Live performances
Children often don’t realize that the songs they hear at home are made by real people playing real instruments. Taking them to a live performance can inspire and delight them, and sharing live music can help connect them with their community. Look for local performances aimed at children, or summer concerts in the park. As they get older, attending concerts and recitals can broaden their horizons and bond you through a shared love of music.
Encouraging babies and small children to sing and move to music is a lot of fun—and has the added benefit of helping their cognitive and social development. As grandparents, it’s an ideal activity for the time we spend with them, even from a distance.
More ways to connect:
5 Ways to Be More Present with Your Grandkids
Connecting with Grandchildren Through Reading
Being Silly Keeps You Young
“While we come into parenting and grandparenting with more or less examined notions of how to do it, the happy task of grandparenting takes us to a new learning edge.”
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Through a series of insightful essays, Marilyn McEntyre and Shirley Showalter join us on that learning edge. As they reflect on the joys and struggles of grandparenting, the authors encourage grandparents to observe, listen and learn from the younger generations.
Unlike most books filled with essays on grandparenting, The Mindful Grandparent: The Art of Loving Our Children's Children does more than just muse on the authors’ own experiences. Each chapter ends with suggestions and resources, giving readers room to grow into their own understanding of the topic at hand. For example, the chapter on “Grandparent Camp” shares Shirley’s experience with her own grandchildren and thoughts of why such powerful memories are made during their Grandparent Camp weeks. She then provides ideas for getting more information to plan your own camp for your grandchildren, and further reading on making memories.
The Mindful Grandparent also goes beyond the expected subjects of getting along with the other grandparents and not buying too many toys. While those things are covered, there are also reflections on encouraging natural talents and introducing racial justice and inclusion. This makes the book a far richer source of insight, and reinforces the core premise that grandparents have an enormous opportunity to influence their grandchildren’s lives in any number of areas.
This is not an instruction book. The authors make it clear that there is no single way to be a good grandparent. There are no “must do’s” involved, only invitations to consider. If you are someone who likes very specific action steps, this may frustrate you. If, however, you are looking for new ways to think about the impact you can have as a grandparent, it’s a perfect choice.
I read this book in tiny bites: one chapter a day with my lunch. It gave me room to think about each topic and how it might inform my own experience as a grandparent. It also gave me the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful writing from each of the authors. If you are looking for a way to deepen the experience of being a grandparent, The Mindful Grandparent is an excellent choice.
Want a copy of your own to enjoy with your lunch? Order one today from Amazon!
When the reality of being a grandparent doesn’t live up to expectation
You see it everywhere: being a grandparent is the most amazing thing in the world. It’s magical! transformative! rewarding! You’ll instantly love this child of your child, in a way you couldn’t have dreamed possible.
But what if that’s not how you feel?
What if that rush of love you’ve been told to expect doesn’t happen? You look at this baby who you’ve been waiting for months to meet, and you feel…underwhelmed. You are not the first grandparent who isn’t immediately enamored of this stranger.
Or maybe you did feel that rush of emotion initially, but as the months have gone by, you are put off by the baby’s temperament—or even by their looks. You are not the first grandparent to be reluctant to admit to yourself that you don’t really like this child.
Or maybe you find it hard to feel deep emotion for a grandchild you’ve rarely (or maybe never) seen because of distance. You are not the first grandparent to find you’re missing out on the magical rewards you were promised—and maybe you don’t even feel cheated.
Or maybe you do dearly love your grandchild, but you discover you can’t tolerate the noise and mess that comes with them. You are not the first grandparent to wish you could just love them from afar.
If one of these scenarios sounds familiar, you may be feeling guilty. Or even, as one grandparent confided to me, broken. Since we’ve been told that we should feel ecstatic about our role as grandparents, to feel anything less must mean something is wrong with us, right?
When grandparents understand the reasons behind gender-neutral parenting, it’s easy to support it.
The growing popularity of gender-reveal parties lies in sharp contrast to another growing trend: gender neutrality. While some parents are celebrating the discovery of their baby’s gender and going all in on pink or blue, others are fighting against pigeon-holing their child based on their gender. Like all parenting methods that are new to us, it can be confusing to grandparents as we try to figure out how to respect our adult children’s wishes. Here’s a quick look at what gender-neutral parenting is.
What is gender neutrality?
The goal of gender-neutral parenting is to raise children without enforcing traditional gender roles on them. Note the words “gender roles”. Although there are cases where parents believe a child should be free to choose their gender identity, these are the exception rather than the norm. For most parents who want to raise their child in a gender-neutral environment, it’s an attempt to cast off gender stereotypes and focus on the individual.
Gender-neutral parenting doesn’t deny that there are differences between genders. It doesn’t insist that boys who love trucks have to play with dolls, or that girls who want to wear nothing but sparkly pink dresses have to be forces into jeans and t-shirts. The goal is not to raise a genderless child, but one who has the freedom to develop the skills and traits that will best serve them as an individual.
What are gender stereotypes?
Girls are more nurturing. Boys are more energetic. These are not facts, simply stereotypes that are perpetuated from one generation to the next. Here are some more stereotypes:
This common advice for new grandparents might be wrong.
A few years ago, I joined a group of women for weekly walks along one of my favorite trails. Like any group of new acquaintances, we traded stories and talked about our families and daily lives. The conversation made the hours’ walk go quickly. Gloria was especially entertaining, as she could talk with little need for response.
One day, she recapped what she’d done the previous day as we were walking side-by-side through the eucalyptus trees. “George and I went out to dinner at Roberto’s. Have you been there? I love their food. We usually get there for the early bird special. I ordered the lasagna, and George ordered the steak. He’s such a creature of habit! But we had to leave before our dinners even came.”
“My gosh, what happened?” I started to say, but she was already explaining.
“My son called and asked us to go get our granddaughters from daycare so he could go to the gym after work. So we just told the waiter we couldn’t stay, and went to pick up the girls.”
“Didn’t you tell your son you were busy?” I wondered.
“Oh, no! We don’t want him to think we’re unreliable and then not let us take care of the girls!”
I hear stories like this all the time. One grandmother told me she was assigned a grandmother nickname she loathed, but went along with it because she didn’t want to rock the boat. Another cancelled a vacation for fear her daughter would find someone else to babysit if she missed one of her regular Tuesdays.
My heart aches for grandparents like these who have absorbed the message that they can’t express their own needs or feelings for fear they’ll be cut off from their grandchildren. In fact, one of the first pieces of advice prospective grandparents are given is to “just zip it.”
I respectfully disagree with the parenting experts who continue to tell grandparents that this is the way to harmony. I understand the dangers in grandparents criticizing and interfering. There are plenty of grandparents who have trouble relinquishing their lifetime of telling their children what to do. Grandparents do need to realize they aren’t in charge anymore. They often need to bite their tongue, but doesn’t mean never talking.
Can you think of any other relationship where the advice for getting along better is to communicate less?
There is a better way to be a loving grandparent and supportive partner to your grandchild’s parents: Establish a healthy, open dialog where everyone feels supported and understood.
Grandparents can be the leaders in this dialog. Before the baby is even born, ask questions that show you want to learn about your adult children’s plans and support their choices. (New Grandparent Essentials includes a guide to the most important questions to ask.) Share your own feelings and hopes about your role as a grandparent. Talk openly about boundaries and what to do if one of you feels they’ve been crossed.
But don’t just talk. Listen.
Actively listening is vital to good relationships. If you are truly listening, your grandchild’s parents will come away with a sense that what they have to say is important. They’ll know that you are a grandparent who wants to listen and learn. More than that, they will understand that they are of value. That builds trust, so that when you have something to say, they’ll know you are coming from a place of love and respect.
Just zipping it isn’t the answer to being a good grandparent. Talking and listening is.
How New Grandparents Can Avoid a Communication Breakdown
When Grandparents Don't Listen to Parents
Don’t Forget the Children
Being a supportive, loving grandparent starts during the pregnancy
What’s the best thing to do while you wait for your grandbaby to be born? If you answered, “Buy stuff for the baby!”, you’d be in good company.
But you’d also be wrong.
The months before a baby’s birth are a complicated time for expectant parents, especially with their first baby. They are preparing for a major life change: one that’s physical, mental, emotional, financial and more. There are things they need far more than baby clothes, and grandparents are the perfect people to provide that assistance.
Your role as a supportive grandparent starts as soon as you see that ultrasound picture or get that phone call. Now is the time to set up habits that will help you avoid common grandparent mistakes and become an integral part of your grandchild’s life.
While you wait for your grandbaby to be born, here are the best things to do to show your adult children that you want to be supportive partners when they become parents:
An open dialog about your role as a grandparent is a crucial ingredient in a happy, healthy family. New parents are often hesitant to set boundaries with grandparents, because they’ve spent a lifetime as the “child” in the relationship. One of the kindest things you can do for new parents is to show your willingness to respect parent boundaries by initiating the conversation and asking what those boundaries are. (Partnering with Parents, part of New Grandparent Essentials, gives you all the questions you should ask and the best way to ask them.)
Help with projects
The closer it gets to a baby arriving, the longer parents’ task list seems to be. If you are a local grandparent, offer to help tackle that list. While parents usually enjoy doing things to prepare for the baby themselves, you can help in other ways. Show you understand your supporting role by raking the yard while they assemble the crib or dropping off dinner when they are painting the nursery. The key is to make concrete offers and not be hurt if your assistance isn’t needed or appreciated.
Fill the freezer
Stocking the freezer before baby’s birth is a great way to help new parents. Healthy meals and snacks that require little to no preparation are a life-saver in those early weeks. Read this blog post for lots of ideas and recipes!
A lot has changed since you had a baby! It’s exhausting to new parents to have to constantly explain why they aren’t doing things the same way grandparents did. Read up on the latest child care and safety recommendations. You can also follow parenting experts on social media. Some of my favorites are @safeintheseat, @pedsdoctalk, and @safebeginnings. Your goal is to learn about the most current recommendations for your own information. Don’t try to educate the parents, though asking what they think about what you are learning is fine.
Support their mental health
There is a mental health crisis right now, and new parents are especially vulnerable. Learn about warning signs of anxiety and depression, and encourage your adult child to seek professional help if you are worried. Encourage them to research therapists before the baby is born, in case they need help afterwards. Don’t be the parent who wonders what they did wrong if their adult child decides to see a therapist.
Buy gifts for them
Yes, those baby clothes are nearly irresistible. But before you blow your budget on those, consider spending money on gifts that will truly support new parents. Gift certificates for a prenatal massage or a dinner out while they are still childless are two great ideas. I love giving moms-to-be the Postpartum Planning Toolkit from Like A Sister. They’ve got other great offers for supportive gifts, like personalized feeding classes and post-partum doula support.
And of course, our own digital grandparenting guide, New Grandparent Essentials, is the ultimate way to prepare to be a supportive grandparent while you are waiting for the baby. It will give you the questions you need to ask to help set boundaries, the latest in child care and safety, and resources for further information and inspiration.
The anticipation of a new grandbaby is an exciting time. If you use this time to establish patterns of communication and support that focus on the parents, by the time the baby arrives you will have proven that you are someone they can count on as they raise your precious grandchild.